What Makes a Great Teacher?

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By Theresa Staley

Teaching requires unrelenting dedication to students, humanity, and our educational craft. Educators accept the roles of parent, coach, advocate, mentor, counselor, and role model, among others. Our profession requires us to develop and sustain intangible interpersonal qualities, what we call “conative skills,” as ambassadors of learning. Conative (“soft”) skills are as important to 21st century learning as more traditional cognitive (academic) skills. These skills are also emphasized in the Essentials for Achieving Rigor instructional model as important skills in establishing Conditions for Learning. As teachers, we need to remember that we should work to develop and nurture these skills right along with our students. The four conative skills below are skills you can practice deliberately to become the teacher you’ve always dreamed of being.


Instruction becomes more effective when students intrinsically understand how genuinely you care for their success. Your daily actions can convey a true passion for your students’ learning and inclusion in school life. Genuinely demonstrating your stake in the lives of your students, you can show love and communicate belief in your students’ achievement (and your high expectations for all students) through your excitement, your mannerisms, your use of engagement strategies, and your reflective preparation for learning.


How many teachers have you bumped into in your life, and in a second’s time, that person knows your name, where you sat in class, or something special about you? Many teachers remember your name on day one and never forget you. They know your story, and your narrative becomes their novella. This is all part of establishing and maintaining effective relationships. Students respond to and work hard for teachers who are devoted and remain dedicated cheerleaders.


Without question, a teacher’s workday does not end at dismissal. The job entails ongoing concern for the students in and out of the classroom. Great teachers, without hesitation, go above and beyond to support, motivate, and inspire their students for better days and better futures. You can work to build effective home connections, reach out to teams within the school for additional assistance, and generate ideas to help a child struggling with emotional or academic issues. Teachers who express care, compassion, and love are well on their way to establishing effective relationships.


Sometimes teachers make decisions they know might lead to conflict with students and parents. But great teachers support student learning by having the courage to challenge their students, make recommendations for supports, and ask children to rise to the level of high standards as classroom citizens, in their behavior, accountability, and ethics. In other words, great teachers communicate high expectations for all students.


What are the qualities you think makes a great teacher? What did you learn about teaching from your own favorite teachers? Leave a comment below OR CHECK OUT OUR SOCIAL MEDIA to start the discussion.

Theresa Staley is a Staff Developer with Instructional Empowerment. Her educational career began in 2001. She has held positions as a classroom teacher in elementary and middle school, as an intervention specialist, and worked at the district level. She is a relentless advocate for literacy and upholds an unyielding dedication to teachers and children.