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September 1, 2018

Show & Tell: A Video Column / Boosting Your Teacher Credibility

Students' belief that they can learn from a teacher is powerful.
Classroom Management
For both students and staff, there's a mix of excitement and anxiety in the air as students return to school for another year of learning. Much of the advice for teachers at the start of the school year centers on establishing routines and procedures, which is appropriate: Students want to know what to expect from their teachers and how the classroom will operate, and routines give students structure and predictability. But what's often missing from these early days is discussion about something that impacts student learning in significant ways: teacher credibility.
As we dive into this idea of teacher credibility, we invite you to watch the video accompanying this column. You'll meet Dina Burow, mathematics teacher at Health Sciences High and Middle College in San Diego, as she talks with her students early in the school year about their homework and how she expects it to be done. Yes, she is establishing routines and procedures, but as you watch, think about the other things Ms. Burow is doing and saying to establish her credibility with students.

Why is Credibility Central?

Teacher credibility has a strong effect size on student learning—.90. That's well above the average effect size (.40) for factors contributing to academic improvement. To put it in perspective, teacher credibility has twice the impact on learning that student motivation does. So what is teacher credibility?
Teacher credibility is students' belief that they can learn from a particular teacher because this adult is believable, convincing, and capable of persuading students that they can be successful. Students are very perceptive about which teachers can make a difference for them.
Teacher credibility has four components: trust, competence, dynamism, and immediacy. Educators can take actions to raise their credibility in each area.


Students want to know their teachers really care about them as individuals and have their best academic and social interests at heart—and that teachers trust them. (Consider: What elements in how Ms. Burow talks to her math learners about the homework policy imply that she trusts them?) Students also want to know that their teachers are trustworthy and reliable.

Ways to build trust:

    ▪ If you make a promise, work to keep it or explain why you couldn't.
    ▪ Tell students the truth about their performance. If they know their work is below par, they'll wonder why you're telling them otherwise.
    ▪ Don't spend too much time trying to catch students in the wrong—but be honest about the impact that their inappropriate behavior has on you.
    ▪ Examine any negative feelings you might have about specific students. Students often sense such negativity, and it compromises trust.


In addition to knowing teachers care, students want to know their teachers know their "stuff"—and how to teach that stuff. They expect an appropriate level of expertise in terms of delivery and accuracy of information. In the video, Ms. Burow clearly has a lesson plan in mind as she engages her students. Her delivery is well-paced, and the information is accurate, both of which contribute to her credibility.

Ways to signal competence:

    ▪ Make sure you know the content well. Be honest when a question arises that you're not sure about.
    ▪ Deliver lessons cohesively and coherently. Using an instructional framework like the gradual release of responsibility can help with this.
    ▪ Consider whether your nonverbal behaviors communicate competence. For example, putting your hands in a little steeple can convey a lot of confidence, but isn't a good position when you're first working to develop trust. Keeping your arms crossed and hands hidden communicates defensiveness, boredom, or that you're holding something in. Kids notice defensive body language and any posture or gesture that indicates you don't value what they are saying.


This aspect of teacher credibility focuses on the passion teachers bring to the classroom and to their content. It's about the ability to communicate your enthusiasm for your subject and your students. And it's about developing dynamic lessons that capture students' interest. Students notice when teachers are bored by the content or aren't really interested in the topic.
Ms. Burow brings passion and energy to every lesson, even one on how to do homework. Note the fun "how-to-tie-a-shoe" opener she uses to communicate how tricky it is to explain a procedure that you're overly familiar with.

Ways to improve dynamism:

    ▪ Rekindle your passion for the content you teach by focusing on the aspects that got you excited when you were a student. Remember why you wanted to be a teacher and the content you wanted to introduce to students. Every teacher's motto should be: make content interesting!
    ▪ Consider the relevance of your lessons. Does the content lend itself to application outside the classroom or help students become civic-minded and engaged in the community? Do students have opportunities to learn about themselves and their problem-solving abilities?
    ▪ Seek feedback from colleagues about your lesson delivery. Have them observe you, focusing on the passion you bring to the lesson and the energetic impact of those lessons more than on strategies you use.


This concept focuses on accessibility and relatability as perceived by students. Notice how Ms. Burow moves around the room and is easy for students to relate to. She makes herself accessible, yet there's an urgency to her lessons that signals to students that their learning is important.

Ways to communicate immediacy:

    ▪ Get to know something about each student. Students notice when you don't know their names or anything about their interests.
    ▪ Attend extracurricular events so that students see you outside of the classroom.
    ▪ "Teach with urgency" so students sense that their work matters and you're not wasting their time. Start the class on time and use every minute wisely. Provide tasks students can complete while you engage in routine tasks like taking attendance and have "sponge activities" ready for when lessons run short. (But note that "teaching with urgency" doesn't mean making the class stressful.)

Credibility and Engagement

As John Hattie has noted, if a teacher isn't perceived as credible, students just turn off. Frankly, we can't afford for students to turn off. We need them to engage, trust their teachers, and choose to participate in their learning. As the school year starts, remember that these four facets of teacher credibility help kids do just that.
Classroom Management

Show & Tell September 2018

4 years ago
End Notes

1 Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. New York: Routledge.

2 Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2013). Better learning through structured teaching: A framework for the gradual release of responsibility (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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