4 Key Characteristics Of Effective Teachers
by Dr. Jimmy Shaw and Nira Dale
“Coaching and teaching–the process is one-in-the-same,” explains Assistant Superintendent of Instruction and former athletic coach, Dr. Jimmy Shaw.
Whether it’s the on or off-season, any discussion with Jimmy Shaw relating to instruction, pedagogy, or professional learning could easily be inclined to a coaching-teaching analogy in efforts to sift away the theoretical jargon and bring clarity to what most would consider fundamental best practices—or as Dr. Jimmy Shaw would say, “It’s just good teaching!”
“Practice makes permanent,” declares Shaw as he emphasizes the importance of why, like coaches, teachers must approach instructional design with a deliberate urgency to reach every learner through the daily activities that meet the individual needs of each learner within their instructional care. We cheer and rejoice on the day of the big game to see the champion team play together with calculated chemistry and execute winning plays.
However, what we don’t see behind the team’s performance is the coach who has consistently conditioned his athletes, assessed their strengths and weaknesses, identified individual needs, and crafted personalized rigorous training to help each player discover his/her true potential—his/her individual best.
Even the very best athlete with “raw talent” could be deemed a second-rate player with little possibility to achieve real athletic success. If an athlete runs with improper technique, releases the ball using incorrect form, defends using improper stance, or lands without clear visual and mental focus, the athlete would surely develop habits that would not only cause teams to lose games, but such habits could also hold the athlete back from realizing his/her full potential.
Educators who are familiar with the logistics of athletic coaching would most likely agree that the principles are very much alike, and the qualities of the best coaches correspond with qualities possessed by the best teachers.
Below we’ve identified four key principle coaching strategies that can be directly applied and/or used to enhance instructional strategies and classroom routines, even in the most challenging learning environments.
4 Key Characteristics Of Effective Teachers
1. Effective teachers are clear teachers.
“We try to define the standard that we want everyone to work on.” –Nick Saban
Effective coaches set clear goals and use simulation and modeling to help players reach those goals. They make sure their players have no question about the expectations and goals that have been set for the team. The playbook diagrams with X’s and O’s shown on a demo-board are important. However, is it not more important for players to see the effective execution of the play in action?
Using step-by-step simulations with guide-on-the-side modeling, effective coaches provide models and create hands-on simulations on the field for players contemplate possible opposing countermoves and potential foils that could cause the play to be ineffective. Models and practical simulations provide athletes with a clear procedural understanding of every action and counteraction to effectively attain end-goals.
Similarly, effective teachers are clear and set clear targets for learning alongside models to scaffold students in meeting those targets.
Whether it’s solving math equations, writing a persuasive essay, or dissecting a frog in the science lab, even the most carefully crafted lesson plan can become an epic fail if the lesson disregards the use of effective instructional models (or modeling) alongside clearly-defined outcomes for learning—Learning Targets. Students often struggle to reach learning mastery because they are unclear as to what/how mastery should look nor the vital steps necessary to reach mastery.
Some of the best modeling happens in the elementary classrooms as the best teachers use think-alouds, read-alouds to foster integral thinking and literacy skills needed for success across content areas and grade levels. Models could be as simple as using a whiteboard (or overhead) to walk students through each step of a learning process and each phase of application. Many teachers have found it effective to use exemplary student work examples as instructional models to clarify learning outcomes and targets.
When teachers clearly define Learning Targets and model essential processes needed to reach such targets, frustration is often minimized for both students and teachers.
2. Effective teachers inspire students through personalized and corrective feedback.
“We have got to use every opportunity to improve individually so we can improve collectively.” –Nick Saban, Alabama Crimson Tide
Effective coaches focus on fundamentals. If an athlete struggles due to a lack of understanding or acquisition of fundamental skills or improper technique, that athlete is given one-on-one intervention time to correct the improper techniques or to develop essential skills necessary for the athlete to make advancements in his/her athletic abilities.
In parallel, effective teachers provide ongoing personalized corrective feedback. Teachers who make the greatest impact on student-learning are those who make strategic efforts to ensure each student knows, not simply a letter grade or score, but also why he/she earned that grade.
Great teachers strive to support individual growth in every student in their instructional care by providing specific personalized feedback to guide each learner to understanding how they can retool his/her thinking when necessary. Without corrective feedback, students often have no clue how to improve as learners; with it, students can be inspired by not only seeing their own progress, but by feeling the affection and care of individual attention.
3. Effective teachers differentiate through individual and group instruction.
Coaching is about, “How do I get people to play at their peak level?”–Phil Jackson, Chicago Bulls
Effective coaches facilitate small-group instruction to reduce skill deficits. They use small-team training conditioning to develop strengths while skillfully utilizing their coaching staff to be continuously responsive to the developmental needs of all player on their team. As strengths and weaknesses are identified, coaches address these needs using small-team training and small-teams drills. Such methods of coaching (and peer-to-peer coaching) provide corrective training and conditioning customized to develop athletic abilities within players.
In the same way, effective teachers maintain a keen awareness of the students who “get it,” the students who are “getting there,” and the students who need a deeper level of support. Through deliberate instructional approaches, these teachers often allocate class time for students to learn and to demonstrate their learning within teacher-facilitated small-groups settings.
This approach provides teachers with a laser-focused view into where students are in their learning, thereby, making real-time assessments to identify root causes of misconceptions and skill-deficits.
How Teachers Can Use Grouping For Differentiation
Small-group instructional strategies afford teachers opportunities to regularly monitor student-progress as well as providing critical student-driven data that will help teachers to tailor interventions to fit the learning needs of the students and to adjust future instruction accordingly.
Student-led cooperative small grouping and mixed-ability-grouping can also prove effective. The instructional challenge is to put structures in place that ensure all students in such groups have clearly defined roles, and no student is left out (or allowed to opt-out) of the learning task. When implemented effectively, cooperative learning within small-groups and partner-work (“pair-share”) can allow students to be valuable human resources for one another.
Additionally, when a student demonstrates skill mastery, great teachers support deeper thinking and learning through authentic application and innovation—fostering a desire for curiosity and continuous learning and growth (e.g. project-based, problem-based, design-thinking, etc.).
4. Effective teachers help students ‘own’ their learning through self-reflection and self-assessment.
“You can’t force your will on people. If you want them to act differently, you need to inspire them to change themselves…” –Phil Jackson, Chicago Bulls
Effective coaches foster ownership of self-development through self-analysis & self-assessment (e.g. film study). They know the power and value of self-assessment and self-reflection and regularly provide athletes with performance stats and video footage and from week to week in order that they compare themselves with themselves. These structures ensure athletes have no question as to what areas they need to focus on to improve their overall athletic performance.
Effective teachers foster self-awareness within their students by creating protocols and routines that support self-reflection and self-assessment. They embed structures for students to routinely monitor their own learning progress. Just as an athlete runs down the court routinely looking up to check the scoreboard, students in a self-aware learning culture develop an intrinsic need to regularly monitor their own progress through self-assessment and self-reflection.
5 Ways Students Can Reflect On Their Own Learning
Below are just a few examples of student-engaged assessments and learning.
- Student Portfolios (e.g. digital formats such as Weebly sites or Seesaw. Paper formats serve the same purpose.)
- Student-Driven Data Notebooks
- Peer Feedback Protocols
- Student-led Conferences
4 Key Characteristics Of Effective Teachers