Teachers can make a large and positive difference to how well children do at school, but unfortunately, not all teachers do. The reality is that some teachers are far more effective than other teachers.
Studies that take into account all of the available evidence on teacher effectiveness suggest that students placed with high-performing teachers will progress three times as fast as those placed with low-performing teachers.
Barber & Mourshed, 2007
Why are some teachers better than others?
Part of the answer lies in the teaching strategies that they use; however, another part of the answer lies in the teachers themselves. Simply forcing all teachers in school to adopt certain teaching strategies will not change the fact that there will be some teachers who clearly have more impact on students than others.
Read on to discover the seven characteristics of great teachers.
John Hattie, the ‘go to guru’ of evidence-based education, believes1 that the best teachers are passionate people. They love what they teach, they love being a teacher, and they love the challenge of helping each of their students learn. Their passion is contagious, and they infect their students with a love of learning.
Passion is what drives us to put so much energy into our teaching. It stops us from giving up when things get hard, and it motivates us to learn ways to improve our craft – no matter how good we already are. You cannot be a great teacher without a passion for helping kids learn.
Great teachers expect all of their students to work hard and to learn. They acknowledge that their students are at different stages and have varying levels of ability. However, they believe that all of their students can learn, that all of their students should achieve real progress every year and that all of their students should achieve basic levels of competence in literacy and numeracy.
Great teachers expect every one of their students to work hard and achieve things that haven’t mastered before. Their belief in their students leads these teachers to challenge their high achievers, in the same way it leads them to challenge students who struggle. Research2 suggests this habitual challenging of students is the single largest factor separating great teachers from the rest of the pack.
“When I treat you as what you are capable of becoming, I help you become that.
All other things being equal, smart people make the best teachers – and the smarter the person the better. This may fly in the face of popular belief, but research3 clearly shows that higher levels of intelligence, traditionally known as IQ and now known as general mental ability (g), leads to higher performance in all jobs – including teaching4.
The only variable in teachers that is consistently associated with student progress is teacher IQ.
This is not so surprising when you consider that intelligence is essentially a measure of your ability to grasp the challenge before you and discern the best way to proceed. This ability underpins decision-making and problem-solving, things that teachers must do on a daily basis and things that research2 shows great teachers do well.
All teachers need to know the content that they need to teach, and they need to know the most effective ways of teaching it. If you haven’t done so yet, you can get a 3 minute crash course in the Top 10 Evidence Based Teaching Strategies here.
“It is teachers using particular teaching methods that are more likely to have the above-average effects on student achievement.”
Such knowledge is a prerequisite to effective teaching. However, on its own, this knowledge is not enough to move you from good to great. It is how they use this knowledge that makes some teachers more effective than others2. Great teachers help students move from surface knowledge to deeper levels of understanding. They connect new knowledge to students’ prior knowledge, including knowledge from other curriculum areas, and they offer individualised suggestions to help each of their students improve.
Great teachers work hard. Teaching is not always fun or easy, and it certainly isn’t a 9 to 3 job. While it is possible to focus your efforts on those things that matter most, there is no substitute for hard work. Great teachers are driven to do well, and they understand the link between effort and success.
“Genius is one-percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration”
Conscientious people are responsible, determined and persistent. They work hard and go the extra mile in order to do the very best job that they can. Therefore, you should not be surprised to learn research5 shows that conscientious staff perform better in virtually all jobs.
Teachers who care about their students have more impact on how well those students do at school6.
They genuinely care about them as people in much the same way that a loving parent would care about their child. Great teachers are warm, respectful and empathetic. They say good morning to students when they walk into school at the start of the day, they ask students about things going on in their lives, and they offer support when students are in need.
You also need to care about them as students – that is you need to care when they are just coasting along when they could be doing better. Great teachers are not afraid of tough love. You need to believe in your students and challenge them to excel while simultaneously supporting them to do so.
This caring attitude lays the foundation for classrooms where students:
- Believe in their own capacity to learn
- Are not afraid of having a go or making mistakes
- Are receptive to feedback that will help them learn.
A Problem-Solving Approach to Failure
Great teachers want to help every one of their students to succeed, but sometimes their efforts fail to have the desired effect. They are not afraid of failure. They don’t blame themselves, but nor do they excuse the failure as inevitable. Rather, they see the failure as feedback that tells them that what they are currently doing is not working for this student or group of students. Great teachers then embrace the situation as a challenge to be met or a problem to be solved.
When faced with the challenge of a student or a group of students not mastering what they are trying to teach, great teachers seek information about alternative approaches, be it from other teachers or outside experts. They try out solutions, they monitor their impact, and they keep trying out ideas until they find something that works1.
- Re-ignite your passion
- Raise your expectations
- Read more about evidence based teaching strategies
- Continue to work hard
- Take the time to show students you care
- Embrace challenges and problem solving as normal
- Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. Routledge. [↩]
- Hattie, J. (2003). Teachers Make a Difference: What is the research evidence? Melbourne: Australian Council of Educational Research. [↩]
- Schmidt, F. L. (2009). Select On Intelligence. In Handbook of Principles of Organiational Behavior. Wiley; Menkes, J. (2005, November). Hiring for Smarts. Harvard Business Review, p. 100; Salago, J., Anderson, N., Moscoso, S., Bertua, C., de Fruyt, F., & Rolland, J. (2003). A Meta-Analytic Study of General Mental Ability Validity for Different Occupations In the European Community. Journal of Applied Psychology, 1068-1081; and, Ree, M., Earles, J., & Teachout, M. (1994). Predicting job performance: Not much more than g.. Journal of Applied Psychology, 79(4), 518-524. [↩]
- Hattie, J., & Anderman, E. (2013). International Guide to Student Achievement: Educational Psychology Handbook. Routledge; Pelayo, I., & Brewer, D. J. (2010). Teacher Quality in Education Production. In D. Brewer, & P. McEwan (Eds.), International Encyclopedia of Education (pp. 178-182). New York: Elsevier; Ehrenberg, R. G. (1995). Did Teachers’ Verbal Ability and Race Matter in the 1960s? Coleman Revisited. Economics of Education Review, 14 (1), 1– 21; Ehrenberg, R. G. (1994). Do School and Teacher Characteristics Matter? Evidence from High School and Beyond. Economics of Education Review, 13(1), 1-17. [↩]
- Locke, E. (2011). Handbook of Principles of Organizational Behavior. John Wiley & Sons; Hurtz, G. M., and J. J. Donovan (2000, December). Personality and Job Performance: The Big Five Revisited. Journal of Applied Psychology. 869–879. [↩]
- Cornelius-White, J. (2007). Learner-Centered Teacher-Student Relationships Are Effective: A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research, 77 (1), 113–143. [↩]