Saturday, July 3, 2010


Dr. Wendy Ghiora – Posting #55 – July 3, 2010

Researching “Characteristics of Effective Teachers,” produces over 21,700,000 articles via Google. Many of these articles contain familiar commonalities. Following, is one set of twelve principles presented by Susan Thompson, John G. Greer and Bonnie B. Greer of the University of Memphis that seem to be common to most of the sites on the subject. With that degree of agreement, it would be safe to say, most educators would consider these to be foundational.

1. Fairness Effective teachers know how to be fair and just and try their very best not to have “pets,” or students that are given unfair advantages over other students.
2. Positive Attitude Good teachers are happy to be teaching. They share their positive attitude by praising and recognizing effort and success in their students. This “positive” influence is contagious.
3. Preparedness Some teachers still don’t realize, students can tell when the teacher is not prepared and is just trying to “wing it.” Great teachers are always prepared.
4. Personal Touch Students have fond memories of teachers who connected with them in a personal way. Some teachers do this just by asking students individually, how they are doing. Others intertwine personal stories and experiences with the day’s lesson.
5. Sense of Humor It is nice when a teacher can effectively deliver one-liners that give everyone a chuckle. It’s a bit trickier to have the quick ability to react with good humor and diffuse difficult situations. This is a truly admirable skill of a great teacher.
6. Creativity Students will often remember unusual assignments, use of props, decorations or costumes that inspired them to really think “outside the box.” Such is the calling card of the effective teacher. It could also be a saying such as, “A stitch in time saves nine.” (Benjamin Franklin).
7. Willingness to Admit Mistakes An outstanding teacher will recognize when they have made a mistake and apologize for it. A simple act, yet a rarity among many teachers. It demonstrates the profound power of humility.
8. Forgiving Students too often think of those teachers that would never give them a second chance. Fortunately, a few students had highly effective teachers who let students know, each day, each student started with a clean slate.
9. Respect Since teachers expect to receive respect from their students, it only makes sense students expect the same from teachers. For example, Students appreciate teachers who keep grades confidential. They are also grateful when teachers speak privately to them about behavior issues. Teachers practicing this quality rarely have discipline issues.
10. High Expectations Having high expectations affects the way a teacher teaches and the way the teacher interacts with students. Great teachers express that they believe in their students’ abilities. Such teachers energize and encourage students to reach new heights. They monitor those expectations and never give up on students.
11. Compassion Effective teachers understand the importance of nurturing students in a safe environment. These are the teachers that notice when children are left out of games or other activities and take action to remedy this. Students remember these teachers.
12. Sense of Belonging Students feel like “they belong,” in the classroom of a great teacher. This teacher gives the class a feeling of family. They work cooperatively on mutual goals and with mutual caring. This may be the most important one.

Conclusion: Blog postings are great for gathering information and I’m truly hoping this one helped you. But, the best learning is done when one studies independently. With that in mind, my suggestion is: Take these twelve principles, compare them with your own experience as well as what you find in your own study, and come up with your own list. And when you do, don’t you dare forget to share that list with me.

“Teaching is the highest form of understanding.” Aristotle


  1. Thank you, Wendy, for this insightful article.
    I recently attended your workshop at the USD Character Matters Conference. It made a big impression onme.
    You emphasized the idea of creating a relevant lesson using higher order questioning techniques on topics of character improvement, which would be immediately applicable to the children in the classroom. I gleaned much wisdom from this excercise.

  2. Wendy,
    This was a very interesting list. I like the simplicity and clarity of it. I find many times that when I am teaching I think about these things independently, but not necessarily collectively, Many are attributes I strive to exhibit in the classroom, but I had not in my mind articulated why they are important to creating a dynamic classroom environment, so I really appreciated how you did that. If you don't mind, I plan to print off this list and post it on my desk in my classroom. I think I am going to try and journal each week a small reflection on whether or not I was able to incorporate these principles in my classroom that week. I'll let you know what I discover. :)

  3. Reading over this list was an interesting experience for me. As a new educator I haven't had much experience with enacting these traits within myself but I have had plenty of experience watching other teachers. From this experience I can only remember teachers being examples of maybe one or more of these traits. My question is where to begin with these twelve? My plan so far is to try and focus on at least one a week until hopefully they all become second nature. Additionally I have already printed this list off and I plan to put it near my desk so I can always have it near by to remind me how to better serve my students.

  4. Wendy,

    As I read down your list of the characteristics of effective teachers, I couldn't help but think of my favorite teachers from the past--they shared each of these characteristics! Now that I think about it, there seems to be one word that encompasses each of these characteristics as well: passion. Somewhat similar to the "positive attitude" characteristic above, but without a genuine passion to teach, none of these characteristics would have as large of an impact on the students. Thanks for your blog! I look forward to reading more in the future!

  5. Hi Wendy,

    After reading this entry of your blog, as suggested, I came up with my own list of successful teacher characteristics:

    Connect with students by demonstrating:
    • Caring – when you go out of your way for students, they know you care about them and when they know you truly care about them, they’ll listen to you
    • Sharing – interject personal experiences whenever possible because, next to themselves and their friends, kids love to hear about YOU
    • Keeping it real – say it like it is and the kids will love you for it
    • Respect – without mutual respect, you get nowhere with people

    • I believe this to be an essential skill to a good teacher. My tap dance mentor once said, “In order to go to the left when the right isn’t working, you’ve got to have really full pockets.” So it goes in the classroom. Have enough material to make the time you spend with your students meaningful. Be flexible enough to change up if the road you’ve taken isn’t working!

    Know your material
    • Imparting knowledge on subjects that you know inside and out makes for a much more interesting lesson. I have infused the tired school curriculum with literature that touches the hearts and minds of students. All of that literature has important character and life lessons to ponder.

    • Show students how important it is to be committed to your job. Be prepared, be honest, and BE THERE. I pride myself on having taken 2.5 days sick days (out of 30) in the last three years. When I’m absent, the students are genuinely upset…I read their FaceBook entries because they have invited me to do so. I consider that an honor.

    Thanks, Wendy, for bringing up the subject!

  6. Hi Wendy,
    I really liked the list you compiled...I agree with each one that you listed and I agree...after much thought, I would add...
    Authenticity-it is so important for a teacher to be real. Students have a keen ability to sniff out a "fake". I think as teachers it is very important not to have a dual lifestyle. I have known teachers who are great professionals but their personal lives are a mess because their personal choices do not coincide with their professional choices.
    I really think to be an effective teacher one has to demonstrate positive personal character choices that are obvious to students-that is authenticity.

  7. I agree with Angie's comments on this list. One of the things that I am finding is that the characteristics of a good teacher that Wendy has said here are characteristics of a good human being. Most of the attributes on this list are really good to practice with other adults as well as with children.

  8. Rhonda, you are so right about authenticity. This list is very comprehensive. Attributes like compassion, a willingness to admit mistakes, forgiveness and respect are the kind of character qualities that you really have to be authentic to even possess. I love creativity! But a sense of humor combined with personal touch and a sense of belonging seems really powerful to me. All of these things and not being "fake" are wow!
    I have been thinking about past teachers, and there were some that I really loved that influenced me for life. But I have to admit that there was one scary one that I still remember her name. She was good at provoking high expectations, but she was scary.

  9. Great list. Here are a few random thoughts it engenders out of my experience.

    1. Caring is where it starts. You can call it "attitude" or "keeping it real" or whatever fits, but students will always know whether you care about them and what you are doing. The old dictum, "I don't care how much you know until I know how much you care," has always been a starting point for me.

    2. Expectations must be communicated. It's great to have high expectations, but if you don't communicate such expectations -- and your confidence in their abilities to meet them -- you may as well not have them. My great Aunt, Mary Tracy, who had a school named for her, taught me this many years ago. She saw it as a key to her success as a teacher.

    3. Model behavior. Just as with raising children, students will do what you do, not what you say. You get back what you bring into a classroom.

    Finally, something that occurred to me as I read comments from teachers who want to adopt these ideals is to ask the students to help you. Show them these ideals, tell them this is the teacher you want to be, and ask them to let you know if you're not living up to them at anytime. This in itself communicates caring, although I recognize it may be a bold step to take.

    Finally, remember what I always say, "Teachers are the best people."

  10. I just want to say that I agree with George's comment, "Now that I think about it, there seems to be one word that encompasses each of these characteristics as well: passion." I believe this is so true because a truly passionate teacher works at these things. We have all encountered teachers that are burnt out, or who are not passionate about their profession. A desire to inspire and to teach well is truly inherent in being a good teacher and to having good character. So be passionate about what you do...