If you ask a student what makes him or her successful in school, you probably won’t hear about some fantastic new book or video lecture series. Most likely you will hear something like, “It was all Mr. Jones. He just never gave up on me.”
What students take away from a successful education usually centers on a personal connection with a teacher who instilled passion and inspiration for their subject.
It’s difficult to measure success, and in the world of academia, educators are continually re-evaluating how to quantify learning—but the first and most important question to ask is: Are teachers reaching their students?
Here are 25 things successful educators do differently.
- Successful teachers have clear objectives
How do you know if you are driving the right way when you are traveling somewhere new? You use the road signs and a map (although nowadays it might be SIRI or a GPS). In the world of education, your objectives for your students act as road signs to your destination. Your plan is the map. Making a plan does not suggest a lack of creativity in your curriculum but rather, gives creativity a framework in which to flourish.
- Successful teachers have a sense of purpose
We can’t all be blessed with “epic” workdays all the time. Sometimes, life is just mundane and tedious. Teachers with a sense of purpose that are able to see the big picture can ride above the hard and boring days because their eye is on something further down the road.
- Successful teachers are able to live without immediate feedback
There is nothing worse than sweating over a lesson plan only to have your students walk out of class without so much as a smile or a, “Great job teach!” It’s hard to give 100% and not see immediate results. Teachers who rely on that instant gratification will get burned out and disillusioned. Learning, relationships, and education are a messy endeavor, much like nurturing a garden. It takes time, and some dirt, to grow.
- Successful teachers know when to listen to students and when to ignore them
Right on the heels of the above tip is the concept of discernment with student feedback. A teacher who never listens to his/her students will ultimately fail. A teacher who always listens to his/her students will ultimately fail. It is no simple endeavor to know when to listen and adapt, and when to say, “No- we’re going this way because I am the teacher and I see the long term picture.”
- Successful teachers have a positive attitude
Negative energy zaps creativity and it makes a nice breeding ground for fear of failure. Good teachers have an upbeat mood, a sense of vitality and energy, and see past momentary setbacks to the end goal. Positivity breeds creativity.
- Successful teachers expect their students to succeed
This concept is similar for parents as well. Students need someone to believe in them. They need a wiser and older person to put stock in their abilities. Set the bar high and then create an environment where it’s okay to fail. This will motivate your students to keep trying until they reach the expectation you’ve set for them.
- Successful teachers have a sense of humor
Humor and wit make a lasting impression. It reduces stress and frustration, and gives people a chance to look at their circumstances from another point of view. If you interviewed 1000 students about their favorite teacher, I’ll bet 95% of them were hysterical.
- Successful teachers use praise authentically
Students need encouragement yes, but real encouragement. It does no good to praise their work when you know it is only 50% of what they are capable of. You don’t want to create an environment where there is no praise or recognition; you want to create one where the praise that you offer is valuable BECAUSE you use it judiciously.
- Successful teachers know how to take risks
There is a wise saying that reads, “Those who go just a little bit too far are the ones who know just how far one can go.” Risk-taking is a part of the successful formula. Your students need to see you try new things in the classroom and they will watch closely how you handle failure in your risk-taking. This is as important as what you are teaching.
- Successful teachers are consistent
Consistency is not to be confused with “stuck.” Consistency means that you do what you say you will do, you don’t change your rules based on your mood, and your students can rely on you when they are in need. Teachers who are stuck in their outdated methods may boast consistency, when in fact it is cleverly-masked stubbornness.
- Successful teachers are reflective
In order to avoid becoming the stuck and stubborn teacher, successful educators take time to reflect on their methods, their delivery, and the way they connect with their students. Reflection is necessary to uncover those weaknesses that can be strengthened with a bit of resolve and understanding.
- Successful teachers seek out mentors of their own
Reflective teachers can easily get disheartened if they don’t have someone a bit older and wiser offering support. You are never too old or wise for a mentor. Mentors can be that voice that says, “Yes your reflections are correct,” or “No, you are off because….” and provide you with a different perspective.
- Successful teachers communicate with parents
Collaboration between parents and teachers is absolutely crucial to a student’s success. Create an open path of communication so parents can come to you with concerns and you can do the same. When a teacher and parents present a united front, there is a lower chance that your student will fall through the cracks.
- Successful teachers enjoy their work
It is easy to spot a teacher who loves their work. They seem to emanate contagious energy. Even if it on a subject like advanced calculus, the subject comes alive. If you don’t love your work or your subject, it will come through in your teaching. Try to figure out why you feel so unmotivated and uninspired. It might have nothing to do with the subject, but your expectations. Adjust them a bit and you might find your love of teaching come flooding back.
- Successful teachers adapt to student needs
Classrooms are like an ever-evolving dynamic organism. Depending on the day, the attendance roster, and the phase of the moon, you might have to change up your plans or your schedule to accommodate your students. As they grow and change, your methods might have to as well. If your goal is to promote a curriculum or method, it will feel like a personal insult when you have to modify it. Make connecting with your student your goal and you’ll have no trouble changing it up as time moves on.
- Successful teachers welcome change in the classroom
This relates to the above tip, but in a slightly different way. Have you ever been so bored with your house or your bedroom, only to rearrange it and have it feel like a new room? Change ignites the brain with excitement and adventure. Change your classroom to keep your students on their toes. Simple changes like rearranging desks and routines can breathe new life in the middle of a long year.
- Successful teachers take time to explore new tools
With the advance of technology, there are fresh new resources and tools that can add great functionality to your classroom and curriculum. There is no doubt that the students you are teaching (far younger than you) probably already use technologies you haven’t tapped into yet. Don’t be afraid to push for technology in the classroom. It is often an underfunded area but in this current world and climate, your students will be growing up in a world where technology is everywhere. Give them a headstart and use technology in your classroom.
- Successful teachers give their students emotional support
There are days when your students will need your emotional support more than a piece of information. Connecting to your students on an emotional level makes it more likely that they will listen to your counsel and take your advice to heart. Students need mentors as much as they need teachers.
- Successful teachers are comfortable with the unknown
It’s difficult to teach in an environment where you don’t know the future of your classroom budget, the involvement of your student’s parents, or the outcome of all your hard work. On a more philosophical level, educators who teach the higher grades are tasked with teaching students principles that have a lot of unknowns (i.e. physics). How comfortable are you with not having all the answers? Good teachers are able to function without everything tied up neatly in a bow.
- Successful teachers are not threatened by parent advocacy
Unfortunately, parents and teachers are sometimes threatened by one another. A teacher who is insecure will see parent advocacy as a threat. While there are plenty of over-involved helicopter parents waiting to point out a teacher’s mistakes, most parents just want what’s best for their child. Successful educators are confident in their abilities and not threatened when parents want to get into the classroom and make their opinions known. Good teachers also know they don’t have to follow what the parent recommends!
- Successful teachers bring fun into the classroom
Don’t be too serious. Some days, “fun” should be the goal. When students feel and see your humanness, it builds a foundation of trust and respect. Fun and educational aren’t mutually exclusive either. Using humor can make even the most mundane topic more interesting.
- Successful teachers teach holistically
Learning does not happen in a vacuum. Depression, anxiety, and mental stress have a severe impact on the educational process. It’s crucial that educators (and the educational model) take the whole person into account. You can have the funniest and most innovative lesson on algebra, but if your student has just been told his parents are getting a divorce, you will not reach him.
- Successful teachers never stop learning
Good teachers find time in their schedule to learn themselves. Not only does it help bolster your knowledge in a certain subject matter, it also puts you in the position of student. This gives you a perspective about the learning process that you can easily forget when you’re always in teaching mode.
- Successful teachers break out of the box
It may be a self-made box. “Oh I could never do that,” you say to yourself. Perhaps you promised you’d never become the teacher who would let students grade each other (maybe you had a bad experience as a kid). Sometimes the biggest obstacle to growth is us. Have you built a box around your teaching methods? Good teachers know when it’s time to break out of it.
- Successful teachers are masters of their subject
Good teachers need to know their craft. In addition to the methodology of “teaching”, you need to master your subject area. Learn, learn, and never stop learning. Successful educators stay curious.
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