20 Observable Characteristics Of Effective Teaching


20 Observable Characteristics Of Effective Teaching

by TeachThought Staff

What makes an effective teacher? Or more specifically, what observable characteristics might you see and hear?

The University of Minnesota offered some observable characteristics of effective teaching which, while focused on teacher actions rather than student learning, had some useful tips–not so much how to teach generally, but specific actions that you can use tomorrow.

In “How A Good Teacher Becomes Great,” we theorized that good teachers “know which assessments are for “show,” and which are for “go”—that is, which look good from 10 feet, and which provide visibility for both the student and teacher where the learning needs to go next,” and that they model curiosity, collaborate with other great teachers, and “measure understanding in diverse ways.”

Below are 20 observable characteristics of effective teaching. Pair this with our characteristics of a highly-effective learning environment, and you’ll have a nice one-two punch to reflect on your craft. We’ve highlighted a few of our favorites to get you started.

20 Observable Characteristics Of Effective Teaching

  1. Begins class promptly and in a well-organized way.
  2. Treats students with respect and caring.
  3. Provides the significance/importance of information to be learned.
  4. Provides clear explanations. Holds attention and respect of students….practices effective classroom management.
  5. Uses active, hands-on student learning.
  6. Varies his/her instructional techniques.
  7. Provides clear, specific expectations for assignments.
  8. Provides frequent and immediate feedback to students on their performance.
  9. Praises student answers and uses probing questions to clarify/elaborate answers.
  10. Provides many concrete, real-life, practical examples.
  11. Draws inferences from examples/models….and uses analogies.
  12. Creates a class environment which is comfortable for students….allows students to speak freely.
  13. Teaches at an appropriately fast pace, stopping to check student understanding and engagement.
  14. Communicates at the level of all students in class.
  15. Has a sense of humor!
  16. Uses nonverbal behavior, such as gestures, walking around, and eye contact to reinforce his/her comments.
  17. Presents him/herself in class as “real people.”
  18. Focuses on the class objective and does not let class get sidetracked.
  19. Uses feedback from students (and others) to assess and improve teaching.
  20. Reflects on own teaching to improve it.


  • This is a great post on what a highly effective teacher needs to be doing. I know myself as a second year teacher I do not understand the exact steps I need to take in order to become a highly effective teacher but this post clearly lays things I should can be doing in a meaningful way.

  • The ’20 Observable Characteristics Of Effective Teaching’ include most characteristics of effective teaching. I would like to add some more:
    21. Sometimes uses other learning settings for hands-on experience (i.e. taking the class to an art gallery/a museum);
    22. Considers the psychological aspects that affect learning;
    23. Makes the class a team from the beginning of a course;
    24. Is fair and makes unbiased decisions;
    25. Supports equity in education;
    26. Builds good rapport with his/her students;
    27. Uses teaching methodologies and techniques that are suitable for his/her classes;
    The list is endless…

  • This is a good list for a teacher-centered classroom though I caution a hidden assumption or goal of bending the students’ will to the teacher’s objectives. A great teacher realizes that there are times when a class gets “sidetracked” because the students’ curiosity and humanity has been activated and the topics raised should be explored. A “fast pace” seems more suitable to a conveyor belt model of content delivery education. An effective teacher adjusts pace for individual students. This isn’t mass production of the same product. We are developing individuals within communities. As Eugenia Papaioannou notes in her comment, there are many more ways that teachers can be effective. This list is a good start.

  • As Barry Dyck noted, this is a list largely defining the teacher-centric education which has failed our kids for decades, especially since a frequent response to this failure is to do more of the same. Until all educators acknowledge, respect, and support the natural, inner motivation and drive to master the world that all children possess and rely instead on models for filling supposedly empty brains and blank slates, education will continue to fail children.

Leave a Reply