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52 Habits of Highly Effective Teachers

by Staff Writers

Being an effective teacher largely boils down to being able to diagnose problems early, roll with changes, and straddle a line between being a ruler and being a leader. Whether you’ve been in the industry for years or are just now studying education at an online university, these habits will help you focus your teaching and have a bigger impact on your students. Some are about attitude, while others are basic approaches to class structure, but they’re all helpful. Take a look:

Habits for Communicating

These habits will help you build better avenues of communication between you and your students.

  1. Build a student’s confidence: Low self-esteem is a problem for many students, which is why effective teachers work to build that confidence through reinforcement and encouragement.
     
  2. Work on your communication skills: Strive to always be better at clearly expressing your ideas and hopes for your students in an authoritative but caring manner.
     
  3. Be precise: It’s easier for a student to remember a lesson or grasp a theory if it’s explained to them in simple, accurate language. This is especially true for math classes. Work on making lessons as straightforward as possible.
     
  4. Cut out the clutter: So many things that seem urgent — phone calls, e-mails, text messages — aren’t worth the time. By eliminating the clutter and non-urgent communications coming into your life, you can better focus on being present in the classroom and communicating better with your students.
     
  5. Slow down: Don’t rush through concepts if you think students aren’t understanding them. Adjust your learning timeline and slow your pace until you know that the lessons has sunk in.
     
  6. Emphasize problem-solving: It’s a cliche because it’s true: a big part of education is teaching students how to think for themselves. Present lessons as opportunities to solve problems and work independently.
     
  7. Use practical examples: So often, education relies on the recitation of abstract theory or dry fact. Effective teachers get students involved by presenting real-world examples of what they’re teaching in order to give a concrete feel to the lesson.
     
  8. Emphasize safety: Your classroom needs to be an emotionally safe place where students can ask questions without worrying about feeling dumb or left behind. Making a safe space drastically increases the amount and quality of classroom communication.
     
  9. Study individual students: Everyone learns differently. Pay attention to how your students learn and respond accordingly if you want to be more effective.
     
  10. Say it again: Another effective communication method to help students remember the lesson is called "front-loading." Basically, you address a concept at the beginning of class and again at the end, letting the repetition drive home its importance.
     

Habits for Building Relationships

These tips will help you strengthen your relationships with your students.

  1. Trust your students: It’s vital that you come to trust your students and their ability to help you learn more about yourself and your methods. You’ll grow so much as a teacher.
     
  2. Smile more: It’s a simple habit but a great one: Always give your students an encouraging smile when you talk to them, as a group or individually.
     
  3. Get the names down: It might seem small, but learning the names of your students as soon as possible will show you care about them, which will enhance your relationship.
     
  4. Embrace enlightened ignorance: Enlightened ignorance means you admit that there are things you don’t know and questions you can’t answer. Admitting this will help you search for those answers as well as inspire students to learn, as well. They’ll see that learning is a lifelong process.
     
  5. Focus on the students: It’s all too easy to get distracted by everything from internal politics to career advancement, but as a teacher, you’re not working with abstract figures but real people. Keep your focus and energy directed toward your students, and your teaching will get better and better.
     
  6. Publicly praise positive behavior: Show students that kindness matters by celebrating their achievements.
     

Habits for Classroom Management

These methods will help you build a better classroom and more engaging learning environment.

  1. Lead by example: Want your students to treat others with respect? Show them model behavior.
     
  2. Set specific goals: What do you want students to achieve by the end of the week? The semester? The year? Plan these goals accordingly and watch your
     
  3. Set major goals: It’s important to set goals for student achievement, but you should also set some big-picture goals, as well. For instance, don’t just expect your students to memorize facts; prepare them to work after they’ve moved on from your class.
     
  4. Use student feedback: A great way for teachers to be effective, especially with younger students, is to ask them what activities they’ve enjoyed and then use those answers to shape upcoming events.
     
  5. Get there early: Showing up early and getting your lesson ready is a simple but effective way to be prepared for a day of teaching.
     
  6. Break the rules: Variety is the spice of the classroom. Use different or unorthodox sources to get your lessons across. If it works, it works.
     
  7. Stay upbeat: This one’s tough because it’s tempting to just take a day every now and then to lay low or slack off, but your students deserve better. Strive to always be upbeat and energetic, and to create a dynamic working environment.
     
  8. Let them teach each other: Many teachers have found that an effective way to drive home a lesson is to let students question each other about certain issues before turning to the teacher for help.
     
  9. Set the tone early: Make it clear from day one that you are knowledgeable and prepared and that you require students’ attention, and they’ll be more likely and willing to follow you.
     
  10. Keep an eye out for new tools: From textbooks to software, effective teachers know about the tools available for them to use in the classroom.
     
  11. Set rules and stick with them: Some teachers let students move freely about the room to sharpen their pencils, while others require permission to be asked. Some teachers let students choose their seats, while others dictate a seating chart. Whatever you do, stick with it. Consistency provides a structure that builds trust, which helps teaching.
     
  12. Be flexible: Some teaching methods might not work year to year, or even among different students in the same class. Effective teachers can tailor their lessons and adjust as needed.
     
  13. Show respect for your students: Don’t just treat them kindly; treat them with respect. Value their experiences and insights. It’s your job to get them to apply those experiences to what you’re teaching, and they won’t do that unless they know you respect them as people.
     
  14. Set class rewards: Establish fun rewards that your class can earn by working as a team on special assignments. It will help them bond and also give them a tangible goal.
     
  15. Love your subject: The best way to get students interested in your subject, from sciences to languages to arts, is to love it so much that your passion for the field shows in your attitude. Students respond to authenticity.
     
  16. Use shorter activities: Students tend to let their attention wander if they’re asked to undertake long activities, especially in groups. Counteract this by using shorter activities that let them focus without getting bored.
     
  17. Tell the students your goals: Don’t just set goals for a lesson or activity; convey them to the students. The more specific your instructions, the closer attention they’ll pay to the goal you’ve set.
     
  18. Give them options: One great way to inspire students to increase their productivity is to give them a choice in how to complete the assignment. For instance, students reading a novel might be allowed to either write a summary of a chapter or answer a few short-answer questions.
     
  19. Focus on improvement: Effective teachers don’t just reward high scorers. They praise and encourage those low-scoring students who make big improvements in their grades. Pay attention to these students and thank them for their hard work.
     

Habits for Improving Yourself

These habits can help you improve your teaching methods and personal life.

  1. Adapt or die: Being a teacher is like being a shark: You have to keep moving forward if you want to live. Don’t be afraid to adapt to changing media, trends, or ideas if it means having a bigger effect on your kids.
     
  2. Never stop taking risks: Just because you’ve found a method or idea that works doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do things. Keep taking risks and trying new things.
     
  3. Be yourself: This one goes back to authenticity, which is vital in education. Don’t force yourself to put on a persona for your students. Just be who you are.
     
  4. Be prepared: It might not be possible to expect the unexpected, but you can prepare yourself for change by knowing that, every day, something will happen beyond your control. The more prepared you are for this to happen, the better you’ll be able to deal with crisis when it comes.
     
  5. Hang in there: It might sound cheesy — you’re probably picturing a kitten hanging on a clothesline — but the most effective teachers are those who refuse to give up when things get tough. Never give up on students. Ever.
     
  6. Keep up with trends: The most effective teachers are those who actively seek out new teaching methods. Stay ahead of the curve by reading teaching magazines and websites to get new ideas.
     
  7. Don’t try to beat them on tests: Tests aren’t a contest between you and the students; they’re chances for the students to demonstrate what they’ve learned (or forgotten). Construct fair exams that let them display their knowledge, not cruel ordeals designed to highlight your mastery of the content.
     
  8. Stand firm, especially at the beginnings: It’s a lot easier to gradually loosen your disciplinary procedures than to suddenly step them up. Start the year tough, then mellow out a little.
     
  9. Get into a routine: It can be tough to balance a desire for spontaneity with the need to provide structure. Make it clear from the beginning that each class period will follow a set routine, and then use that frame to slowly allow for experimentation.
     

Habits for Expanding Your Community

A major part of being an effective teacher is working well with other educators to inspire each other to become better. Here are some ways to make that happen.

  1. Be a visionary: Effective teachers have to be imaginative if they want to make an impact on their students, period. Strive to think outside the box and see what new tools or media could help you reach your students.
     
  2. Collaborate: Use blogs and social networking to stay in touch with fellow educators and learn what’s happening in all areas of your field.
     
  3. Rely on others: Develop relationships with other educators. Having a support system of people who know what you’re going through is a great survival tool.
     
  4. Be there for others: The flip side of looking to other teachers for support is just as important: you need to remember to offer that support to teachers who need it. Sharing your expertise will make you both stronger and more effective educators.
     
  5. Pay attention to the needs of the community: What are the income levels like where you teach? The situations at home? Knowing these and more is an invaluable way to understand the students in your class and give you a better method of reaching them.
     
  6. Work with parents: Yes, it can be intimidating to approach a parent about their child’s success or failure. But establishing a rapport with your students’ parents and guardians is a helpful way to know what they’re going through and how to teach them better.
     
  7. Send home positive notes: Many teachers only send a note home with a student for his or her parents if the student is in trouble or failing. Instead, try sending home regular notes for parents in which you praise the student for the work they are doing and the successes they’ve had. It’s a great way to inspire students and parents alike.
     
  8. Avoid gossip: The teachers’ lounge can be a great escape as well as a dangerous opportunity to talk trash about coworkers. This can paralyze a teaching community. Don’t engage in it at all.