365 Characteristics Of Good Teachers

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Are you a good teacher?

Good teachers are effective teachers. They are also great but never outstanding as outstanding doesn’t exist. But what does a good one look like?

Everyone seems to have an opinion about what makes a top teacher, a great teacher and what effective teachers ‘do right’. There can never be any real consensus or ‘absolute’ that we can template although research points to some key features.

I’ve collected together a few of these insights so we can see what these cherished characteristics are.

Outlook

‘Good’ teachers…

  1. work with passion and are enthusiastic
  2. bring their best to the school every day
  3. make the most of each and every minute
  4. revel in the opportunity to be with and to teach children
  5. are energetic, dynamic and accentuate the positive
  6. are time stealers extraordinaire and steal ideas
  7. have a healthy sense of humour and perspective
  8. are happy to be at school and love teaching
  9. convey a love of their subject
  10. convey a love of teaching as a worthwhile profession
  11. are intentional with their time and effort
  12. see themselves as helpers of learning
  13. hold positive expectations of their own actions
  14. approach situations with a ‘can do’ and ‘will do’ attitude
  15. accept their inadequacies but strive to improve them
  16. encourage input from others
  17. listen deeply and give credit to others for their contributions
  18. are keen to uphold the school’s values
  19. see themselves as essentially dependable and capable
  20. communicate effectively with others
  21. believe in their own worth, ability and potential
  22. are self-confident, motivated and happy
  23. strive for openness, honesty and genuineness in learning and relationships
  24. do things with P.R.I.D.E. (perseverance, responsibility, integrity, determination, excitement)
  25. model forgiveness
  26. have presence
  27. walk the talk and practise what they preach
  28. act as role models with high ethical standards
  29. are empathetic
  30. are ‘Elephant’ teachers
  31. act naturally in a range of situations
  32. use their personalities to energise the curriculum
  33. promote and cherish mental and physical wellbeing
  34. don’t make dramas out of minor events
  35. safeguard their emotional energy and protect their own welfare
  36. are optimistic and see problems as opportunities
  37. are responsive to changing circumstances
  38. don’t allow anyone to take away their excellence
  39. filter out the spam and challenge toxic people
  40. expect the best
  41. look for marginal gains
  42. build alliances
  43. are pogo-stick teachers and see the wider picture
  44. go for gold and enthuse others to do the same
  45. give of themselves freely and often
  46. know when to unplug
  47. are not faultless
  48. see mistakes as an opportunity and not a threat
  49. work hard but don’t become workaholics
  50. have self-doubts
  51. count their blessings!
  52. get out of their comfort pits and zones
  53. are hardy teachers
  54. don’t aim for perfection
  55. have superpowers
  56. look out for their colleagues
  57. build visions and find time to innovate
  58. are grit spreaders
  59. charge at obstacles and goals with total commitment
  60. drown out the bad with the good
  61. empower others, start uplifting dialogue and encourage public ‘shout outs’
  62. practise being brave and take risks
  63. are cheerful, determined and tenacious
  64. S.U.M.O (Shut Up, Move On)
  65. wear different glasses and see the world differently
  66. are committed to achievement and active citizenship
  67. spread collegial care and support to everyone
  68. set boundaries
  69. avoid burnout
  70. are cheerful in adversity
  71. make lemonade when the fragile system gives them lemons
  72. know how to get their mojo back and reignite their confidence.
  73. choose their battles
  74. know how to deal with impostor syndrome
  75. side-step guilt
  76. can’t imagine doing anything else
  77. know they are trusted
  78. get some sleep! 
  79. ignore emails after hours
  80. commit to a well-being oath

Child-centred

‘Good’ teachers…

  1. enjoy the company of children
  2. meet, greet and make every child feel special
  3. reject self-fulfilling prophecies and avoid labelling
  4. value the uniqueness of each child and never belittle
  5. believe in the worth, ability and potential of every child
  6. maximise raw potential and tap the untapped potential
  7. never underestimate pupils’ capabilities
  8. study their children and find each child’s ‘sweet spot’
  9. observe and listen carefully to children to discover their educational needs
  10. ask children “What is kind? What is specific? What is helpful?”
  11. help and support children to grow and flourish
  12. commit to establishing a positive relationship with every learner
  13. never patronise or talk down to children
  14. never break promises
  15. encourage an open and trusting learning environment
  16. encourage children to take risks and ask ‘big questions’
  17. encourage a growth mindset
  18. take care of children’s mental health
  19. encourage children to raise expectations of themselves
  20. normalise mistake making as a natural part of learning
  21. challenge children in multiple ways
  22. help children to speculate, think aloud and help each other
  23. give children time to think
  24. help pupils redefine ‘failure’ as a stepping stone towards success
  25. help children become critical thinkers, problem solvers and effective learners
  26. hold positive expectations of every child and don’t blame them for their behaviour
  27. have a constant awareness of how children are experiencing their learning
  28. see pupils as pupils and not mini-adults
  29. understand and value a child’s point of view
  30. honour the dignity and integrity of every child
  31. provide constructive feedback and avoid slack praise
  32. eat together and learn together with children
  33. show a caring attitude
  34. develop character and responsibility
  35. have shining eyes and a lively tone of voice
  36. are seen by children as approachable and valuable sources of advice
  37. have high standards for all children every day
  38. understand that they will not always see immediate results
  39. contribute personal stories and celebrate the successes of former students
  40. develop personal, mature relationships with children
  41. are generous with their smiles and make children laugh
  42. have faith in children to do well
  43. keep things positive
  44. use their own autobiographies to empower learning and personal development
  45. take time to explain things from more than one angle
  46. help children when they are ‘stuck’, upset or troubled
  47. do not give up on children and do not give into children
  48. make children feel clever
  49. make allowances, forgive and forget
  50. insist that work is a high standard
  51. nudge and push children into doing better
  52. know what goes on ‘beyond the gate
  53. help children to be creative, original and use their initiative
  54. give children strategies to succeed
  55. react calmly when things don’t go ‘right’
  56. make children feel secure and protect their mental health
  57. inspire and inculcate a love of learning in children
  58. maintain discipline
  59. are alert and responsive to different feelings
  60. extend the range of pupil learning experiences including homework when appropriate
  61. help children become independent, resilient and skilful learners
  62. are aware of the Matthew effect
  63. encourage children to be learning detectives
  64. understand the overlapping waves model of cognitive development and see learning as a gradual ebb and flow
  65. let parents know when their child has shown a particular interest in a topic or skill
  66. encourage children to identify the difference between opinion and diagnostic advice
  67. help children to achieve more than they thought possible
  68. let children know they are not their test results
  69. see ourselves through our children’s eyes

Teaching

‘Good’ teachers…

  1. are well organised, prepared and reflective
  2. have sound subject knowledge
  3. teach like a champion
  4. see teaching as white water rafting
  5. are nets not spoons
  6. have clever classrooms
  7. champion children and fight their corner
  8. make ‘invisible’ pupils visible
  9. recognise that learning is emotional
  10. teach hand, head and heart
  11. believe learning should be challenging and joyful
  12. find something children care about
  13. build a class culture and happy classrooms
  14. poverty-proof their classrooms if required
  15. create situations in which children succeed
  16. give oracy a high profile and commit to dialogical teaching
  17. understand Assessment for Learning, responsive teaching and use the 5 Minute AfL Plan
  18. see formative assessment as the bridge between teaching and learning
  19. don’t obsess over ‘data’
  20. think aloud and model steps
  21. assess learning incrementally
  22. commit to low-stakes not high-stakes
  23. expect ambiguity
  24. use strategies that support inclusion
  25. improvise, ad lib, edit, tweak and tailor
  26. avoid the formulaic
  27. do not write detailed lesson plans
  28. let children decide the direction learning takes
  29. deliberately introduce alternative perspectives
  30. deliberately introduce periods of silence
  31. shun bullet-pointed lesson plans and off-the-shelf ready-made lessons
  32. make learning as loud and colourful as possible
  33. use exciting and varied approaches like concept cartoons
  34. radiate excitement when they introduce a new topic
  35. make learning memorable and make things stick
  36. don’t use lollipops
  37. are great storytellers
  38. help children ‘get in the zone’ and in a state of flow
  39. create a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere
  40. use the APPLE model for prior knowledge (Appropriate, Present, Pupil Need, Learner’s Environment, Enhance)
  41. are clear about what they want children to learn
  42. concentrate on the things that pupils need to experience
  43. tell children what they need to know and show them what they need to do
  44. judge what can be expected of a pupil
  45. are concerned about the quality of their teaching
  46. detect things before they get out of hand
  47. teach with patience and open-eyed courage
  48. maintain a constant focus on children’s learning goals
  49. make the best use of every minute
  50. have a belief in their teaching and in children as learners
  51. combine the routine and the probing
  52. ask lots of questions, particularly ‘how and ‘why’ questions
  53. ask questions ‘Columbo’ style
  54. use open questions and Fermi questions
  55. reason by analogy
  56. give analysis, not opinion
  57. strive to ensure that every child feels confident to approach adults without hesitation to ask questions
  58. talk to children in a way that they can understand
  59. overcome gaps in knowledge, understanding and skills
  60. take careful account of the needs of individuals
  61. promote deliberate practice so we can all achieve extraordinary things
  62. encourage independent thought
  63. encourage children to ask questions and engage in the learning process
  64. challenge misconceptions
  65. don’t gloss over ‘wrong’ answers but treat them as stepping stones towards a fuller understanding
  66. establish a context for material
  67. link learning to real-world issues
  68. present new material in small chunks
  69. use examples, details, analogies, metaphors and variety in modes of explanation
  70. use wit and humour effectively
  71. tactically tackle low-level disruption
  72. presents facts and concepts from related fields and ‘joins the dots’
  73. allow children to succeed
  74. pay close attention to detail
  75. are not slaves to differentiation
  76. feedback and feedforward
  77. don’t use verbal feedback stamps
  78. build on and work with the knowledge that children already possess
  79. can stimulate, direct and pace interaction with the class
  80. make rapid assessments and can change direction to fit the needs of individuals
  81. monitor progress and foster success
  82. teach children how to monitor their own progress
  83. demand and monitor independent practice
  84. make sure children show their successes
  85. don’t sit behind their desks
  86. demonstrate their own thought and work processes when problem-solving
  87. encourage children to summarise new learning in a graphical way
  88. encourage children to achieve their goals
  89. use a great deal of encouragement with a small amount of praise
  90. nurture metacognition and teach children how to think, not what to think
  91. teach children strategies and not just content
  92. motivate children to create new ideas
  93. foster innovation, new approaches and take risks themselves
  94. don’t shut down learning but keep lines of enquiry open
  95. encourage and appreciate diversity
  96. do not stereotype or speak negatively of others
  97. nurture and encourage empathy and respect
  98. seek and encourage understanding of, and respect for, people of diverse backgrounds
  99. are perceived as fair, especially in behaviour management and methods of assessment
  100. encourage children to work in teams
  101. encourage collaborative learning
  102. help children to transfer learning into new situations
  103. give children confidence to tackle unfamiliar challenges
  104. help children to Stop, Think, Act, Reflect
  105. provide Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time (DIRT)
  106. use pose, pause, pounce, bounce
  107. repeat, pause, repeat, linger, pause, repeat
  108. don’t take centre stage and talk too much
  109. present difficult concepts comprehensibly
  110. offer support for difficult concepts
  111. play devil’s advocate
  112. scaffold and explain clearly
  113. hold children accountable
  114. let children teach one another
  115. build memorable learning experiences
  116. ensure praise is personal, sincere and linked to learning
  117. know whether or not the class is following the material and check regularly that children understand
  118. address underperformance
  119. are sensitive to each learner’s mood and motivation
  120. demonstrate creativity in teaching strategies
  121. repeat what has already been learnt each day
  122. regularly activate and reactivate learned knowledge
  123. teach in a relaxed way without losing authority and respect
  124. know that one size does not fit all
  125. helps children take ownership over the direction of their own lives
  126. inculcate a sense of mystery and suspense
  127. awaken wonder within the classroom
  128. are sometimes punks
  129. are sometimes mavericks
  130. teach purple cow lessons and teach like pirates
  131. are lazy and keep it simple
  132. work less than their children
  133. celebrate the work of their children and their school community
  134. promote healthy, cheerful competition
  135. build a climate of emotional intelligence in class
  136. creatively foster synergy between experience and dialogue
  137. don’t spend hours marking
  138. assess in the moment with plenty of verbal feedback
  139. promote cognitive conflict and thought friction
  140. don’t cap ‘low-attainers’ by denying them access to more challenging work
  141. apply a ‘low threshold, high ceiling’ principle to open-ended tasks
  142. don’t do PowerPoint
  143. manage their marking workload and use the 5 Minute Lesson Plan

Development

‘Good’ teachers…

  1. are intellectually curious and love learning
  2. are critically reflective
  3. commit to professional development in education
  4. are experts on their own teaching
  5. prioritise professional learning and reading 
  6. are respectful of colleagues
  7. build engagement among colleagues
  8. have critical friendships 
  9. are outward looking connected educators
  10. collaborate with passion and purpose
  11. stay abreast of trends in education and research
  12. are cultural anthropologists of their school
  13. use lesson study to get better
  14. openly display a thirst for knowledge and constantly strive to learn
  15. work as team players and multiply each other’s strengths
  16. focus on relationships, relationships, relationships
  17. embrace reciprocal vulnerability without losing credibility
  18. control the narrative, speak up and challenge
  19. contribute to cultural breakthroughs in their school
  20. are persistent and never give up
  21. say ‘no’ when they have to
  22. commit to having regular learning conversations with colleagues
  23. have open and accessible paths of communication with colleagues
  24. extend their learning outside their comfort zone
  25. demonstrate leadership in teaching and learn from mistakes
  26. contribute to curriculum design
  27. ask “So what?”
  28. use Smyth’s model of reflection
  29. are curious and seek to find out what works and what doesn’t
  30. contribute to debate and discussion
  31. contribute their own writing on education e.g. blogs, articles
  32. seek out pockets of intelligence and listen to podcasts
  33. seek out positive and powerful voices in education
  34. demonstrate creativity in teaching strategies
  35. build links at national and international levels in education e.g. via social media
  36. seek continually to improve teaching skills
  37. seek to learn and incorporate new skills
  38. seek feedback and criticism
  39. have a ‘pay if forward’ mindset by giving help and receiving help
  40. welcome different points of view
  41. model the way for others by managing their workload and wellbeing 
  42. keep up to date in their specialty
  43. combine brainpower with horsepower
  44. persevere with time management and commit to wellbeing
  45. actively and constantly seek new opportunities
  46. are pro-active and initiate rather than remain passive
  47. look at research-based ideas to implement into their practice
  48. debunk educational myths and legends
  49. do less, not more and do it better
  50. strive to make great impact
  51. have a vision of the footprint they want to leave on the world
  52. have a ‘giving’ mindset and share ideas and resources
  53. reflect, monitor and adjust
  54. Mark. Plan. Teach
  55. conduct teaching, learning and assessment audits on themselves
  56. are change agents
  57. serve as catalysts for improvement
  58. observe each other teach as part of a learning team
  59. plan, organise, reflect and evaluate together
  60. talk shop
  61. know when to stop talking shop
  62. avoid balkanisation
  63. use different lenses
  64. learn how to coach
  65. learn how to manage
  66. learn how to mentor
  67. know that ‘good’ is good enough
  68. seek help from more experienced staff and less experienced staff
  69. visit the staffroom
  70. establish links with sympathetic friends and family
  71. lead by example and let others shine
  72. give themselves a pat on the back and know they are fabulous.

These qualities and characteristics are just a sample of what good teachers do. There will be plenty I have missed and you could probably add 1000 more things. As this list shows, teaching is a highly complex and demanding job that really is multi-skilled and multi-dimensional. In another profession, anyone else expected to do all this would demand £200K a year. Teachers are worth so much more.

John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project manager, writer and editor. I am the teacher without a tongue. www.johndabell.com

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