Credibility and Consulting – Donna Ellis

My once-a-term posting isn’t as contentious as the title may suggest. Yes, it’s about credibility and consulting, but it’s not about “credible consulting”. Rather, the focus is on identifying facets of teachers’ credibility that can help when doing teaching consultations. Having taught public speaking for many years, I’m aware of the power of speaker credibility. If your audience members do not see you as a credible source of information or if you struggle to communicate clearly, they are less likely to be attentive. How might this translate into the teaching context?

Dr. Arletta Bauman Knight, formerly at the University of Oklahoma’s teaching center, developed a model of “teacher credibility” with input from small group consultations with faculty members who wanted to improve their teaching. She based her model on previous writings from the fields of communication and leadership, and labeled the three key components of teacher credibility as: competence, trustworthiness, and dynamism. Teachers who are seen as being competent can explain material well, can answer student questions, and have good classroom management skills. Trustworthiness stems from actions such as giving immediate feedback, providing rational explanations for grading, and not embarrassing students. And dynamic teachers are seen as using various teaching methods, adding their own personality to their classes, and relating positively to students.

The research basis for the model could be more rigorous and more characteristics of credible teachers need to be included, such as ones that help demonstrate a positive attitude towards teaching. However, the model still has merit. It provides a good starting point that can help those doing teaching consultations. Putting the focus on demonstrable teaching behaviours provides a reasonably concrete foundation from which to engage in further explorations or possible changes. When helping someone with their teaching practices, it can sometimes feel like you’re trying to complete a puzzle without knowing if you have all the pieces. A model like Knight’s can provide a framework for doing a thorough analysis and creating as complete a picture as possible.

It’s not just CTE teaching consultants who can use this model, though. Individual teachers can use it when analyzing the open-ended comments on their course evaluations. Or departmental or faculty-wide teaching mentors can also use such a model. At recent meetings with Department Chairs and Faculty Deans, I have been advocating for more such faculty teaching mentors across campus. We can build an even stronger teaching community with more resources and support.

So take a few moments and reflect on your own teaching. How credible are you? Can you find any missing pieces that can help clarify the picture of who you are, or want to be, as a teacher? Let me know if you want to explore this one further.

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Donna Ellis

Donna Ellis has supported the teaching development of Waterloo faculty members and graduate students since 1994. In her role as Director, she oversees the development and delivery of all the Centre for Teaching Excellence programming and services, which include individual faculty consultations; events directed at graduate students, new faculty, and established faculty regarding face-to-face teaching, blended learning, and emerging technologies; online resources; curriculum and program review consultations; and research support services. Donna has a PhD from Waterloo’s Management Sciences program and completed her dissertation research on instructional innovations. She also has an MA in Language and Professional Writing from Waterloo, and has taught in the Speech Communication program. Donna, along with her husband, spends time away from work raising three fine boys.

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