What Makes an Effective Teacher?

Approaching Academics With Innovation and Intent

Tiara Smith

By Tiara Smith, Copywriter & Content Strategist

Many educators decide to pursue this career path because they are extremely passionate about their students, learning, and helping them become lifelong learners. Oftentimes, educators would define being an effective teacher as the ability to provide instruction in a way that increases student achievement while building students' ability to comprehend, write, and communicate effectively, but these concepts are heavily tied to a myriad of other skills such as communication, listening, collaboration, adaptability, and empathy. While this is certainly the foundation of the true meaning of being an effective teacher, we’d like to provide you with a few tips to help you become even more effective. Within this article we will provide you with our thoughts as to what makes an effective teacher, how to select and adopt better teaching strategies, and how to apply these concepts to compose lesson plans that accelerate student learning.

What Characteristics Make an Effective Teacher?

The characteristics of an effective teacher heavily rely on the ability to communicate, learn, and grow in a way that helps students do the same. The following characteristics aid in the creation of a more effective teacher:

The Learning Environment: Among the key characteristics that effective teachers possess, one of the most important is the creation of an optimal learning environment. By equipping themselves with high-quality curricular resources, teachers prioritize and foster a learning environment where students feel comfortable taking risks, making mistakes, and becoming independent thinkers. As students become more comfortable, they will feel safe enough to face the barriers that come with learning the skills and strategies needed to become successful readers, writers, and thinkers. As they learn about new subjects and approach increasingly complex texts and tasks, they will also learn that they have the support of their teacher and peers.

In addition, it is important that this learning environment also places students at the center of learning, meaning that their needs are met, questions are answered, and tools and strategies are put in place to combat the many challenges students face. Should one of your students struggle with fluency, for example, it is crucial that teachers dig a little deeper to see what area of fluency is a challenge, whether it involves accuracy, automaticity, or prosody.

Lastly, this positive learning environment will lend itself to producing academic growth by allowing both students and teachers to feel comfortable with the idea of giving and receiving feedback. Feedback can seem scary at first, but will become more natural as students and teachers engage with the practice. Feedback is essential because it helps students to understand where they are with a skill or strategy and identify what can be done to improve or fill gaps. In a positive learning environment, peer feedback is also practiced. When students provide feedback to their peers, they learn just as much from giving feedback as they do from receiving it. This line of communication is a huge differentiating factor in becoming a more effective teacher as well.

Collaboration with Colleagues: Though work days are often extremely busy, setting aside time in the day to discuss with your colleagues can make all the difference. Teacher collaboration has been proven to produce stronger academic outcomes, strengthen social connections among teachers, and improve the effectiveness of data-informed instruction, according to a guide from Public Agenda. In fact, per an analysis of over 9,000 teachers in Miami-Dade County public schools, teachers that reported that their collaboration with other teachers was both “extensive” and “helpful” experienced higher student achievement in the areas of both math and reading.

Furthermore, research conducted by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research has further solidified that the presence of a strong professional community that depends on collaboration has lasting effects outside of academic results. Teacher collaboration allows the work of each educator to be shared with their colleagues, encouraging critical questions and open-minded conversation. It is this support that aids in elevating student achievement while strengthening professional standing by way of picking up new teaching methods/schools of thought and educating teachers in a way that makes them more effective in instruction. Whether you have time during your plan time, during lunch, or after school, try to connect with your other colleagues to see what may be working well in their classrooms that could translate into results for yours.

Keep up-to-date With the Latest Research: Becoming an even more effective teacher involves a balance of reviewing the most up-to-date academic research and applying it to the classroom in a way that makes sense for your students. As you begin your research, you will notice that there is a plethora of data regarding best practices for things such as reading instruction, the quantitative data behind it, and more! We know that your time is limited, which is why we make it our top priority to provide reliable, up-to-date content on our Breakroom Blog from trusted experts such as this article about the Art and Science of Reading Instruction by Timothy Rasinski, Ph.D., Professor of Literacy Education at Kent State University, to save you time and hassle while informing instruction. When equipped with the right data, teachers can remain informed to compose the most effective instructional strategy and select the best educational resources, aiding in the successful achievement of academic goals.

Engage in Professional Development: Outside of reviewing research on your own, professional development can make a huge difference in becoming an effective teacher. As your school or district provides you with professional development that works best for you, try to think of relevant topics of interest you’d like to learn about to discuss that possibility with your school/district’s coaches or principals to get the most out of your learning experience. As you learn about more strategies, best practices, and approaches to even the most complex topics, you will gain a new perspective that allows you to deliver intentional instruction with confidence.

Adopting an Effective Teaching Model

When selecting a teaching model, it can be difficult to know where to start. If you are looking to become a more effective teacher, we would suggest taking a research-based approach. One instructional model, the Gradual Release of Responsibility, does just that. Following this model, teachers follow a methodical process to introduce new content using the following steps:

  1. “I do”: This step represents the initial exposure to the new concept that is being taught as well as focused instruction to establish the purpose for learning and explicitly modeling the skill or strategy.. In doing so, teachers model the correct way to perform the new concept, such as pronouncing a new vocabulary word, allowing them to set the tone for the lesson.
  2. “We do”: During this phase, teachers will guide instruction by asking questions or prompting students to put what they’ve learned into practice. In addition, teachers are gathering information simultaneously, making observations, and looking for evidence of potential problems.
  3. “You do”- This is the time for your students to build independence as they learn about new skills and strategies and become exposed to new content.Once complete, students can discuss with one another, bounce ideas off of one another, and demonstrate their understanding of what they have learned.

Adopting an instructional model such as this allows teachers to more effectively structure their time, which is often limited . As you search for resources and/or supplemental learning tools, we recommend you search for tools that utilize the Gradual Release Instructional Model, such as Foundations A-Z.

Teaching Resources for Effective Lesson Plans

It is no secret that quality lesson plans are the roadmap to academic success, but writing quality lesson plans can be quite difficult and time consuming. To become an effective teacher, it is important that your lesson plans:

  • Offer flexibility for students and teachers
  • Align with standards
  • Provide clear learning goals for students
  • Include opportunities to formally or informally assess student progress
  • Offer opportunities for students to collaborate with their peers
  • Follow a systematic approach, meaning that content is taught in a way that transitions from simple to complex concepts
  • Provides suggestions for differentiation of instruction for students that are both advanced and below the desired level of achievement

To aid in this process, we would suggest you consider using the Backwards Design method. Using this method, teachers are able to tailor their lesson plans to student learning objectives rather than letting standards completely lead the way. Take a look at this article about how to use this method to learn more.

Teachers’ Shared Learning Strategies

Becoming a more effective teacher is a collaborative process, and we all have the power to help one another succeed! We would love to hear how you have created more effective teaching methods in your classroom. Submit your thoughts by commenting on any of our social media platforms and learn from other teachers just like you around the world!

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Schleifer, David, et al. “Teacher Collaboration in Perspective: A Guide to Research.” Public Agenda, Public Agenda, 30 Nov. 2016, https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED591332.

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