What Makes a Teacher A+ Effective? (Part 1)

What is the most important factor impacting student learning?  While our common sense screams “the teacher,” research proves this to most certainly be the case (Marzano, 72).  A study of 60,000 students across grades 3 through 5 was conducted by Paul Wright, Sandra Horn, and William Sanders. Marzano reported the statistics of the study as “on the average, the most effective teachers produced gains of about 53 percentage points in student achievement over one year, whereas the least effective teachers produced achievement gains of about 14 percentage points over one year” (Marzano, 72).  Students lose academically when they have an ineffective teacher for a year.

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An effective teacher must be excellent in numerous areas of responsibility – person, manager, disciplinarian, instructor, evaluator, communicator, change agent, and reflector. The teacher must have a passion for children and knowledge, and have a burning desire to communicate that knowledge.

The Teacher as a Person

According to Whitaker (2004), “effective teachers have a strong core of beliefs – principles that guide their decisions, touchstones that help them distinguish right from wrong, goals that define their vision for the school year” (p.115). This strong core of beliefs guides the teacher’s behaviors and helps the teacher act in an ethical manner. Kouzes and Posner (2007) discuss modeling the way by setting an example with values, character, service, and professionalism. They believe that “leaders take every opportunity to show others by their own example that they’re deeply committed to the values and aspirations they espouse” (p.75).

Stronge (2002) researched many personal characteristics of effective teachers. Many surveys and research identifies “caring” as the number one quality of effective teachers. “One study defines caring as an act of bringing out the best in students through affirmation and encouragement. The characteristics of caring go well beyond knowing the students to include qualities such as patience, trust, honesty, and courage” (p.14). Caring encompassed numerous actions within a classroom. “Specific teacher attributes that show caring include listening, gentleness, understanding, knowledge of students as individuals, warmth and encouragement, and an overall love for children” (Stronge, p.14).

Effective teachers are life-long learners. They are involved in sustained professional development. Zepeda (1999) explains that “continuing development is the mark of a true professional” (p.4). She further explained that “without continuous growth for adults, students are shortchanged” (p.5). Students benefit from teachers that are continually learning and growing professionally. Effective teachers are readers of new resources and techniques. They are willing to try new innovative ways to make them better teachers.

The Teacher as Classroom Manager & Organizer

Classroom management encompasses routines, procedures, and discipline. An effective classroom manager does not react to issues in the classroom, but is proactive in an attempt to keep the classroom organized and structured for learning. According to Stronge (2002), “effective classroom managers are thoroughly prepared and keep their students actively involved in the teaching and learning process” (p.26).

Organization helps the teacher maximize instructional time. If the teacher is organized and prepared for the day, the day flows smoother. Effective teachers also help the student learn to become organized in their person, property, and thinking.

Procedures and routines lead to efficiently run classrooms. Effective teachers have procedures for each item on their agenda and routines for each movement the students make. These routines and procedures are drilled and enforced. When procedures are followed, consistency is the outcome. This consistency helps establish classroom order and discipline.

Effective teachers have excellent discipline techniques. Marzano (2003) reports that “the categorical rejection of disciplinary techniques is simply not supported by research. Quite the contrary, the research strongly supports a balanced approach that employs a variety of techniques” (p.90). Teachers are consistent in their discipline techniques, because rules are established and followed. Marzano (2003) concluded “that the primary difference was not in how they handled disruptive behavior, but in the disposition of the teacher to quickly and accurately identify problem behavior and act on it” (p.94); this disposition is referred to as “withitness.” An effective teacher has tremendous “withitness”.

According to Marzano (2003), “effective classroom managers are aware of important differences among students. Identifying the differences helps the teacher to better understand individual students and leads students to believe that the teacher has a personal interest in them” (p.101). Student-teacher relationships are built when teachers take a personal interest in their students. Effective teachers concentrate on knowing their students well. They are deeply committed to each child’s success. The teacher concentrates on choosing what partners they need, what their learning style is, how to better assess them, and numerous other details.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series where will look at the teacher as instructional leader, evaluator, communicator, change agent, and reflector.

What has stood out to you about effective teachers you have had or that you have watched?  

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Resources mentioned in this series:

Dr. Cathy Dotson serves as the Elementary Principal of Wilmington Christian Academy in Wilmington, NC. Her 21 years in Christian education and expertise in early childhood and elementary learning ideally equip her to share with FOCUS readers.