In the 21st century paradigm of education, which focuses more directly on the individual learner, teachers possess the immense ability to impact student achievement through not only their professional competencies but also their beliefs and attitudes.

Effective teachers look at students and do not merely see their “deficits” but rather their individual experiences, backgrounds, and skills, which students can be encouraged embrace as assets and empowered to use on their path toward success at school and beyond. This positive approach is critical for helping students develop holistically—which means emotionally and socially, as well as academically, as discussed in last week’s blog post—and overcoming inequalities and socioeconomic disadvantages.

What Makes an Effective Teacher?

Most people can think back to their school days and picture a teacher who made a difference in their life, so to speak. Generally, the teachers who achieve that level of impact are passionate about the topics they teach. They’re inspiring and creative, encouraging students to think deeply and differently about the subject matter. They genuinely care about each student and, perhaps more importantly, see their individual potential and how to use it.

There is a powerful quote from Maya Angelou that encapsulates the idea of educating the whole student and putting the focus on their personal assets. In Angelou’s words, “This is the value of the teacher, who looks at a face and says there’s something behind that and I want to reach that person, I want to influence that person, I want to encourage that person, I want to enrich, I want to call out that person who is behind that face, behind that color, behind that language, behind that tradition, behind that culture.”

While that sums up the attitude that enables educators to truly enrich the lives of their students, what tangible qualities often correlate to effective teaching? In the book “Linking Teacher Evaluation and Student Learning,” authors Pamela Tucker and James Stronge explore the power of an effective teacher with an emphasis on how it relates to student assessment results. Some of the qualities they identify as being integral to educators who have the most impact include:

  • Pedagogical knowledge and formal teacher preparation training
  • Certification within their field(s)
  • Have an ability to skillfully use a range of teaching strategies
  • Possess high expectations for their students and themselves
  • Enhance instruction by varying their assignments, activities and instructional strategies
  • Demonstrate effectiveness with the full range of student abilities in their classrooms, regardless of the academic diversity of the students.
  • Utilize pre- and post-assessments to monitor students’ learning and provide timely and constructive feedback

Research has reaffirmed time and again that if students are placed in a classroom with an effective teacher, they achieve a higher quality of learning. Those learning gains are either diminished marginally or sustained and compounded in subsequent year by further exposure to effective educators. Conversely, a negative experience in the classroom and depressed achievement results—even for a year—are more difficult to overcome, even after the student moves on to a classroom with a highly effective teacher, according to Tucker and Stronge. That undermines the idea of student being able to endure the adversity of an ineffective teacher—as well as a year spent struggling and having their perceived deficits be the focus—and then being able to successfully “catch-up” in future years. If students feel disempowered and disenfranchised for even a year, the damage is done.

Helping Teachers Perform at Their Best

With teachers being the most important factor affecting student learning—more than facilities, technology and other resources—it follows that educators should be seen and treated as the critical assets they are. Most people might associate that with ensuring teachers receive adequate salaries and benefits. While those are important incentives, genuinely valuing teachers also means acknowledging the importance of their attitudes and mindsets on student achievement and giving them opportunities to receive the professional development, training and support they need.

All too often the stresses of teaching lead to a disappointing cycle of diminishing well-being for educators that negatively correlates to student learning. Prioritizing the health and well-being of teachers, promoting mindfulness, and facilitating opportunities for them to grow so they can perform at their best are essential.

Optimizing educators and their impact on student achievement gains is valuable in several ways. Most importantly, it is the best way to serve young students and help them reach their potential, even if they are having to overcome socioeconomic inequalities along the way. Additionally, by prioritizing their own well-being, teachers can model the social-emotional skills and facilitate the human connections that are vitally important to student success. On a wider scale, these outcomes strengthen the integrity and quality of the school and the surrounding community.

Part 1: The Evolving Education Environment

Part 3: What Do Students Bring to the Table?

Part 4: Fostering Positive Student-Teacher Relationships