‘We convince by our presence’ Walt Whitman
In face to face teaching, teacher presence is something we strive to attain and maintain. It is a delicate balance between authority and approachability, knowledge and openness. It is what makes students stop when we say stop and start when we say start. It is a mixture of confidence, tone of voice, appearance, how we carry ourselves and how we interact with our learners and it doesn’t come to all trainee teachers straight away. It is a persona that we develop throughout our careers that commands and shows respect but that is also true to our real selves. We all have one and we are all different.
Presence in Absentia
Our presence seems to be totally dependent on our physical selves but we are now working in a new environment where we cannot be physically with our students but we would like them to behave as if we were. We want them to be able to work on self access and collaborative tasks without having to give them explicit instructions each time. Not all students are skilled or confident at this (or motivated!). So how do we adapt our presence to support and guide them working in this new mode?
Face to face time
Emphasise the fact that the learners are engaging in a single learning journey that happens to have both face to face and online parts.
At the beginning of every class, share your observations of their performance online. This doesn’t have to mean extensive corrections or reading online but look at the student progress report. How are they getting on? If they did well, say so. Reward positive benaviour with recognition. If they are stuggling, offer them an opportunity to ask questions. When you’re learning in a group, it’s reassuring to know you’re in the same situation as others, either in the things you do well or the things you found difficult. Offer praise and support as needed. ‘I notice everyone has done well in the grammar exercises online this week but the scores for the about you section later were lower. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?’ Alternatively, you could put them in groups and ask them to come up with questions they would like to ask you about the work they did online. Hopefully, they will be able to answer the questions for each other as well. You may also need to ‘encourage’ students who haven’t done their blog activity for that week. Remind them why they should be doing it. Praise them if they have done it too.
Plan time at the end of your lessons to discuss the activities you want them to do. Get them interested in them. Explain the purpose of them i.e. what they consolidate from this class and what they prepare for the next class. Try to avoid just giving them ‘leftovers’ that you don’t get to at the end of the lesson you planned. They will perceive this as them doing your work for you and will make them unhappy about doing it, whereas if they perceive it as something you decided would be good for them, they may be a bit more keen!
Some teachers worry that they will have to spend forever looking at exercises online and reading and correcting blogs and forums but this is not the case. By all means, check the reports and mention them in class. Always know what they’ve done, or what they’re supposed to have done;) Your presence online is apparent in where you respond. No student expects you to interact with them individually on everything they say in a group activity in class so you can assume the same is true online. Always look at everyone’s contributions and collect common mistakes relevant to what they are currently studying and perhaps deal with those in class. You don’t need to respond to everyone every week though. You can respond to a discussion thread, mentioning an idea you agree with or inviting someone to comment. Comment on one or two blogs. Keep a note of who you’ve responded to by name so you can be democratic about it and vary it each time. The idea is mainly so that your students know you’re there, even if you are not ‘looking directly at’ them. They know your presence.
If you have any other tips or tricks for asserting your presence online, do let us know!