13 Things To Know About Teacher Presence

A map of the nervous system that creates teacher presence

When we think back to the teachers that really influenced us, it’s often not the detail of what they taught us that is most vivid in our memory, rather it’s how they made us feel – how they communicated compassion or aliveness and enthusiasm, how they showed up for us in our classrooms. These are qualities that are communicated through the teacher’s actions and presence.

As teachers, everything we do is enabled or undermined by the kind of presence we bring. This is true in our families, our meeting rooms and corridors, in our private life and our public. In public, perhaps nowhere is this truer than in the classroom, where we are visible at an intensity and frequency rarely experienced by other professions. Despite this, teacher presence is rarely treated as something that can be consciously developed. So it’s useful for teachers, and those that help to develop teachers, to know a few things about ‘presence’.

Here are 13 things worth knowing.
  1. Every teacher already has all it takes to have a full, powerful and generous presence! The problem is …
  2. … Each of us has also developed an enormous range of clever and effective ways to block, sabotage, dampen, diffuse or hide that presence. Particularly when our physical, emotional, or mental safety is in question. Our bodies have ingrained patterns of responding to stress (such as in a classroom) that get in the way of showing up with a strong and open presence.
  3. Teacher presence is created by five things. They are:-
    1. how fully Present we are in the moment. This means, are we…
      • mentally aware?
      • emotionally engaged?
      • physically balanced, relaxed and alert?
    2. how we show up non-verbally (posture, gesture, breathing, tone, etc). How Aligned are we with our message?
    3. how we allow and shape the energy of our basic Aliveness / excitement or passion to flow through our voice and body
    4. how we authentically Connect both inwardly with our own self and outwardly to others, and then connect to something bigger than us, allowing it to come through us,
    5. and finally, how we make our actions over time Consistent with our declared values. Walking our talk.
    6. We can remember this as PAACC.

  4. Teacher presence can be developed because each of these elements can be cultivated and developed.
  5. Truthfully, this is demanding because core parts of our identity want to be protected from challenge. Part of us looks for control, approval or safety. Especially in teaching, a profession that makes us highly visible in a difficult, challenging environment. If we seek to cultivate presence we agree to working with our fear.
  6. We can expand our peripersonal space as we develop our teacher presenceSometimes we strive really hard to achieve the wrong kind of presence. There are many types of presence. If my teaching presence looks and feels identical to yours, it probably is not my presence, but a variably good imitation of yours. Some people’s presence is sharp and forceful like a knife; others grand and magnetic like a mountain; others can be firm and supportive like the earth, or receptive like an ocean. The question is not creating a presence, but creating your presence. While we can learn a lot from imitation, the goal is to allow your own authentic presence to emerge.
  7. Often, by the end of our childhood, we learned to dampen, disperse or hide the energy of this authentic presence. Knowing exactly how we do that is a stepping stone towards catching ourselves doing it. If we catch ourselves early in this process we can have more choice over whether to do so or not.
  8. Authentic presence is not about becoming an extrovert. We can hide our authentic presence in two different directions. We can dial it down so no one will spot us. Or we can dial it up! We can speak so loudly, act so dominantly, or take up so much space that it is impossible for anyone to experience a genuine moment of contact with who we actually are. Our genuine presence may be extroverted or introverted.
  9. Developing our presence (just like recovering our voice) is not so much about adding something to us, as it is a task of recovery. It is about removing learned and sometimes deeply embedded obstacles preventing our natural and authentic presence to emerge. It is like the work of a sculptor, who removes the stone to enable the work of art to emerge. Our presence is waiting for us to join it!
  10. Our body is the fundamental place of support or sabotage for our authentic presence. Our presence is shaped by whether we are firing our contractor muscles or our extensors, whether we are aligned and balanced in our posture, and whether we are breathing from our belly/diaphragm, or the top of our chest. This is great news, because it allows us a powerful entry point for developing presence.
  11. Part of you believes you can be safer, kinder or build better relationships by muting, dampening or constricting your presence. It says “If I am too big, too expansive, too alive, I risk something.” This part of you may once have been vital or helpful. But it is now a saboteur. It wants to protect you, but with the emotional and mental understanding or strategies available to a child. Its advice is no longer sacrosanct.
  12. Cultivating teacher presence is a path of practice and repetition. It is not like learning a formula that solves a problem, and then we are done. It is not a one-off learning. Instead, we must practice. We return repeatedly, consciously building behaviours, rituals and habits that rewire our system allowing our authentic alive presence to emerge.
  13. It may feel scary, inconsiderate or dangerous to allow our presence to fully open in the world… but to not do so is fatal to something deeply important in our existence – our ability to live a full, engaged, generous and happy life! And whenever we mute our presence we deprive our colleagues, loved ones and the world of the fruits of our unique and unrepeatable offering.

If you would like to learn how to develop your teaching presence, please join one of our Fundamentals events or contact John about his course and laboratory for teachers.