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5 Key Traits of Successful Teachers


Teachers touch countless lives daily. Each day teachers have the ability to powerfully influence students in a profound way. At one time or another, each us has most likely experienced a teacher that made school a place we wanted to be, and inspired us to do our best or to focus deeply on a particular subject. Maybe the teacher made a personal connection with us that helped us in a time of need. Whatever the case may be, teachers change lives.

Countless studies have been conducted on effective teachers and the difference they make in the students whom they serve. Although there is no formula for an effective teacher, there are traits that all effective teachers should have.

  • High Expectations – A great teacher knows that every child can learn, and does his or her best to make that happen every day. Differentiated instruction, individualized help, hands on learning activities and probing for understanding with appropriately rigorous curriculum are just a few of the ways a teacher can impart those expectations

  • Instructional Preparation – Great teaching takes great planning. Teachers who know their students well and prepare thoroughly for every lesson, not only can provide better instruction, but they can also instill in their students that it’s not enough to “just show up”.

  • Effective Classroom Management and Organization – Good teachers are also organized teachers. Organization and classroom management sets the tone for the expectations, and models what a smoothly functioning classroom looks like. It also lets the student know that there are appropriate procedures in place in the classroom and the expectation is that everyone will respectfully follow them.

  • Varying Strategies for Active Instruction – Remember Educational Philosophy 101? John Dewey had it right when he fostered active instruction and hands-on learning. “Learning by doing” is still the best approach. Great teachers know this and provide activities that involve and challenge the students. Lots of time spent on standardized test prep doesn’t necessarily equate to higher performance, but active instruction often does.

  • Monitoring Students and Modeling Respect for the Classroom as a Learning Community – Think of a situation when you have felt disrespected. Could you perform at your optimal level? Or did it cause you to shut down? Great teachers take an active interest in the needs of their students and show them respect always. Teachers must also ensure that all students in their charge treat one another with respect. In a mutually respectful environment, teaching and learning can flourish.

One of the most important educational studies on teacher effectiveness ever conducted in U.S. schools was the Tennessee STAR (Student Teacher Achievement Ratio) Study conducted by William Sanders. The study, conducted over a number of years, measured the performance of similar ability children from grades 3-5. Students who had three consecutive years of teachers who were classified as high performing were compared with students who had three consecutive years of teachers who were considered low performing. The results of the study showed an amazing difference of 52 percentile points on math achievement tests. Despite the fact that the students were of similar ability, those with high performing teachers scored at the 96th percentile on average, while those with low performing teachers scored at the 44th percentile. Additionally, the achievement gains continued throughout subsequent years, so the achievement was lasting for the group of students with effective teachers. Later similar studies have also had similar findings.

A teacher can never underestimate the impact they make on the students whom the serve. Every day is an opportunity to make a lasting difference in a child’s achievement and personal growth. It’s up to each of us as educators to “Seize the day!

Sanders, W. L., & Rivers, J. C. (1996). Cumulative and residual effects of teachers on future student academic achievement.

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