In the Midst of Practice: Developing the Skilled Teacher Approach

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis develops the concept of practical knowledge in light of three fundamental questions about everyday teaching practice: 1. What is it that leads a teacher to take one action and not any other they are cognitively (and physically) able to take? 2. What constrains and enables teachers' agency in the actions they take? And 3. How can teacher actions be shaped to develop their teaching practice? To do this, this thesis offers a new perspective on teaching practice which focuses on the context, the situation, the environment or the world a teacher finds themselves in and how they act by means of it rather than simply in it. The first part of the thesis sets out the background and theoretical foundations for this new perspective, which is referred to as the Skilled Teacher Approach (STA). In the STA teacher action is a question of understanding teachers' relationship with their practice environment - their world - and how this offers particular ways of being and particular opportunities for action. The STA is influenced principally by two schools of thought; Heidegger's being-in-the-world and Gibson's ecological psychology. Next, the STA is developed through four journal article-format chapters. Article 1 sets out the Heideggerian and ecological psychology foundations of the thesis and argues that practical knowledge can be understood as a responsiveness to the affordances (perceived possibilities for action) that are available in a teacher's practice environment or 'teacher-world.' Article 2 draws on Heidegger's understanding of social normativity and the concept of conventional affordances to offer a new perspective on teacher agency. This article argues that that teacher agency is a capacity to perceive affordances beyond the conventional affordances we are socialized into perceiving. Article 3 explores the role of attention in practice and argues that attention serves to reveal relevant affordances. The article goes on to propose how the concept of guided attention can be used to develop teacher skill. Finally, Article 4 proposes two teacher development strategies, based on the concept of guided attention, aimed at changing what affordances teachers perceive. A concluding part reflects on the contribution of the four articles and the thesis as a whole to our understanding of teacher practical knowledge, teacher expertise, teacher agency and teacher development. The conclusion connects the STA to other areas of teacher practice and identifies possible directions for further development and research.
Date of Award1 Aug 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJulian Williams (Supervisor) & Juup Stelma (Supervisor)


  • teachereducation
  • affordance
  • ecological psychology
  • teaching practice
  • teaching skill
  • Heidegger
  • teacher agency
  • teacher development
  • teacher noticing
  • teacher beliefs
  • practical knowledge
  • Guided Attention

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