When your students view you as a credible teacher, they are more likely to do well in school. According to John Hattie’s latest results (2016), teacher credibility has a massive impact (d = 0.9) on the subsequent learning that happens in the classroom. To put this in perspective, teacher credibility has more than twice the impact of student motivation. This doesn’t mean that student motivation is not important – it is. Rather, it simply shows that teacher credibility is even more important.
But don’t most teachers like to see themselves as credible? They probably do, but it is not teachers’ perception of themselves that matters. Rather, it is a student’s perception that is important. Yet, it is not simply a matter of whether they “like” you, but a matter of whether they think you are a good teacher. Students are very accurate at judging which teachers are good at their jobs.
If a teacher is not perceived as credible, the students just turn off.
There are three core aspects that are important to students’ judgments about teacher credibility:
- Trusting Relationships
(NB some academics include a fourth aspect, “immediacy” that I have amalgamated into trusting relationships).
Teacher Credibility Aspect 1: Trusting Relationships
If you want to be seen as credible, you must form trusting relationships with your students. Such relationships are based on care. You must care about your students as both:
Credible teachers care about the results that each of their students achieves. They are not happy to let a struggling student fail anymore and than they are to let a bright student coast along. Yet, they do not expect their students to do it on their own. Rather, they are there for their students every step of the way – and their students know it.
Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Adapted from Theodore Roosevelt
Credible teachers are also there for their students as people. You need to make sure that your students know that they are important to you. Teacher-student relationships flourish when you accept and like each of your students for who they are as an individual. Go out of your way to talk to them about their lives and their interests outside of class. Share their excitement, empathize with their sadness/fears, and be mentally present with them when you do.
So, if you want to increase your teacher credibility, try nurturing even better relationships with your students.
Teacher Credibility Aspect 2: Competence
If you want to be seen as credible, your students must believe that you:
- Know your stuff
- Are good at helping them learn it
- Can manage their behaviour
You need to know the content that you must teach and you need to know it well. That way you can be clear about what it is you want your students to learn – including what they must know and what they must be able to do to succeed. Teachers with a deep understanding of the material they are teaching can also help students achieve conceptual change when needed.
While knowing your stuff is important, you also must be good at teaching it. My daughter had a teacher whose knowledge of her subject was remarkable. However, according to my daughter, she was not very good at sharing that knowledge in ways that help to students to understand it. Of course, my daughter may be wrong. Yet, according to Hattie, students are very good at making such judgments.
You may know your stuff well and be good at teaching it. However, if your students don’t behave well they will actually judge you and form beliefs about your competence. Credible teachers are good at managing their students’ behaviour. Of course, it is true that good teaching nurtures good behaviour. Yet it is also true that teachers who manage behaviour effectively are then able to teach well. You need to be both firm and fair. Related: Top 10 Behaviour Management Strategies; My 5 Favourite On-the-Spot Strategies To Use.
Teacher Credibility Aspect 3: Passion
Students enjoy being taught by teachers who are passionate about their work. Furthermore, they learn more. Therefore, it is not surprising that students see passionate teachers as being more credible than other teachers. Passion and teacher credibility go hand-in-hand.
Some teachers are passionate about what they teach. Personally, I’m extremely passionate about history – both modern and ancient. Passionate teachers are infectious, causing the students to engage more fully with whatever content is being taught. I don’t normally get excited by mathematics despite the fact I find it relatively easy. Yet I once went to an in-service when the national curriculum first came in. The in-service was presented by a university lecturer whose passion for mathematics emanated from her very being. As a result, I was fully engaged for two days despite not being personally excited by the material.
Students appreciated being taught by knowledgeable and passionate teachers.
However, sometimes you must teach subjects you are not passionate about. In such cases, faking it just doesn’t work. Thankfully, students still pick up on your passion to help them learn the material, even if you aren’t passionate about the material itself. Students regard teachers who love their work and who relished the challenge of teaching as being more credible than other teachers.
You must also be careful not to confuse being passionate with being easy. You may be passionate about a subject. You may be passionate about your job. And you may be passionate about helping students to make real progress. In turn, you make it easier to engage your students. Yet, your students will still need to do the hard work necessary for success.
There is a strong link between teacher credibility and student achievement. It is your students’ views about your credibility that matter – not your own views. You can increase your perceived credibility by:
- Forging trusting relationships with your students
- Knowing your stuff, teaching it well and effectively managing your students’ behaviour
- Being passionate about what you teach, about being a teacher, and about helping each of your students succeed