Date of Submission

October 2008


Teachers who care for their students are considered to be essential to a productive learning environment for students. The presence of such teachers in classrooms is therefore important if students are to experience the best possibilities for learning. This thesis examines the nature of caring teachers and explores both personal and contextual factors that influence teachers' caring practices, providing insight into how these teachers' practices may be sustained. Specifically, the thesis addresses three research questions: 1) How do caring teachers demonstrate care? 2) What are the personal factors that contribute to a caring teacher's approach? 3) What are the contextual factors that hinder and/or support a caring teacher's approach? The thesis presents two models: the first hypothesises that the demonstration of care includes both a personal and educational dimension; the second presents factors that may influence a caring teacher's approach. These models were explored using a mixed method approach within three secondary, co-educational Catholic schools in Sydney, Australia. Teachers within these schools were surveyed (N = 178), 10 peer-nominated caring teachers were interviewed and observed (n = 10), students were interviewed in groups (N = 33) and colleagues of the 10 teachers were surveyed (n = 13). Analysis of the data shows that there are a number of distinct caring practices utilised by caring teachers. These include (a) a focus on relationships with students, (b) attentiveness, (c) flexibility, (d) compassion, (e) recognition of limitations, and (f) an approachable manner. The practices of caring teachers were found to be motivated by 10 mindsets underpinned by an optimistic belief that change is possible and that help given will improve a situation. The study also reveals that the caring process involves three phases.;Mindsets are found to be the first phase of the educational caring process and provide both the rationale and motivation for caring. The second phase, called the inner response, consists of two key elements in a caring teacher's approach. The first element is the ability to notice and recognise the need for care, while the second is concerned with an emotional response to that need, usually in the form of compassion or concern. The final phase of the caring process involves three key aspects of care demonstrated through personal qualities, commitment and caring acts. The caring acts demonstrated by the teachers in this study confirm the first model based upon the literature review which placed educational and personal care as the two key dimensions of care. However, as a result of the data analysis, the model is modified to show that relationship is at the core of these two types of care and facilitates the caring acts. Investigation of the third research question provided much needed empirical findings with regard to the factors that affect caring. Results confirm many of the theoretical perspectives but also show that spending time with students is important to caring teachers in the support and maintenance of caring practices. Additionally, factors that hinder caring teachers include (a) tiredness and feeling drained, (b) students failing to respond to care, (c) lack of time, and (d) staff with different mindsets. Hindering factors are fewer in number than those that support. Both the hindering and supportive factors identified by the nominated caring teachers are somewhat different to those factors identified by other teachers. Based upon the results, the thesis presents a modified model of care for future research, along with recommendations related to the selection, training, induction, and sustaining of caring teachers.

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


430 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Faculty of Education