10 Qualities of Great Teachers

Are you a great teacher? It’s a question that we often ask ourselves, some more than others I guess, and it’s nearly always the reason why we chose this profession. For some, it was an amazing teacher you had in school, for others, it was a distinct lack of a good teacher and recognising the qualities that teachers SHOULD have. For me, it was kind of a combination of both – there just weren’t enough good teachers to go around.

What makes a great teacher could easily be a list of characteristics that look similar to what makes a good person – a sense of humour, the ability to feel like you’re actually being listened to, flexibility, and consistency of personality and approach. With this in mind, this is a question that has driven educational researchers and the concepts lie at the core of the teaching professional development push of late. We want to know how to improve our teaching pedagogy in order to be making more of a difference on the educational outcomes of our students. When you want to know how to be better, going straight to the source is the best option!

I recently came across a research article where 1800 Australian school boys were interviewed and gave some frank feedback on the characteristics of good and bad teachers. It was definitely an interesting read and certainly prompted some hectic self reflection! It’s not surprising that the boys expressed that when they have ‘good’ teachers, they are more likely to work and less likely to be disruptive. That in itself should make you want to do everything in your power to be a ‘good’ teacher!

Want to read the article for yourself, then here’s the link but if you’re like me and love it when people give you the quick version, then read on! Below you will find a conglomeration of information, sourced from the above link as well as anecdotal evidence from classrooms and other cited research.

1. Listen

Most miscommunication occurs when people stop listening and are getting ready to defend their position. I should know, it’s a constant struggle for me in my personal life! When you take the time to process and actually listen, a couple of things happen: A. You give the other person the opportunity to put forward their point of view. Sometimes, it’s just this process of being able to say what’s on their mind that is important for them. B. You get an understanding of their perspective so you don’t waste your time and emotions talking about completely different things! Listen from their perspective and take your time to process it.

2. Have a sense of humour

The benefits of laughter are well documented. It lowers stress, increases endorphins which make you feel good, it helps minimise awkward situations (like when you accidentally run into a pole!), gives you a sense of commonality and helps lower your blood pressure. You would be crazy not to use it in your classroom

We recently brought in a Laughter Yoga teacher to run our class through a workshop and invited parents to join us too. It was such a good session, I highly recommend doing this for your people!

Don’t feel like laughter needs to be explored in specialised workshops – it can be called upon at any time. Even though the kids will rarely admit it, they actually like bad ‘dad jokes’. One of my Yr 8 girls told me that my jokes were so lame and I needed to research to get better ones. Everyday she would check-in to see if I’d made any progress and would lecture me if I hadn’t found any good jokes (actually this part was quite funny!). Through my ‘lack of humour’ (although I thought I was funny as hell), we built a strong bond.

3. Flexibility

Everyone can have a bad day but it’s important to acknowledge when you see it. Using empathy and showing flexibility to get around it goes a long way in helping overcome it. I had a yr 7 kid in my class this year who was clearly having a bad day. He was moody, uncooperative and falling asleep instead of doing his work. My initial instinct was to get on his case to get the work done but I took the time to realise that this behaviour was out of character for him. I then crouched down to his level, acknowledged his unusual behaviour, asked if he was having a bad day and if I could do anything to help. He immediately opened up to say that he was up late because there was some family stuff going on that he was stressed about and he was really tired. I asked him if I let him have a lie down and a little sleep, could he catch up on the work later. He was so relieved and thankful, he actually guaranteed the work would get done and he could identify people who could help him do it. He kept his word and our relationship was strengthened by being flexible around when the work could be completed. 

4. Use respectful language

Noone wants to be spoken down to or made a fool of. Great teachers use inclusive language in the classroom and never use sarcasm. If you want to build a safe place where your students feel valued and ok to fail, you need to be respectful with your language. Find the positives even in incorrect answers, encourage your students to be their very best. Educator Rita Piersen, in her Ted talk, demonstrates the power of this and you can easily see the benefits to relationships.

5. Consistent

You could be the coolest teacher on the block, but if you’re not consistent with your actions, you lose standing as a teacher. Students appreciate when teachers are consistent because they know what they are going to get each time they are in your class. They know that regardless of who you are, if you step across the line, the consequences will be the same for all and followed through with. Although they hate it when they get into trouble, they respect you because you are clear and consistent (unless you are consistently mean or flakey!).

6. Know their stuff

Kids respect it when you are clearly knowledgeable about the topic. Despite the age of technology and 24/7 access to knowledge, students want to feel like you know what’s up. In a student centred context, you would be the one asking provoking questions and encouraging them to seek further information but having an idea of the topic is still very important.

7. Activate curiosity

Back in the day, before we had caller ID, why did we answer the phone (stay with me on this …)? We were curious who was on the other end and what they wanted. If your lessons have a sense of unpredictability, that anything is possible and things could get a little crazy, kids are intrigued about what could happen next. If you engage their creativity and approach a topic from a unique perspective, students appreciate the effort you go to pull them in.Using the litmus test of “would I be interested in doing this if I were them” is a quality lens to view your work through. If the answer is no, find another way to do it! Would you prefer to sit in a dead boring lesson where the teacher drones on in a monotonous voice, or in a lesson with engaging language and activities that you can relate to so that you can more easily retain the information?

8. Get to know their students

When people make an effort to know who you are and what makes you tick, you can’t help but like them. Actually, it’s biological! We have a primitive drive that is part of our subconscious survival strategy to build communities, because there is safety in numbers. When we take the time to find out about people, they see that we are actually interested and in that, you build a commonality and show likeness to each other. In this exchange, we feel like we are being heard and when the teacher uses this information to tailor the learning experiences for that student, it’s hard not to appreciate their efforts. 

If you are ever having a hard time getting a tough kid to come around and do the right thing in your class, find out what sport they play (because invariably these kids do) and get out to watch one of their games on the weekend. You don’t even need to talk to them on the day but they’ll see you there and appreciate that you took time out of your busy weekend to make them feel important. I did this with one of my more challenging yr 9 boys and the respect that was forged through that single act continued on through the rest of his schooling.

9. Effectively manage classroom behaviour

As was revealed in the initial article, when you have the respect of students, you use less behaviour management techniques in the classroom. However, students appreciate having teachers who are able to control the class and focus learning effectively. This gives them the space to do their best and not be distracted by poor behaviour of other students. Want to know more about effective classroom management, here’s an article for more info – How to use the ripple effect to enact positive change in the classroom.

10. Go above and beyond

Students really appreciate when teachers put in time outside of their normal lessons, to help them succeed. Tutorials, effort in building exciting lessons, watching their weekend sporting games, coaching etc are all examples of this. If you ask a student who puts the effort in at school, they often cite the teachers who are going the extra mile to help the kids out. I distinctly remember my HPE teacher, who coached me on the weekends and always made time to explain concepts. He is one of the main models I use for my teaching philosophy and although I probably didn’t tell him, I appreciated it more than he knows. That’s the power of teaching I guess, the unseen impact of our actions.

I doubt this is a definitive list of qualities but if you are unsure .. actually ask your kids! It’s really insightful when you ask for their opinion and in particular how to be a better teacher.

Click here for a free Student Feedback Form to use in your class!

You’ll be surprised about their candidness and when you incorporate their suggestions, they feel like their opinion matters and it also gives you an insight into how to get them to connect with the content – winning!

Thanks so much for hanging out with us and we look forward to seeing you again soon! Have a great week!

Vikki Grant

Granted Education

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