Authenticity, what is it and why is it important? In our modern world to be true to yourself is almost considered the principle of living a good life. But, modern examinations have brought into question the value of living such a life. In this space we are concerned with your influence on your students and how does authenticity, being yourself play out in the classroom.
If you look at definitions of authenticity they may vary in detail but are generally about the ability to be genuine, acting in a way that is consistent and true to your beliefs. This is important for the conclusions I will draw but the journey to that resolution will clarify what authenticity is for any leaders such as teachers and principals, not to mention political and bureaucratic leaders.
If you look for a description of the characteristics of an authentic person you would arrive at the following broad statements:
- They are realistic about their contributions in any given situation
- They accept their self and the independence of others
- They take responsibility for their actions and readily admit to mistakes
- They know what they are doing and why they are doing it
So far things are straight forward however, most research on authenticity and in fact consideration about our own authenticity is based in self-evaluation. This means we appraise our level of agreement with the above characteristics based on our own beliefs and how our actions have influenced our emotional response.
An example of this type of authenticity would be the President of the USA, Donald Trump. I believe Trump would consider himself to be authentic, surprisingly many others must also see him as genuine but I would argue that for many others Trump is far from having the characteristics outlined above. In fact, in my assessment he would fail on all counts. I would consider him inauthentic and so we have to conclude your own authenticity is not based on your assessment but on that of others. In the case of the president, his legitimacy depends on us not his own judgement.
This is when it gets troubling, people are not so simple, they will be driven to get their needs met and these needs will vary from situation to situation from time to time. An appropriate action in one circumstance will be a misdemeanour in another but both could be considered authentic within that circumstance.
If we accept that, then a teacher who believes he/she must take charge of a class, adopt a command/control belief system into their decision making then when they ‘lay down the law’ to misbehaving students they are authentic. Their connection between feeling good about how they have acted is a convincing confirmation of their authenticity but how do the students feel about this?
So, we come back to our original definition and authenticity is the ability to be genuine, acting in a way that is consistent and true to your beliefs however those ‘beliefs’ must be shared by the people we are dealing with. In our case it is our students; do we all share a common set of principles that apply in our school/classroom?
Throughout these Newsletters, remembering our objective is to assist teachers dealing with difficult students we have consistently repeated the mantra be consistent and persistent. But, the thing is what are you to be consistent and persistent about? Referring back to Trump, he is nothing if not persistent and consistent. So, we have to have a shared set of principles on which we can act and the students can judge our authenticity. These principles are:
- Structure – the student and the teacher know what is most likely to happen when a student acts in a certain way. We are talking about consequences for actions. When we mention consequences, it is generally considered we are talking about the link between dysfunctional behaviour and negative consequences. This is understandable when you consider the students we are targeting but just as important is to have the same predictable consequence when the students act in an appropriate way.
- Expectations – this is like structure but it is providing the conditions that build up the memories that allow the student to predict what will happen in the lesson. This includes them knowing the ‘behaviour rules’ but also what the classroom is for. What happened last lesson will allow them to imagine what will happen next lesson so it is important to build up a positive set of expectations for your class.
- Relationships – this is invariably identified as the dominant characteristic in the evaluation of effective teaching. There is so much to having a successful student teacher relationship but there are dangers if that relationship crosses professional boundaries. However, the real expression of a successful relationship is the ability for the teacher to reject the inappropriate behaviour of the student while maintaining their mutual respect.
In a sense your authenticity is rapped-up in the sharing of beliefs between yourself and others and your consistency in acting in a manner that is directed by those beliefs. When you do this, you will not only enjoy the pleasure of feeling authentic you will also have the benefit of your students sharing that sense of authenticity. But, keep in mind you will make mistakes and if you accept these with good humour you will only enhance your humility and that is at the heart of authenticity.
A footnote: This newsletter refers to many previous blogs and so I have provided a bibliography.
- Relationships 26th February 2018
- Consequences – Neither Punishment nor Reward 2nd April 2018
- Question About Controlling the Structure 4th June 2018
- Transference 14th August 2018
- Trust – The Glue That Sustains Relationships 3rd December 2018
- Empathy 18th February 2109
- What’s the Chances 13th May 2019
- Relationships – They Know What You’re Thinking 25th June 2018
- Creating Structure 12th August 2019