Understanding Teacher Credibility
Teacher credibility matters! When your students view you as a credible teacher, they are more likely to do well in school.
The importance of a speaker’s credibility has been discussed since Aristotle. Yet, it is only more recently that researchers have started exploring its relationship to students’ learning.
In 2009, Amber Finn and her colleagues published a meta-analysis exploring links between teacher credibility and student achievement. It involved over 10,000 students and found there was a significant relationship between the two (r = 0.51, d = 1.19).
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.
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 any more 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.
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.
Aspect 2: Competence
Competence is the second aspect of teacher credibility. 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 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 all 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, and use specific strategies for managing student behaviour.
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.
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.
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