Many teachers are very good at what they do — but the ones who are truly great at teaching are often the ones who never stop learning and trying new things. Their efforts get results in their classrooms year after year. How do they do it? What are their secrets?
Here are some top traits of outstanding teachers:
1. Get to Know Your Students
Each student is an individual with goals and dreams and a life outside the classroom. They all learn a little differently and are inspired or intrigued by different ideas and subject matter. Take time to get to know your students and find out who they are. This will help you shape the way you teach and engage them. And when students are engaged, they learn.
Getting to know who students are can really help teachers create a safe environment as well. Knowing what they dream about, are worried about, deal with outside of the classroom, etc., can help teachers treat students they way they need to be in order to learn best.
2. Create a Safe Environment for Students
When students feel comfortable in the classroom, they are able to learn and grow, so it’s very important to create a safe environment for all of your students. What’s the best way to make students feel safe?
First, respect your students and encourage them. Take the time to listen to what they have to say, and they’ll be more likely to speak up and participate in class.
Model calmness and kindness for your students. Discourage bullying or negative comments. Insist that students treat each other with respect in your classroom so students feel comfortable raising their hands in class and sharing their ideas.
But what happens when you have a student who is disruptive? It’s inevitable that a student will occasionally test the boundaries, but they need to know that being respectful of others is a non-negotiable rule in your classroom. Don’t call them out in class in front of everyone. That could make the situation worse. Instead, help students stay on track by talking to them one-on-one and being clear about the rules.
3. Allow Students to Drive the Learning
There is nothing harder than forcing someone to learn something that they’re not interested in. But how do you get students excited about the list of items you have to teach in order to the meet new standards?
One option is to have students drive the learning. Student-centric learning is not easy to manage at first and requires a lot of faith and a different teaching style then the lecture style most teachers are used to. Instead, teachers become facilitators. This works well with Project-Based Learning. When students work on projects related to the material in small groups and must meet certain goals, they have to think creatively on how to shape their work with your help. Student-driven learning gives students the time they need to learn the material.
In the end, you will probably have a more chaotic classroom, but if you have students that are more engaged and are really learning, a little mess is worth it.
4. Have High Expectations
Do not doubt that each of your students could be a great scientist or mathematician someday—despite their economic background, sex, or race—and be ambitious for them. Make sure you help foster a growth mindset in your classroom, as popularized in the work of Carol Dweck.
How do you do that? Embrace the idea that harder problems are just more challenging and fun to solve. Anyone can solve them, it just takes perseverance. Being good at math, for instance, is not something people are just born with, it’s something people develop through work.
“Mindset change is not about picking up a few pointers here and there. It’s about seeing things in a new way,” says Dweck. “When people… change to a growth mindset, they change from a judge-and-be-judged framework to a learn-and-help-learn framework. Their commitment is to growth, and growth takes plenty of time, effort, and mutual support.” For students, that kind of support can be obtained from classmates—and teachers.
5. Collect Data
How are your students doing? Are they meeting expectations throughout the year? How do you know? These are questions you’ll be asked, and you must be ready to produce data to support your claims. But don’t be afraid of the data. Data on student progress is not only beneficial for your school, it’s also helpful for you and your students.
Standardized assessments are just one form of data you should collect. But data can be collected informally with a quick check for understanding on a quiz or asking for them to raise their hands to answer a question. Observe students as they participate in their groups and see if they are struggling, or if they appear confident. Online instructional tools also offer a variety of data as students progress through their games, simulations, and other exercises; data that is instantly accessible and actionable.
6. Act on Data
Don’t wait until the end of the year to analyze and address your students’ progress. If you see a problem in the data, it’s important to act on it as soon as possible. Standardized test scores don’t tell you everything about the student, but can help you see where they are struggling and where they are excelling. And if you see significant progress, make sure you let a student know that you’ve seen how great they’re doing.
Use the data you’ve collected to communicate with colleagues and find a solution for struggling students. Use it to look for gaps in their knowledge, and to form a plan to help them learn the material.
7. Love What You’re Doing
Teaching is not for wimps or for people who can’t think of anything else to do. Great teachers have a calling, and go in every day wanting, planning and striving to make a difference in their students’ lives. They use all their creativity to think of new ways to connect with their students and help them learn.
It’s easy to see when a teacher loves what they do—and when they don’t. Students can tell, and will react (and learn) accordingly. Have a growth mindset for yourself, too. Keep learning, and see the challenges in your classroom as opportunities for you to go from a good teacher to a great one!