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What makes a good teacher?

2 January 2023

Teachers have a direct impact on student and school performance, but being a great teacher involves more than just raising students’ test scores. Great teachers can have a profound effect on the lives of their students and are often remembered for years or even decades by students who have taken their classes. Many teachers have even been known to change the course of their students’ lives.

Many personal attributes come together to make great teachers. Some are taught through a Master of Education, some are learned on the job and some are natural inclinations. Those interested in making a difference in the lives of students should understand what makes a good teacher and find out how to foster those qualities in themselves.

A Master of Education student sitting on a chair, holding reading material.

6 Qualities of a good teacher

To make a positive impact in student lives, teachers should exhibit a number of key qualities. Here are six qualities of a good teacher that all educators should have.

1. The ability to foster collaborative learning

Gone are the days of the teacher-centred classroom. Current research on teaching techniques shows that an effective teacher is a guide on the side, rather than a sage on the stage. According to the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, teachers with credibility tend to adopt a particular communication and teaching style that fosters a collaborative learning environment. Instead of teachers acting like lecturers and asking their class to regurgitate that information in a test, they take a student-centred approach.

Albert Einstein is thought to have said, “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” A teacher’s creativity, critical thinking and instructional communication skills can make the difference between whether a subject sparks a student’s interest or not. What makes a good teacher is the ability to encourage students, but also provide them with the tools to succeed. High levels of motivation in teachers relate to high levels of achievement in students.

The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership explains that to develop inclusive educational environments and achieve advanced or improved student learning, teachers are required to encourage “possibility thinking.” Teachers also need to practise self-reflection — to not only be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses but also to be aware of their own cultural competence. This will determine how successfully they can teach students from multilingual backgrounds and different cultures or ethnicities.

2. The ability to connect with and inspire students

Teachers can have a lifelong influence on their students. They can be the sole motivation for how students learn, what they learn and how they apply their knowledge. Therefore, the characteristics and behaviours of a teacher matter in the classroom. As does building strong relationships with students.

According to James H. Stronge’s book Qualities of effective teachers, important elements of teacher effectiveness include the ability to demonstrate care, fairness and respect for students. The book states that good teachers adopt a range of strategies to interact with their class, including giving students responsibilities and allowing them to participate in decision making.

Teachers who are dedicated to teaching see themselves as a key component in the success of their students.

Much like a motivational leader, what makes a good teacher is the ability to encourage students to be responsible for their own learning and set high standards for themselves. Good teachers account for the fact that all students learn differently, and use a variety of instructional techniques to help all students learn.

A great teacher understands that students have a life outside of school, and they show interest in their student’s activities. Whether it’s a weekend game of AFL or a weekly piano class, a student’s outside interests offer a way for teachers to genuinely connect with them, which can stir enthusiasm in the classroom.

3. Content expertise and instructional skills

Teachers who are incredibly knowledgeable in a specific subject matter are better performers.

Having an in-depth understanding of the concepts being taught allows teachers to go beyond textbook explanations and connect the subject matter to meaningful, real-life contexts. Studies show that teachers who are subject matter experts tend to ask higher-level questions, involve students in the lessons and allow more student-directed activities. Teachers who can present material confidently and enthusiastically are more likely to get buy-in from students and encourage a thirst for knowledge.

Along with subject matter knowledge, teachers who have strong instructional skills can plan and organise lessons that are accessible to all students. By understanding each student’s academic readiness, good teachers design learning experiences that incorporate appropriate strategies.

Teachers who adopt the 10 steps of high-impact teaching strategies (HITS) are able to develop and implement rich, authentic learning tasks. This process allows for goal-setting and structured lessons. It also includes explicit teaching through: modelling; collaborative learning, which involves students in negotiating roles and responsibilities; and differentiated teaching, which incorporates adjustments for content, process and product.

In essence, part of what makes a good teacher is extensive content knowledge, having an organised and consistent lesson plan and the ability to create a rigorous learning environment with appropriate support for all students.

4. The ability to manage people and boost motivation

Like company executives, good teachers can both supervise and inspire people. Classroom behaviours can, at times, be challenging and unruly. Through proactive classroom management and reinforcing positive behaviours, good teachers can build relationships of trust with students.

Trust is key to effectively managing classroom behaviour and ensuring a good and safe learning environment. To earn the trust of students, good teachers uphold a high standard of ethics and behaviour and have proper regard for school policies and practices, such as punctuality. Teachers who set clear expectations through rules, responsibilities and role modelling create more constructive classrooms.

Giving students ownership around procedures also allows them to understand the consequences of breaking the rules, therefore creating fewer discipline problems. This helps foster a sense of teamwork and overall respect in the classroom.

5. The ability to instil confidence

As any good teacher knows, low student confidence can be a barrier to success both inside and outside the classroom. Students who have low confidence may not believe they can succeed in an academic environment.

Low confidence can also snowball into other problems: students who don’t have confidence in themselves often think that teachers and parents don’t believe in them. This can lead to various behavioural and academic problems.

Good teachers can reverse this cycle by gently and consistently assuring all students that they are worthy of confidence. This can be done through encouragement, providing modified content and tests and giving students the attention they need to succeed.

6. Being a lifelong learner

Good teachers aren’t just committed to encouraging their students to be lifelong learners, but are also always continuing their own professional learning. Part of what makes a good teacher is an interest in education and expanding their skills so they can appropriately respond to diverse learning needs. Teachers who invest the time to build their knowledge or gain a specialisation get better results when it comes to student engagement. When teachers are passionate learners themselves, they are more likely to review and refine their teaching methods to achieve the best results for their students.

When engaging in professional learning, teachers should focus on the following areas, according to the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership:

  • Identify and plan professional learning needs

  • Engage in professional learning and improve practice

  • Engage with colleagues and improve practice

  • Apply professional learning and improve student learning

For teachers, lifelong learning is a professional necessity. By learning to use new materials and incorporate new technologies, teachers can remain confident in their ability to facilitate student learning. This love of learning can also be infectious, stirring the pursuit of knowledge across the classroom.

What makes a good teacher: Going beyond the classroom

On any given day, learners around the world are deciding what makes a good teacher. With so much to love and admire about teachers, defining exactly what makes teachers the best can be difficult. However, through constant upskilling and professional learning, teachers can gain the skills and knowledge they need to have a profound impact on the lives of their students.

One way to ensure you have the key qualities of a good teacher is by pursuing the highest quality education. The Master of Education with SCU Online offers three specialisations in Educational Wellbeing, Educational Leadership and Educational Inclusion and Diversity so students can tailor their education to their goals and improve student outcomes.

Find out more about how pursuing a Master of Education with SCU Online can help you become a teacher who changes lives.