Balancing Credibility and Authenticity in the Classroom

In this video by Stephen Brookfield, he explains the importance of balancing credibility and authenticity in teaching in a Higher Ed context. He gives examples how teachers can establish credibility and authenticity, and discusses how they can strike a balance between these two using the Critical Incident Questionnaire as a tool to check how they are doing in the classroom.


One example he gives of perceived credibility of the teacher by students is the ability for the teacher to answer questions on the fly. If an instructor is able to open up the classroom to any random question on their subject expertise, and be able to answer that question in some satisfactory  way, they gain credibility in the eyes of their students. e says:

“The way students judge we know what we’re doing and that we know our stuff is if we can if we can respond to questions in the moment. It seems that responding to one unanticipated question in a good way demonstrates your knowledge and ability. That seems to really enhance your credibility more in fact than anything else.” – 1:48 in video

Another example he gives is for teachers to explain why they do what they do. Talking out loud about why teachers do what they do, building a rationale for why they are doing a particular thing, also serves to enhance credibility.


Brookfield mentions the importance of full disclosure as a source of authenticity. Instructors must make full disclosure to students of exactly what it is they are assessing in the students, why they are assessing them, for what purpose and with what criteria. Students need to know your agenda, bottom line.

Responsiveness to students is also very important – the ability for an instructor to respond to challenges and difficulties students are facing in the class as they grapple with the course material. Responsiveness “focuses on demonstrating clearly to students that you want to know any concerns and problems they are having with their learning so you can help them deal with them” (Brookfield 2015, p. 51).

Autobiographical disclosure is the last example he gives on authenticity in this video. In his book he refers to it as “disclosing personhood”, the “perception students have that their teachers are flesh-and-blood human beings” (p. 52). There is a right time and a right amount of autobiographical disclosure to do. Too much and it becomes inappropriate and off-topic, but too little and the instructor appears wooden and cold.

 Striking a Balance

Brookfield concludes by talking about how to strike a balance as an instructor between credibility and authenticity. He says none of us can find that perfect balance. It’s the “nature of the pedagogic beast” that you can’t get everything perfectly balanced ever (video, 4:28).  However, what helps Brookfield the most in his own teaching is constantly using a Critical Incident Questionnaire to gauge the appropriate balance he is giving to both credibility and authenticity. The CIQ will reveal how students are feeling about his teaching, and he can make adjustments appropriately based on their feedback.


Brookfield, S. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.