5 Keys to Being a Successful Teacher

The most successful teachers share common characteristics that set them apart from the rest and every teacher can benefit from adopting these qualities. Experienced and capable educators know that their success is about so much more than the delivery of content. They put effort into every detail and make the most of every day.

Here are 5 keys to successful teaching that form the basis of any strong teacher's repertoire and can instantly improve your daily instruction.

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Maintain High Expectations

An effective teacher must have high expectations. While unreasonable or unfair expectations don't position your students for success, expectations that are too low don't do them any favors either. To ensure that your students are doing their best individually, you must establish a clear, firm set of expectations for what success should look like for each of them.

Your students should, at the very least, be able to meet your expectations but they cannot do that if they don't know what you're looking for. As always when it comes to teaching, being explicit will go a long way. Tell your students what you want to see in their independent work, what good time management looks like, how they can set goals for themselves, how you expect them to participate in various settings, etc.

Your students should be comfortable feeling challenged. Develop instruction that requires them to stretch to meet goals without overwhelming them and differentiate your teaching so that each learner is capable of meeting their own targets.

Many teacher evaluation programs such as the CCT Rubric for effective teaching refer to high academic expectations as follows:

"Prepares instructional content that is aligned with state or district standards, that builds on students’ prior knowledge and that provides for appropriate level of challenge for all students.
Plans instruction to engage students in the content.
Selects appropriate assessment strategies to monitor student progress."

Always remember that, while standards can be helpful for establishing an appropriate level of baseline difficulty, they should not be used to set your expectations.

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Consistency and Fairness

In order to create a positive learning environment, your students should know what to expect each day. Students thrive in conditions of consistency and routine where they feel grounded yet safe to explore. They should be using their brainpower to learn, not adjust to disorienting changes. Routines make your schedule smoother and student life easier.

The best teachers are steady and predictable, treating students equally in the same situations and behaving like the same person each day. Don't confuse stability with being boring—teachers that are consistent and fair are free to use their time more flexibly because they have created a stable classroom culture.

Here are a few ways that the CCT Rubric for effective teaching refers to fair and consistent teachers: 

"Establishes a learning environment that is responsive to and respectful of the learning needs of all students.
Promotes developmentally appropriate standards of behavior that support a productive learning environment for all students.
Maximizes instructional time through effective management of routines and transitions."
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Engaging Instruction

Student engagement and motivation are critical to effective teaching. Successful teachers take a pulse of the class often in order to gauge how interested their students are in the subject matter and whether something needs to be done to increase their participation, interest, or both. This also allows teachers to assess whether their students are progressing toward the learning goals or need more support.

Teachers can make whatever they are teaching more interesting to their students by using varied participation structures and activity types. By having students learn through a wide range of activities as a class, in groups or partnerships, or independently, teachers can keep students on their toes and the classroom energy high.

Specific qualities of engaging teachers from the CCT Rubric are:

"Leads students to construct meaning and apply new learning through the use of a variety of differentiated and evidence-based learning strategies.
Includes opportunities for students to work collaboratively to generate their own questions and problem-solving strategies, synthesize and communicate information.
Assesses student learning, providing feedback to students and adjusting instruction."
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Flexibility and Responsiveness

One of the tenets of teaching should be that a classroom should run smoothly amidst constant change. Interruptions and disruptions are the norm, but a teacher should manage these without their students' learning environment being affected (much). A flexible attitude is important in being able to maintain composure and take control of any situation.

Flexibility and responsiveness both refer to a teacher's ability to make adjustments in real-time and come out on top. Even veteran teachers experience moments of panic when a lesson doesn't go as planned or a day is thrown off track but they know that adjusting, persisting, and reteaching are all part of the job.

A great illustration of flexible teaching can be seen in instances of student confusion. Skilled teachers will do whatever it takes to help a student understand, even if that means thinking on their feet and inventing new approaches along the way. A teacher's work isn't done until every student gets it but the path to comprehension can sometimes look very different and teachers should be prepared for anything

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Know Your Learners

Knowing your learners is one of the most important principles for a highly effective teacher, but neglected by many instructors as secondary to delivering content as planned. Some teachers believe that building strong relationships with each of their students is nonessential, even insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but this is far from the case.

Effective teachers invest a lot of time into learning about their students and bonding with them throughout the year. Though it can seem like you are wasting precious time when you have a conversation with a student about their home life or favorite things when you could be delivering a lesson, these moments of relationship-building are more than worth it in the long run. Prioritize these for the first several weeks of each school year for the best results.

Know the strengths, weaknesses, hopes, dreams, and everything in between of your students to know how best to support them and guarantee a successful school year. Solid relationships make everything from discipline to designing instruction possible.