Every one of us wants to know how to be an effective teacher in the classroom. But, what does that actually mean? What are the qualities of an effective teacher? What steps can we take today to become more effective? And, most importantly, how can we guard ourselves against becoming an ineffective teacher?
The Definition of an Effective Teacher
Well, unfortunately, you won’t find this phrase defined by Miriam-Webster. However, if we take the phrase “teacher effectiveness” apart and define each word individually, we can piece together a definition that will help us get to the root of the meaning.
Effectiveness is defined as “producing the intended or expected result; producing a deep or vivid impression” while teacher means “one who teaches or instructs.”
When we put these two words together, we get a definition that would sound something like this. Teacher effectiveness is “one who teaches or instructs and produces a deep or vivid impression with an intended or expected result.”
So, basically, an effective teacher leaves an impression and produces an intended (or expected) result. However, that’s a pretty tall order when you consider how much baggage our students bring with them into the classroom. We can’t always guarantee specific test scores or exact outcomes.
But, we can leave lasting impressions on our students that will result in intended outcomes.
So, What Makes a Teacher Effective?
While there isn’t a secret formula or magic pill for how to be an effective teacher in the classroom, there are certain characteristics of effective teaching. So, we are going to unpack each of these and take certain action steps to become more effective teachers starting today.
Effective teachers do five things.
1. Practice Reflective Teaching
To be effective, you have to know what is working and what isn’t. And, the only way to know this is to practice reflective teaching.
Essentially, reflective teaching is periodically looking back at conversations, grades, tests, student engagement, as well as other measures to see what’s working and what you need to lay to rest. Then you allow that information to guide future instruction.
Never taking the time to see where you’ve been and just constantly barreling ahead in an effort to “hit all the standards,” is a sure fire way to become an ineffective teacher.
Action Step: Take some time over the next weekend or holiday to see how your students are doing with the content you’ve been presenting. Do they need more practice? Is there a gap in understanding? Should I revisit the material or can we move forward? Then, use the answers to inform your curriculum decisions.
2. Build Relationships with Students
Effective teaching and learning has everything to do with knowing your kids!
And, no, I don’t mean just names and addresses. I’m talking about knowing what they like and dislike, their interests, and how they learn best. Trust me when I tell you that you can’t gain this knowledge by simply allowing your students to be passive learners in your classroom.
Building a relationship will require you to invest time and energy into each of your students. But, before you write off what I am saying to a lack of time, remember that the best relationships are built over time.
Just paying attention to little things your students say, showing them respect, and asking them questions about their home life will lead to a relationship.
This gives our students confidence in us and let them know they can trust us, that we love them, and that we want nothing more than for them to be successful. And those students who are “at-risk” kiddos are the ones that need the relationships that most.
Action Step: Spend some time over next week finding out one new thing about each of your students. Have them write an unusual fact about themselves as a ticket out the door activity, and then use the information to start a conversation about what they mentioned.
3. Learn from Others
One of the greatest ways to increase your effectiveness as a teacher is by simply watching another teacher. Sometimes just seeing a new way to interact with your students can be beneficial.
Ask yourself, “What is this teacher doing that would work with my students?” Ask the teacher specific questions about what works for him or her, why it works, and take away an idea or two that will be productive.
Remember, the goal of this exercise is to find a few valuable techniques, not to become someone else.
Some methods are not going to work for you, and that’s ok! You just need to allow yourself to think outside the box when it comes to meeting the needs of the kids you teach, and other teachers can provide you with helpful hints!
But, in the current age of technology, we aren’t limited to the teachers within our school buildings. You can find all kinds of fantastic teaching tips and ideas on the Internet. (Case in point, this entire blog!)
You can also seek out teaching conferences or professional development opportunities that will give you actionable steps to apply to your classroom.
Action Step: Find a teacher within your school (or system) that you’d like to observe. Then ask your principal if you can take an hour or two one day to observe that teacher. If that isn’t an option, consider researching some of the different teaching conferences including Get Your Teach On or Teach Your Heart Out. Or simply take some time to find helpful teacher blogs.
4. Incorporate a Variety of Resources & Teaching Methods
Going through the assigned textbook page by page, and doing the corresponding workbook page day in and day out, is NOT the most effective way to communicate information to your students.
Your students need to have opportunities to interact with the content using their unique learning styles. That’s why varying your approach to teaching the content and the way your students consume that information is essential.
While textbooks have useful information, there are other valuable resources available to supplement the textbook.
My favorite online marketplace for teaching resources is Teachers Pay Teachers. This online platform houses millions of resources created by thousands of teachers across the globe. And the best part is that every resource is designed with student needs in mind.
Action Step: Choose one supplemental resource to add into one of your lessons this week. After completing the lesson, see how your students respond.
5. Willing to Step Out of Their Comfort Zone
Stepping outside of our comfort zone is not enjoyable. It means we might mess up, we might fail, or we might look ridiculous. And, for many of us, the thought of being different is completely terrifying and paralyzing.
But, learning how to be an effective teacher in the classroom means that you are going to have to try new things. Ms. Frizzle, from the Magic School Bus, said it best. “Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy.”
These are the things we tell our students on a daily basis. But, it’s a lot easier to tell them than to live out ourselves.
If we’re truly passionate about teaching, we’ll do what needs to be done…even if it means moving out of our comfort zone.
Learning how to be an effective teacher in the classroom is essential for our students. And just as our definition stated, we want to leave a lasting impression that results in an intended outcome.
We are all passionate about teaching, and we desire to leave a legacy that lives on long after our students leave our classroom. Ultimately, that’s why we need to be more effective teachers. Because the truth is, our students depend on it!