Presence in Caring

The theologian, John Karl (1992), described what it means to be present for a patient, a description that is pertinent as a process of caring for any practitioner. He stated, “When in balance, I am more present everywhere” (p. 5). According to Karl, a person must care for one's own body, mind, spirit, and relationships in order to be in balance. This allows the individual to be present for others. One must be concerned for the overall health of self and acknowledge when one's own health is failing in some area. Karl suggested that a person couldn't be present or fully caring for another when neglecting himself or herself. Balance is at risk from the external environment and the person's inner subjective experiences. One of the greatest challenges is to promote the balance of the individual's spiritual domain, regardless of belief system. Karl suggested creating ritual space as a means of supporting spiritual sharing and balance. So the question is how does one create ritual space in one's classroom? Other questions that are equally critical are, how does one take care of oneself?, and does one have balance in one's life? Vignette 4.2 offers one way in which balance is maintained in order to be present for students week to week.

Vignette 4.2

I have taken time to write a paper, but only after getting my exercise for the day. In fact, I have an exercise plan each week that is sprinkled within my academic role at the university. Weekends bring one day of fun and doing chores, but the morning of the second day is my time to remember my God and His blessings and gifts to me, and to honor the magnificence of His creations and how my mission is in balance with what I have been called to do. Yes, my mission is, “I have been called by God to my sacred Eldership, to lay the paths of teaching, mentoring, and blessing for those around me.” I use my mission as my compass to provide direction in my life and to know when I am not in balance.

I take this to the classroom in the form of an opening ritual after doing my own centering practice and preparation. Today I ask the students for “blessings and concerns.” These are things we need to consider today as we begin our own learning for the day. I am thinking of having a consistent closing ritual as well, but I am still thinking on what it should be. There is a poem published and distributed since the 1970s by Portia Nelson ( However, here is a slightly different take on the concept, which is so critical for self-reflection.

Growing to Maturity in Five Short Steps

Me in Step One:

I argue with my mother. She doesn't understand me.

I can't believe she is the way she is.

Me in Step Two:

I argue with my mother.

She still doesn't understand me.

It makes me angry, but I'll change the subject.

Me in Step Three:

I argue with my mother.

A part of me must think I need to be right.

I stop immediately and make a different choice.

Me in Step Four:

My mother tries to provoke an argument.

I think about my choices.

I decide not to go in a direction of being right.

Me in Step Five:

My mother is always who she will be.

I look for the gold in her need to be right.

I thank her for talking to me today.

Regardless of one's beliefs, it would be valuable to put some ritual and spiritual balance into your daily routines. Bringing this balanced self to the classroom will allow for the opportunity to be present for intersubjective knowing, which gives the students a sense of presence. Roach (1992) asserted that the key to being present is in the ability to be a listener, as described by Taylor Caldwell's 1960 novel The Listener. “Our real need is for someone to listen to us; not as patient, nurse, administrator, physician, housekeeper, or pastoral care worker but 'as a human soul'” (p. 16) ( is a website full of comments on this historic novel from that era).

According to Roach, listening is increasingly important when individuals see themselves as closed vessels that are not open to self-reflection. It is time to listen more in the classroom, and that includes listening to the silence. Just as silence between two people in a conversation can be meaningful, when you consider teaching to be a conversation between the instructor and the class, silence in the classroom also has meaning. But what does the silence or lack of interaction in the classroom mean? There is a code for interpreting this silence presented by Palmer (2007). He calls it “fear” (p. 45) and it is the role of teachers to reduce this fear on various levels. It may be a subtle fear of not knowing, feeling embarrassed, standing out, or being too interactive with the instructor, but Palmer suggests this is the core barrier behind the silence. Even if this is only partially true, it seems to be a worthy goal of faculty to do everything possible to bring the fear to as low a level as possible.

It is not diffi to see active listening as important in classroom presence— for both the teacher and the student. Presence and listening also have clear connections to patient care. Gilje (1992) examined the concept of presence as a central theme in caring and defined presence as “the ability to psychologically or emotionally be with or attend to a person, place, or object” (p. 61). However, Gilje realized that the theoretical definition of presence in nursing is moving toward “an intersubjective and intrasubjective energy exchange with a person, place, object, thought, feeling, or belief that transforms sensory stimuli, imagination, memory, and intuition into a perceived meaningful experience” (p. 61). This definition of presence is highly descriptive of an evolved care paradigm that continues to escape most instructors. To find this place, teachers need to take risks related to self-awareness and learning in the moment. Imagine saying, “I don't want to be present for anyone, I need to just do my job; it is up to the student to get it.” This is a significant reflection of the self. It may be coming from a teacher in pain, in fear, under significant stress, or one with a damaged soul that has not yet healed. In any case, it is a clear reflection of the inner self and the wounds found there. However, there is significant empowerment in saying instead, “I want to be present for my students to ensure learning is truly taking place in my classroom.” This self-awareness in the classroom can translate into an impactful teaching and learning dynamic.

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