The Highly Effective Teacher

By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D.
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

The Highly Effective TeacherTeaching is a very difficult profession. In the old days, teachers taught—attending to students’ social-emotional needs was secondary to the act of instruction. However, today’s teachers are expected to be many things, from nurse to social worker, parent to disciplinarian. The role has changed significantly over time. The idea of a “good teacher” has gone well beyond someone who knows the content and uses effective instructional strategies for learning.

Based on a research synthesis of teacher effectiveness by Laura Goe, Courtney Bell, and Olivia Little (“Approaches to Evaluating Teacher Effectiveness: A Research Synthesis”), I’ve crafted a list of the five key attributes of a highly effective teacher.

Communication Skills
Highly effective teachers build learner confidence through interaction (verbal and nonverbal). They are clear with their language during instruction, take time to explain content when students are confused, and rephrase or reframe content when necessary. Most importantly, their language is emotionally safe—there is no shaming, disrespect, or sarcasm.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Do all students know what is expected of them at all times in the classroom?
  • Can all students hear me clearly, no matter where they are in the room?
  • How often do I have to repeat directions or restate them?
  • Do I use inclusive language (“our classroom”) or exclusive language (“my classroom”)?
  • Do students speak to one another respectfully and without judgment?

Relationship Skills
Highly effective teachers are student-focused, having a solid understanding of each child and a trusting nature both within and outside the classroom. They communicate a positive attitude, present a pleasant and inviting demeanor, and are collegial, supportive, and ethical. Additionally, they uphold the standards of professionalism with all stakeholders.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I know something significant about each of the students?
  • Are students encouraged to build relationships with others in the classroom?
  • What do I do to nurture collaborative learning?
  • How well do my actions with other adults represent my professionalism?
  • Do I seek out others who have differing viewpoints?

Classroom Management Skills
The classroom of the highly effective teacher is one of engagement and safety. Students are encouraged to take intellectual risks, try new ways of approaching problems, and feel a sense of accomplishment. There is a sense of joyfulness in the classroom where learning is the target and excitement is the rule. The teacher uses appropriate management tools to engage learners in collaboration, creativity, and communication.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • How well is chaos managed in the classroom?
  • Do students take on some of the responsibilities in the classroom?
  • Do I allow for purposeful and efficient movement during class time?
  • How attentive are all the students during instruction?
  • How joyful is the classroom?

Self-Improvement Skills
The highly effective teacher is a continual learner. Such teachers are reflective in their practice, using feedback as a tool for learning, and are willing to adapt and make changes when necessary. Preparation is never last minute, and persistence is an attitude.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I continuously try to learn new ways of teaching or new topics?
  • How do I use feedback to improve my practice?
  • Do I actively engage in professional development, whether required or self-selected?
  • Do I seek out help from others?
  • How often do I reflect on my students’ performances to improve my instruction?

Community Orientation Skills
The highly effective teacher is a team player—willing to collaborate and cooperate to solve problems. Such teachers value and respect diversity in people and in thinking. Keeping the focus on the student, they work positively with parents and avoid “lounge talk” (rehashing or sharing student issues in the staff lounge). The highly effective teacher initiates and takes responsibility for a positive and effective learning environment.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • When was the last time I took charge of or assisted in solving a schoolwide problem?
  • How often do I participate in community events outside of school?
  • Which words would my students’ parents use when describing me?
  • Which words would my colleagues use when describing me?
  • How might I give back to the school community?

As a teacher, I’m continuously growing and learning. I’ve found that the skills listed above are a good way to monitor my development. Look through the list, and ask the questions of yourself. Teaching is the act of continually learning.

Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.


Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:

Self-regulation Advancing Differentiation

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About Richard M. Cash, Ed.D.

Writes the "Cash in on Learning" post series for Free Spirit Publishing.
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