Teachers impact our learning, our development, and may even make a difference in what we become. Historian Richard Triana examined the autobiographies of 125 prominent Americans from the 19th and 20th centuries. He found remarkable consistency in the descriptions these leaders gave of the teachers whom they admired most: 1) a command of subject matter, 2) a deep caring and concern for students, and 3) a distinctive memorable attribute or style of teaching. Triana summarized his findings: “I cannot emphasize enough how powerful this combination of attributes was reported to be. These Americans believed their lives were changed by such teachers and professors.”
How does one become the kind of effective teacher that truly makes a difference in the lives of students? What is the effective teacher? What does the effective teacher do? What and how does the effective teacher think? Answers to these questions are found in the work of developmental psychologists Jean Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg, and Thomas Lickona, as well as the professionals who worked to implement their theories into the classroom.
What the effective teacher is: Personal traits.
Care for students was the most common personal trait found in my research of effective teachers, while respect for students and parents was pointed to as a necessity for effective teachers to gain credibility with students.
What the effective teacher does: Teaching traits.
All of the developmental psychologists agree that effective teachers encourage. Through consistent use of positive words, actions and facial expressions teachers provide students the hope to keep striving to learn and grow. They also agree effective teachers ask probing questions to challenge accuracy and completeness of thinking in a way that moves students towards their ultimate goal.
What and how the effective teacher thinks: Intellectual traits.
All of the developmental psychologists show that one of the most important intellectual traits of effective teachers is to be life-long learners and role models for learning. They are as much street smart, as they are book smart. These teachers have knowledge of their students, the school, and the community in which they are teaching, and use this knowledge to uniquely approach each student and head off, or solve problems, in the classroom. They spend time with students outside of the classroom in settings that enable them to learn about their students’ passions, their dreams, and what they face each day in order to get to school. Their joy for learning is shown in their actions. Those teachers who model high expectations for themselves tend to get the same from their students.
Traits of Effective Teachers References