Richard G. Jones, Jr.
Scholar, Educator, Author

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For College Instructors:

Jul 30, 2013

How to Build Credibility and Create a Positive Climate on the First Day of Class

We are coming up on the first day of class for many college instructors and it's not too early to start planning. The following tips will help you have a great first class day that will set your semester off on the right foot.

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Read the Syllabus and Go? – No!:

“The first meeting of a class is much too important to be treated as something to be gotten over with as quickly as possible” (Friedrich & Cooper, 1999, p. 287). Just going over the syllabus and doing a brief introduction may leave many students frustrated and may further raise their anxiety about public speaking. Students want to acquire information to reduce their anxiety and taking advantage of the entirety of the first class period may be a great chance to do this (Draves, 1984). Setting up a class environment that is interactive and open from the beginning may solve common problems in a speech class before they can occur.

Reduce Uncertainty

Sharing the syllabus and detailed expectations for the course helps reduce students’ anxiety about the material, but they still don’t know who you are! Students will make impressions about you whether you want them to or not, so taking control of this will help establish a rapport that will carry through the term (McKeachie, 1999). This is done through impression management (Friedrich & Cooper, 1999, p. 293-295) and will be largely based on your immediacy behaviors (Copper & Simonds, 2003) and perceived credibility.

Use Immediacy Behaviors

Immediacy behaviors can be described as the positive affect you project as a teacher. “Immediate teachers are viewed as approachable, friendly, open, and responsive to student needs” (Cooper & Simonds, 2003, p. 44). Many studies have shown that students prefer teachers they perceive as immediate and positively evaluate them. “Students affirm teachers who affirm them” (p. 45). By developing and utilizing immediate behaviors, you will set a tone for the course, from the beginning, that involves a level of interpersonal trust.

Establish Your Credibility

Immediacy does not imply softness or easiness. It is just as important to establish your credibility on the first day as it is to establish interpersonal trust and a climate of closeness, and in fact, immediacy and credibility are relational. Studies have shown that students perceive teachers with positive immediacy behaviors to be more credible (McCroskey & Wheeless, 1976; Thweatt & McCrosky, 1998). Being prepared and organized also add to your credibility as well as your appearance. Remember, the first day is your best opportunity to set a high credibility threshold. It’s much harder to lower a credibility threshold that has been set high on the first day and even more difficult to raise the threshold if you did not raise it on the first day.

Basic Tips:

  • Be organized, prepared, and friendly (don’t forget to smile).
  • Even if you prefer to dress informally or casually when you teach, dressing up on the first day will raise your credibility threshold. You can even use it as a teaching tool to show students how they should dress for presentations.
  • Arrive early to make sure the classroom is already set up in the most conducive arrangement (students will probably automatically set the class the same way in subsequent meetings without you asking).
  • Arrive early and informally greet students when they arrive. DO NOT wait until a few minutes after class is supposed to start to make your grand entrance.
  • Don’t forget to introduce yourself. Let them know your qualifications and credentials (this is especially beneficial if you look young).
  • Try to learn as many names as you can the first day, your students will be very impressed.
  • Reduce uncertainty and increase predictability by using the entire class period to cover expectations, do introductions and ice breakers, and answer questions. Don’t be afraid to start course content.
  • Tease the upcoming class to make students look forward to what is next.
  • Reflect on the first day immediately after. What worked? What didn’t? What do you want to do differently next term?


References

Cooper, P. J., & Simonds, C. J. (2003). Communication for the classroom teacher (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Draves, W. A. (1984). How to teach adults. Manhattan, KS: Learning Resources Network.

Friedrich, G. W., & Cooper, P. (1999). The first day. In A. L. Vangelisti, J. A. Daly, G. W. Friedrich (Eds.), Teaching communication: Theory, research, and methods (2nd ed.) (pp. 287-296). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc.

McCroskey, J. C., & Wheeless, L. R. (1976). Introduction to human communication. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

McKeachie, W. J. (1999). Meeting a class for the first time. In W. J. McKeachie (Ed.), Teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (10th ed.) (pp. 34-41). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Thweatt, K., & McCroskey, J. C. (1998). The impact of teacher immediacy and misbehavior on teacher credibility. Communication Education, 47, 351-356.