Qualities of an Effective Teacher

From the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation web site.

Gates Foundation gives $335M for teacher quality

Three school districts and a coalition of charter schools have agreed to be test kitchens for some radical ideas for improving teacher quality – from paying new teachers to spend another year practicing before getting their own class to letting student test scores affect teacher pay. ((Blankinship, Donna Gordon. “Gates Foundation gives $335M for teacher quality.” Seattle Times 19 Nov 2009: n. pag. Web. 20 Nov 2009. <http://bit.ly/1n7Nig>.))

The foundation will deal out $290 million to school systems in Tampa, Memphis, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh and another $45 million for education research aimed at uncovering the qualities of an effective teacher.

I’m not going to spend any time on a judgemental comentary here. It’s too early in the game — though I’m wondering why the story didn’t refer to “test laboratories” rather than “test kitchens.” You probably already know how I feel about treating schools and classrooms like laboratories (and teachers and students like specimens).

I just want to open up a conversation on what you, as forward thinking, experienced, dedicated, and risk-taking educators think are the teacher qualities we need today. If you say it is teachers who improve student performance on standardized tests, then your keyboard will deliver a mild electrical shock through your fingers. 😉

Consider that we are preparing

  • A new generation (species) of learner
  • Within a dramatically new (networked, digital, abundant) information environment
  • For a future we can not clearly describe

So what do you think?

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28 thoughts on “Qualities of an Effective Teacher”

  1. I think teachers today need to be able to present students with a problem, facilitate their efforts to solve that problem, and have a great deal of empathy when interacting with students.

    1. I agree with you, Kimberly. Facilitation is much more what it is to be a teacher today, than a presenter of instruction. But part of facilitating is also know when to let go, when to let them come up with their own problem to solve, and when to let them go their own directions in solving them.

    2. As long as teachers being discussed there are things that teachers are supposed to do. Teachers may not only able to present one problem for the students. Planned problem is rare, though. Many are spontaeous. In fact, “facilitate their efforts to solve that problem, and have a great deal of empathy when interacting with students.” is a great job for teachers.

  2. I believe teachers need to masters in motivation and flexibility as they encounter a quickly evolving educational landscape. They need a core knowledge in all subject areas and they need to be risk-takers and learners with their students. Lastly, they need to be a resource or bridge for student learning, rather than the just the source. Teachers need to engage students in authentic activities with the students.

  3. I can only mirror the comments here about teacher as facilitator. However, let’s not forget the teacher as pilot-guide. Perhaps a majority of students are able to move forward with a more inquiry-based approach, but the foundational skills are essential to be able to even begin such a journey. I still encourage a balance between old-school and new-school to provide the best practise.

  4. Courage to drop the state mandated curriculum, realize that less is actually more (go deeper into subjects, not broader) and do it with individual concern for the student, understanding that we all learn differently. Focus on skills (problem solving, collaboration, communication, USING information) rather than regurgitating, and being willing to try new things (esp in regards to personalizing learning with technology).

    1. I am not a teacher, but I have had difficulties with learning all of my life. So I am familiar with both good and bad teachers. I am also interested in what the Gates Foundation does for our communities, too. Money talks and so your comment about state schools dropping state mandated curriculums is just unheard of. Your idea is a good one, to be able to look outside the lines to create more meaning filled subjects is a start. You have hit the nail on the head, in that we do all learn differently. However, there are certainly many bad teachers out there that see those with learning issues are to be avoided and the academic students to be paid attention to. Unfortunately the school systems don’t ask these teachers to be accountable for all of their students. These teachers are passing these children, and these children either fail higher grades and/or fail in the workplace. I should say here that parents also fail their children too. It isn’t just the teacher who is responsible for their students’ success in the classroom. I agree teachers/schools should emphasize skill building. Although you didn’t give example of how they could apply their problems solving, collaboration, etc., I would like to suggest here that students and schools should enter into collaborations with local community businesses and agencies. Both groups could enter into the collaboration of a project that benefits all. Students could apply their skills, learn new ones and apply them in the future as adult professionals in their chosen field. I don’t think children come out of school with an understanding of how their education can be applied in the real world and how they could truly impact the world in a positive way.

  5. A great educator needs to know his/her students. It’s all very well to make generalisations but one size does not fit all. Know what the students’ needs are. Know how best to motivate them to learn. The tools will always change, as will the nature of the students. An engaged student will seek out the best tools, be it technology or otherwise. A good educator will be ready to help with finding the right tools, but most importantly will help motivate and enthuse the student.

    1. This is why I think it is so difficult to treat a classroom as a laboratory, test methods in one, or five, or even a hundred classrooms and then generalize that this is “best practice.” Some things about teacher can be generalized. But it is unwise and even dangerous to treat education as a science and to say that it should all be “research-based.”

      1. I just stumbled across this blog, began reading, and found this discussion very engaging. In general, I can agree with most comments fellow educators have left regarding characteristics of quality educators. I strongly believe that educators should facilitate and guide students on their educational journey, but have a keen sense on where students need help, or where they will need help. This ties in with knowing your students and having an educational bond with them to ensure that they know you are committed to helping them succeed. In particular, one comment that you made, David, in the above response made me consider your views enough to post this response. Could you tell me more about your comment on the dangers of making education all research based? Do you believe in some instances it is appropriate? What are those instances and what alternative might you suggest?

  6. 1. Acceptance that we are preparing students for their future not out past.
    2. A focus on being able to ask two important questions: Why do we want students to learn “x” and how do we know the learning of “x” took place?
    3. Understanding that in a world of ubiquitous information that is a click away the fundamental role of teacher has shifted from “font of knowledge” to the guide of “meaning and application”.
    4. An acceptance that technology needs to be used to deepen engagement, foster collaboration, and foster critical thinking while avoiding supplanting horrible practices with shiny new clothes – ala clickers for multiple choice assessment.
    5. A strong recognition of the “human” value of education. We teach ourselves more so than any subject matter. Let’s make sure we’ve got it together so our examples are worth emulating.

  7. As a teacher in Hillsborough County (Tampa) I am very interested to see how the $100 million our school district received improves the quality of our teachers.
    Here is how HCPS plans on using the money.

    “The district intends to use the funds to develop a quality new-teacher induction program that would include true mentoring relationships; improve our teacher and principal evaluation systems; enhance our professional development system; provide effective incentives for teachers who work with our highest needs students; and improve our entire compensation plan.”

    I really hope that the district can and will implement a true mentoring program. When I began teaching I was placed in a classroom and expected to perform at the same level as a teacher who had been teaching for many years.

    1. Chan, I eagerly await more details. For the most part, you have mentioned things that all school districts would like to do if they had the money. What I’m curious about is what Hillsborough County will do that is brand new — that might be replicated without $100M.

      Great luck to you!

  8. I teach in an IBO PYP school (primary years program). The IB has a ‘learner profile’ of the attributes we would like our students to develop.
    What makes an effective teacher? Once who has those very attributes!
    So, to mention just a few:
    You need to be a thinker and an inquirer yourself in order to model and encourage thinking. This way you can create a culture of thinking and inquiry in your students, which will empower them to be responsible for their own learning and hopefully to become lifelong learners.
    You need to be reflective. Teachers need to reflect constantly on their teaching and learning, in order to inform further teaching and learning, as well as encourage students to reflect on their own learning and set goals accordingly.
    Be open-minded. Teachers need to be open to new ideas, ready to try new things, listen to their students, willing to change with the times. This includes being open to using all kinds of technology and being prepared to step aside and let students take the lead.

  9. It is at best disingenuous and at worst, anti-intellectual for the Gates Foundation to pretend that such work has never been undertaken. We know a great deal about effective teaching. Unforuntely, that doesn’t jive with Gates’ recent infatuation with the KIPP Schools, obedience schools for poor children. Therefore, he will invest $300+ million to enforce a political agenda of creating schools for poor children that have nothing in common with the schools he chooses for his own children.

    The Gates “research” will never get anywhere near your

    http://stager.tv/blog/?p=664 is a good place to start if you want more information on the billionaire attack on public schools, the bedrock of our democracy.

    1. Gary, you hit the nail on the head of an issue that has been nagging at me for months — ever since I did some presentations at a KIPP conference in Florida (I think). I was impressed with the teachers I worked with, mostly very young teachers. But there was something about the whole concept that bothered me — something more than just the hard teaching aspect. But your term, Obedience Schools pretty much covers it. Obviously, I’ve not been reading your blog lately and that’s something I need to remedy.

      I agree with your statement about what we know about effective teaching. The question I’d like us to hone in on is, what does it mean to be educated?

      1. Thanks David,

        That’s an awful lot of pressure to blog more often. I am so overwhelmed by the terrible stuff being done to children and their teachers that I find it difficult to sit down and write these days.

        I would LOVE to be wrong about these trends, but the more I peruse what I’ve written over the past decade or two, the more depressed I become. Others much smarter than I have described the insane times in which we live and the assault on public education. And yet, nobody could have predicated that a center-left government would reign such violence upon our public schools.

        This is not merely an attack on public education, but an assault on democracy and the middle class.

  10. Observation skills. Teachers need to be able to read their students behaviors. All of the students. And adjust their teaching practice accordingly.

    They need to realize that those who are “outside” of what they thought was the norm for their grade/area are the ones who will provide “lessons” for teachers. Paying attention to students who are the anomalies, and figuring out how to support them, is the best way for a teacher to address classroom diversity.

  11. Then primary Pataskala of any child is there house and his mother and then rest of other things. The Education means in it is an art and science whose learn any act or experience that has a formative effect on the mind, character or physical ability of an individual.

    1. Chandresh, you appear to be responding to the last sentence in my reply to Gary Stager’s comment — and in such, I must respectfully disagree with you. I believe that you are corrected in staying that education is an art and science of learning any act or experience that has a formative effect on the mind, character, or physical ability of an individual. But that is only one aspect of what it is to “be educated.”

      I like, much better, the sentence that follow in your 3 November blog entry

      The education in general sense is the process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills and values from one generation to another.

      But again, this is about educating. My question is, “What does it mean to be educated?”

      I would say that today, it means having the skills, knowledge, attitudes, values to prosper and find/create fulfilment in a time of rapid change. What I would suspect is critical today, that is new, is the ability to adapt — to be able to continue to skillfully learn, unlearn, and relearn.

      Thank you for helping to continue this conversation…

  12. I’m not sure what this teacher quality is called. The most important quality that I want to help instill in a student is to think for themselves. I want them to question everything they see or hear. The PYP learner profile sounds great in theory and I think it is one of the best lists I’ve seen. Yet, it is possible for students to have these qualities but still not question the status quo. My daughter works in a PYP school with lots of money, lots of tech, very globally connected, etc. The students are amazing, there is no doubt about that. What they learn is mind boggling. But I read their essays posted in the halls outside their classrooms and I realize they are still living blind to the true/subtle reality of the world around us. In their case, they haven’t even begun to question their own privilege and the part that privilege pays in creating the realities of others.

  13. All the talk to me boils down to this:

    A teacher is a learner first -one who loves learning.
    Only then can one teach – and with passion.

    Not everyone who loves learning becomes a teacher, but no one is a great or even good teacher without being a passionate learner first.

    The rest is mostly mechanics, experience, and choice.

    My wife used to ask me why I didn’t “move up” and become an administrator.
    Different job, different passion, not “up” either!
    She stopped asking eventually.

  14. I am a reading coach for a K-6 school. I believe effective educators must be creative thinkers with an ability to inspire all learners. They must be compassionate, understanding and unwilling to give up on a child. They must be explicit and systematic in their instruction. They must be knowledgeable of subject matter as well as technology. They must be observant of student behavior to identify what each student does not understand. They must be able to read and understand test data. In short, teaching is a very difficult job and requires many characteristics to meet the needs of diversified learners.

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