What is your personality as a teacher? Can your students trust you?

7 February 2018

Author: Karen Roskilly - Sandringham Research School Lead

The half term’s Education Reading Group focused on a chapter from Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn by Hattie and Yates (2013) entitled ‘What is your personality as a teacher? Can your students trust you?’  An intriguing chapter title and certainly led to an interesting discussion over lunch, based around the following themes:

Emotional climate

The importance of teacher-student relationships and how this underpins learning was one theme which resonated with the group.  In particular, Hattie and Yates refer to a French study which found that 7 year old students increased their scores on academic tests when administered under friendly conditions, as compared to less friendly test conditions.  The study focused on warm body language, friendly vocal intonation and direct eye contact.  This seemed to all of us to be completely logical; students are sensitive to emotional climate and that this does have an impact on progress.  However, it was also clear from our discussion that this didn’t always influence the way we approached work under exam conditions with students.  There is clearly a need to get the balance right between following exam regulations, preparing students for working under these conditions and kindness.

Students are highly sensitive to how teachers speak

Linked to the concept of emotional climate, was a discussion about how teachers speak and the impact this has on our students.  As a trainee teacher many years ago, I remember time being devoted to learning how to use my voice effectively, although I can’t really remember what the outcome was of this or how I used this information.  Other colleagues had experienced similar, but few of us had really considered the implications of our tone of voice recently.  Hattie and Yates refer to a study by Babad (2009) into how students read cues such as tone of voice, and note ‘although the behaviours are subtle, implicit and seemingly invisible, their influence on students is intense’.  Therefore, we felt that greater awareness of the manner in which we deliver words is as important as what we are saying.

The ‘blink effect’

Studies show that students begin to evaluate their teachers within as little as 10 seconds of meeting them, which is one aspect of the blink effect outlined by Malcolm Gladwell.  This initial evaluation then becomes honed over time as students amend or develop their perceptions.  Research suggests that this perception is positively affected by teachers who frequently smile, make direct eye contact, have relaxed body language and have use friendly and encouraging vocal tones.  This struck a chord with many of the recently qualified teachers in the group who had been advised to take quite a stern approach to first encounters with students (and to take this approach for at least a term).  However, the research evidence suggests that this is perhaps not the best approach to take.  It certainly gave us food for thought in terms of the initial first impressions we make with classes in September and how this then impacts on relationships and, ultimately, student outcomes.

Student expectations of their teachers

Students have well-defined notions of what they expect of their teachers and this was echoed in the experiences of those in the reading group.  In particular, we had all seen colleagues either ‘succeed or fail’ on the basis of either living up to expectations or not!  What we all found interesting was that the research supported our ideas about what we thought students wanted.  They want a responsible adult, who is trustworthy, approachable and fair and a classroom that is focused on learning.

Once again, we found ourselves coming back to the climate we create in our classrooms and how integral this is to everything we do.  As Hattie and Yates state,

‘As a teacher you embody the ‘just world’ as an abstract, but nevertheless, realistic ideal.  This is not to say that the world outside is just, rather that your classroom represents both a place of mutual trust and a bridge to a successful future.’

Posted on 7 February 2018
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