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The (Mis)behaviors that Undermine Our Credibility

By Dave Stuart Jr.

The wildcard of student motivation, in any given classroom, is teacher credibility. If kids believe you, they're going to earnestly consider what you have to say, whether it's about the content they're learning or the other four key beliefs. When my students believe in me — when they find me credible — they listen to what I have to say about success and effort; they contemplate my messages about who they are, what school is, and whether or not it can be valuable to them.

As hokey as it sounds, teacher credibility's impact on student achievement is well-established in what is probably the least hokey of all educational studies ever conducted: John Hattie's Visible Learning meta-analysis. (I discuss that a bit more here.) Credibility is the secret sauce of impactful classrooms.

I've written before about ways to undermine your credibility, but I came across something in my reading this week that adds to the list of credibility killers. Here are some ways to undermine your credibility, according to an interesting study from Sara Banfield, Virginia Richmond, and James McCroskey. (There's a pdf of the study here.) The authors group credibility-killing “misbehaviors” into three categories: incompetence, indolence, and offensiveness.

Incompetent misbehaviors

The study found that incompetent misbehaviors are the second most-effective way to undermine your credibility.

  1. Don't learn and use kids' names correctly
  2. Make tests too hard
  3. Demonstrate an unwillingness to help kids succeed
  4. Present poor lectures (or instructions)
  5. Bore students
  6. Confuse students
  7. Overload kids with information
  8. Mispronounce words
  9. Speak with accents that students do not understand
  10. Fail to manage your classroom
    • This is my addition to the list. If you're struggling with classroom management, consider the CARE approach.

Indolent misbehaviors

The study found that indolent misbehaviors are the third most-effective way to undermine your credibility. In other words, these have the smallest negative impact on credibility, perhaps because these behaviors tend to make a teacher's course easier.

  1. Fail to show up for class
  2. Arrive late
  3. Forget test dates
  4. Neglect grading
  5. Return papers late
  6. Constantly change assignments
  7. Make classes and tests too easy

Offensive misbehaviors

These have the greatest negative effect on teacher credibility.

  1. Humiliating students
  2. Playing favorites
  3. Intimidating students
  4. Acting in a condescending manner
  5. Acting rude
  6. Acting in a self-centered fashion
  7. Using sarcasm to get your point across
  8. Being verbally abusive
  9. Making arbitrary decisions
  10. Being unreasonable

So what?

My grandpa always said that he was successful because he was lazy. It sounds bad, but what he meant is that he wasn't ever content to simply achieve a goal — he wanted to achieve it as simply as possible. If goal-achievement required inhuman amounts of effort, he knew that success would never be sustainable — you could muster it in short spurts, but not over the long-term. In my grandfather's sense, I aim to be a lazier teacher — I have to do this to ensure that I put in a career's worth of effort toward the long-term flourishing of students while also not forsaking my callings as a husband and father.

This is why I bring Grandpa's laziness up: teacher credibility is the lazy teacher's approach to student motivation. If you can become credible in the eyes of your students, you can expect that telling them to believe the other key beliefs of motivation will actually do something. It won't magically solve all their motivation issues, but it will solve some of them. A credible teacher can produce internal shifts in kids — the same internal shifts that underlie the behaviors of the intrinsically motivated kids we love to teach.

Today's article helps us attack credibility from the negative angle:

  • What (mis)behaviors do I engage in from Banfield et al's lists?
  • How can I get better?

We all should be able to make something of those questions. None of us are perfect.

And for my folks outside of the classroom, consider job-appropriate, correlative misbehaviors to the list above. The teachers you work with are motivated by the same five key beliefs — how might your (mis)behaviors be unintentionally undermining your credibility with teachers?

Share in the comments section below.

Note from Dave:  I'm making an all-online, schedule-friendly PD course on student motivation, and one of the six modules is all about teacher credibility. To get on the waitlist for the course, sign up here

2 Responses to The (Mis)behaviors that Undermine Our Credibility

  1. Carmen Munnelly February 10, 2018 at 10:25 am #

    Your posts are my vitamin boosts!
    To add an idea to your name thing, these days we often have tech help in that kids’ faces are online (Zangle, PowerSchool). A super dedicated teacher could create flashcards using their kiddos’ faces; a normally dedicated teacher could spend time self-quizzing with a seating chart with faces.

    But sometimes there are speedbumps. One year I had an Anthony Lee and an Anthony Tran, a Kevin Lee and a Kevin Tran, an Alex Lee and an Alex Tran without benefit from the tech…

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