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What It Means To Be A Truly Effective Teacher

Published on 19/05/16

At some point in our lives, every one of us will have experienced the transformative power of a truly effective teacher. But what is it that creates this significant influence and how can more teachers encompass these qualities in order to become resonant themselves?

The influence of a teacher extends far beyond their classroom walls.

The support teachers provide shapes how children learn, develop and grow throughout their daily lives. Negative relationships that pupils have with their teachers can determine the development of externalising behaviour including; stress, conflict and defiance. This is what makes the student-teacher relationship so significant throughout their school lives; particularly during transitional periods.

Many people have fond memories of teachers from their childhood and the lasting impressions they made on their lives. In a survey conducted by a leadership development program called Passing The Baton, 367 people shared their opinions on what made their teachers stand out to them.

  • 18% said it was down to encouragement and support
  • 15% valued having a caring teacher who had their best interests in mind
  • 14% felt that it was when teachers showed investment - inside and outside the classroom
  • 12% said that having teachers who challenged them and helped them along the way

Other teachers were remembered and described as helping students to discover their strengths, being good examples, teaching passionately and encouraging the love of learning.

Interestingly, the survey discovered that many of the preferred teachers shared something in common; they were noted for being strict and firm, having an attitude of expectation, and a willingness to put in slightly more effort on their students' behalf. 

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have found that the more a teacher cares about their students, the more respect the teacher will receive from them. Young people don't do as they are told because they want the adult to like them - they do as they are told because the adult already does like them.

"Young people do what adults ask them when they have a sense that the adult cares for them." - Doctor Gale Macleod

We're sure you have all probably heard the phrase "School days are the best days of your life". Perhaps you may have been sceptical of this at the time; however, on reflection, many adults look back on their school days with fond memories and a serious case of nostalgia. We were interested to find out, for ourselves, what it was that embedded the memory of a certain teacher in the minds of their students. What leads to a teacher being regarded as a truly influential character in our lives? So we asked a few people in the office and this is what they said:

"I remember my English teacher, Mrs Maidment, lending me one of her personal books to read - The Life of Pi - encouraging me to extend my love of literature beyond the classroom. It wasn't to help me within the confines of the school's curriculum or to get her numbers up when the results came through at the end of term. It was one person sharing their love of literature with another. I will never forget how she always took the time to listen to me, outside of lessons - whether it was about school or not. She taught me that I could always do better. I still have your book Miss, I'm sorry for never bringing it back." - Laura

"Mr Knighton - he taught both myself and my Dad. He used to teach English to an all boys class, which - as you can imagine - was very challenging at times. His teaching methods were quite unconventional; he used to bring in newspapers and encourage discussions and debates. He had a really hands on approach to teaching and it was really engaging. The more creative teachers were definitely the best." - Nick

"Mr Ainslie, my PE teacher - he was always in a good mood and spoke to me on a level I found compatible. He enjoyed a laugh as much as me but equally, he demanded respect and hard work when it was needed. He would also recall things I had previously spoken to him about and reference them in future discussions. This showed that he was always listening and actually cared, which meant alot to me." - Daniel

"My favourite teacher was Mr Dyer. He taught me GCSE and A-Level Geography and was also a mad New Zealand fan! Academically he was very passionate about his subject. His enthusiasm was obvious and this definitely rubbed off on his students. To balance out his approachable enthusiasm was an uncompromising requirement for his students to realise their true potential - definitely no slacking!" - Tom

"Miss Thornton, my year 9/10 drama teacher was always unapologetically herself; she didn't care what people thought. I took drama to boost my confidence, as I was really shy at school. She taught me about self-acceptance, confidence, and showed me that it was ok to be yourself. She always got the best from me and pushed me to be the person I wanted to be inside. Without her encouragement I wouldn't have had the confidence to go for lots of opportunites I have done to this day. She understood that not everyone is the same and shyness is a problem for lots of children. So many teachers don't understand how inspiring they can be for children and young people." - Lizzy

Your students won't remember their teachers for creating the most dynamic lesson plan, how organised their bulletin boards are or how straight and neat the desk rows. They will remember the teachers who are available, kind, compassionate, transparent, real, thoughtful and most of all - teachers who are themselves.

All of the people who view their previous or present teachers with the highest acclaim do so because they knew their teacher truly cared. It's the empathy teachers show, the relationships built, the time invested and all the little ways they stopped and showed concern.

To summarise, from the research and feedback we have obtained, here a few pointers to consider if you want to be an positively influential character in the lives of your students:

  • Communicate Constantly: Ask the students about themselves, make eye contact & smile. It doesn't always have to be about school work; get to know them. It is these positive interpersonal behaviours that promote a sense of belonging whilst strengthening the bond between teacher and student.
  • Take Care: A child's life extends far beyond the classroom, similarly to yours. It's important to remember that not everyone had the same upbringing or the same socioeconomic and social backgrounds. This allows for a more personal relationship. Keep an open-door policy and be sure your students know that you're always available to them - during office hours.
  • Encourage Progression: Teachers who communicate their high expectations with students and encouraging hard work and effort whilst individualising outcomes. If students feel they can complete a task successfully, they are more likely to continue until finished.
  • Understand Them: Knowing that all students are not the same is something that many teachers fail to address. By showing a genuine interest in their lives, those students will perceive care - thus creating a better student-teacher relationship.
  • Inspire Intrigue: Be creative with your lesson plans; make them engaging and meaningful. If you know your students, you will be able to tailor your lessons with them in mind - enabling them to learn and grow in a way that is most conductive to their learning style.
  • Secure Atmosphere: Make your students feel comfortable in your classroom; this will lead to them sharing their thoughts, opinions, questions and concerns in an open manner, which will allow you to offer help, advice and encouragement when or where appropriate.
  • Feeling of Care: Students will be able to pick up on whether their teacher genuinely cares about them. It's not just verbal communication that demonstrates care, but smaller non-verbal and genuine 'feeling'. A student will be able to feel when a teacher is really interested in them as a person - knowing the teacher has the desire to help them because they want you to do better.

So in order to connect with your students and re-evaluate whether you're doing a 'good job' - don't see it in terms of results. Start to view success with the response and opinions of the children you share your classroom with.

A truly effective teacher will inspire their students to delve deep into any subject matter; deliberate, debate and question everything.

Tagged Teaching