@Tammy Mcallister Dreamstime stock photos
Working with an NQT (Sarah) recently, she asked me to help her understand how to develop her teacher presence.
So what is this mysterious teacher presence – the X Factor of teaching?
I have heard it mentioned many times, but no-one often unpacks it for those on the receiving end of this comment. Can we actually define it?
In reality, what matters is what Sarah thinks teacher presence is and how she can develop her practice. I suspect if you asked the person who advised Sarah, to develop her teacher presence, what it meant they could not define it exactly either.
I asked Sarah to tell me how you would know who the teacher was in a room of students. We got through the obvious ones very quickly:
- Usually older in appearance
- In their own clothing
- Often to be found at the front of the room
These can be controversial, because I know several early career teachers who look the same age as their Year 11 -13 students. It is possible to have a four-year age gap between a Year 13 and the teacher. The sixth form often wear their own clothing and some schools have a no uniform policy too. Then there are mufti days as well! I have often entered a room to wonder where the teacher is only to find them sat at a table working with a group- definitely not always at the front!
After a period of silence and deep thought, Sarah began to list the attributes (with some exemplification in brackets) below:
- Great rapport with students
- Being able to command attention of pupils
- Students thinking you have eyes in the back of your head
- Mysterious so that students are intrigued
- Being memorable
- Good subject knowledge
- Can adapt lessons when students are not understanding or are interested in a topic to a degree which is not on the syllabus
- Not anxious
- Clarity of instruction
- Work the room so every student is involved in learning
- Corridor professionalism (regarding the corridor as an extension of my classroom)
- Coffee shop professionalism (behaving as if I am always being seen by a student or their parent)
- Social media presence is appropriate ( i.e. its private and students cannot see my other life)
- Having an interesting voice
Hey presto, after giving Sarah the chance to think and come up with her own definition of teacher presence, we were getting somewhere. It does not really matter what I think teacher presence is, what is key is that Sarah understands what it means to her.
I could now begin to coach Sarah on something specific rather than the elusive “teacher presence” label.
Sarah thought about each one and I asked her to see in her mind’s eye what each of these might look like if someone said her performance in this area was outstanding. This is important so Sarah knew what she was aiming for.
We marked each of these bullet points out of 10. The highest score of 10 meant she was happy and confident in this area of practice. The lowest score meant there was not much development happening there or she felt unhappy.
She identified her voice as being something she felt she was most unhappy with. Sarah felt her voice then impacted upon her ability to command respect and attention as well as student confidence in her as their teacher.
There was no evidence that Sarah’s voice was an issue, rather it had become a limiting belief stemming from a previous mentor, during her PGCE programme, had told her she needed to shout to be in control and that was not something congruent with Sarah’s manner or desires. She understood the benefit of being able to do this selectively, but did not want to become a ‘shouty’ teacher. Sarah felt she might sound like she was whining when she raised her voice.
So Sarah set herself the following goal:
To have a confident voice which I can use as a tool to use in the classroom to build interest, enthusiasm and command attention.
She set herself a month to meet this goal.
When asked what she could do to help in this area, Sarah listed the following: as possible actions
- get a voice coach
- research online some voice coaching techniques
- speak to the drama teacher
- record herself teaching
- video herself teaching
- ask someone to observe her and give feedback on her voice
- ask students to give her feedback
- take up singing lessons
- go on a public speaking course
- practice using her voice at different pitches to see what would happen and what it sounds like
- think about the commands she would like to use to get attention
- think about other ways of getting attention such as a bell or a clap and trying these out
- observing other teachers and noticing their voice pitch and tempo
- joining amateur dramatics
- Go to a storytelling session at the library to recognise how the narrator gets the enthusiasm of the crowd.
Sarah ranked these in order of those which she felt would give her most impact and that she felt would be most do-able for her. Her top three were:
- Speak to the Drama and Music teachers about how to use her voice most effectively
- Video herself using the new IRIS package that the school had invested in to see what the issues were for herself. Then discuss this with her NQT mentor ( the one who had said develop a teacher presence!)
- Write down the top ten commands she wanted to use and practice using these at different tempos and pitches in the mirror at home and in the car until she was comfortable with how they sounded.
When we met two weeks later, Sarah had completed all of the three actions above and also bought a Tibetan bell and visited three staff in school. Sarah had moved from being stuck to being motivated to become an outstanding practitioner once again.
Did I tell her what to do?
Did she work out what to do herself?
Did she get there faster with a coach?
We are now working on the next most important attribute in her “Teacher Presence” diary which is being mysterious!