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Students 'engage better with teachers they see as authentic'

06/06/2017 Joanna

Teachers who are able to put themselves across as authentic and genuine are much more likely to connect effectively with their students, according to new research.

A study carried out by California State University and Chapman University surveyed 300 US college students about their perceptions of authentic and inauthentic teacher behaviour and communication, before gauging the impact these views had on their educational experiences.

Traits that were highlighted as being indicative of authenticity included a willingness to share intimate details and personality through stories or jokes, or showing the humility to admit when mistakes had been made. Care and compassion shown towards students by recognising them as individuals and attending to their needs both academically and personally were also valued.

Authentic teachers were generally seen as being more approachable, passionate, attentive, capable and knowledgeable, while inauthentic teachers were perceived as unapproachable, lacking passion, inattentive, incapable and disrespectful.

The report also offered evidence that this personal connection can deliver tangible benefits in terms of educational outcomes, as students reported higher levels of learning and deeper understanding from learning experiences described as authentic.

At-risk students and those from disadvantaged backgrounds were shown to be particularly positively impacted by teachers they saw as genuine, suggesting authenticity is an important trait that can help to enhance the educational experience across various settings and disciplines.

Lead study author Professor Zac Johnson of California State University said: "This research indicated that students do pay attention to the messages we send about ourselves in the classroom, and that their perception of those messages seem to play an important role in how they connect to the content of the course.

"Further, our findings suggest that we must attempt to be thoughtful when presenting our true self; not dishonest or antithetical to our real self, but rather cognisant of how students might perceive our actions."

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