Definition of an effective teacher.

The benefits of students having an effective teacher versus an ineffective teacher are huge. We will look at the importance of defining an effective teacher, what an effective teacher is, and where we are as teachers on the continuum of effectiveness. We will then look at goal setting to improve our effectiveness as teachers and ways we can achieve them. After researching what it means to be an effective teacher, my definition of an effective teacher is:

An effective teacher has the skills to engage all students with a variety of instructional delivery and the ability to differentiate levels for each student. They have the content knowledge to deliver and skills to assess students. Effective teachers can create environments for learning through strong classroom management. They also display personal qualities that show students that they care.

Why is defining an effective teacher so important?

As teachers, we all want to be effective. I have not met a teacher yet that wants to be ineffective. Having a definition of an effective teacher can give me the tools to reflect on my own teaching to ask the question. I’m I effective or not? Having this definition, I can then set explicit goals to aspire to, reflect on and continue to develop and grow.

There are other reasons for defining effectiveness. This interesting quote below gives a broader view of why we need to define an effective teacher.

Understanding factors related to teacher effectiveness is not only important for teachers and school leaders, but categorising these factors of effectiveness is also an important issue essential for federal, state and local education policy discussions about qualities to promote in future teachers, whom to recruit and hire, and which qualities to base future pay scales on (Croninger, Rice, Rathbun, & Nishio, 2007).

cited in (Kershaw, 2016)

Guidance for teachers on effectiveness?

The Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL, 2011) produced the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. The focus areas and descriptors identify the components of quality teaching at each career stage. They constitute agreed characteristics of the complex process of teaching.

An effective teacher can integrate and apply knowledge, practice and professional engagement as outlined in the descriptors to create teaching environments in which learning is valued. This document is huge and does not give a simple definition but a rubric as such.

In June 2009, the Western Australian Department of Education released a document called Effective Teaching. Sharyn O’Neill, the Director-General introduced the document by saying, “I believe it is important for all teachers in our schools to have a clear understanding of the Department’s position in relation to effective teaching practice” (p. 1).  The document describes effective teachers as:

Effective teachers strive to motivate and engage all their students in learning rather than simply accepting that some students cannot be engaged and are destined to do poorly.  They believe every student can achieve success at school, and they do all they can to find ways of making each student successful. 

Effective teachers have high expectations of students in terms of their standard of learning and their behaviour, and they help their students meet those expectations. They also have high expectations of themselves and their own learning.

Why is defining an effective teacher so hard?

Defining an effective teacher is a difficult task. Lewis et al. (1999) noted that “Teacher quality is a complex phenomenon, and there is little consensus on what it is or how to measure it”. 

Many decades of research questioned the methods of measuring an effective teacher; there have been many different methods, from teacher qualifications to students comments.  With so much debate regarding how to measure effectiveness, research into this area can be tricky to make any conclusions from.

Dimensions of effectiveness.

The book Qualities of Effective Teachers by Stronge (2007) characterises teacher effectiveness synthesized from a meta-review of research into four dimensions: Instructional Delivery, Student Assessment, Learning Environment and Personal Qualities of the teacher.  Each of these dimensions has further subcomponents due to their complexity are overlapping in nature. 

1) Instructional delivery includes areas such as; instructional differentiation, focus on learning, instructional clarity, instructional complexity, expectations for student learning, use of technology and questioning.  

2) Student assessment; effective teachers monitor student learning through informal and formal assessment. 

3) Learning environment highlights the importance of maintaining a positive and productive learning environment by teachers having strong classroom management skills and good organization. Elements of effective classroom management include establishing routines and procedures to limit disruption and time taken away from teaching and learning, maintaining momentum and variety in instructional practices, and monitoring and responding to student activity.  

4) Personal qualities, refers to effective teachers display caring qualities for example.

How to rate your own effectiveness?

So using these four dimensions to reflect on your own effectiveness as a teacher, where do you sit on the continuum? The below image can be used for each dimension.

My effectiveness as a teacher is on a continuum, and like all continuums, it changes depending on the circumstances. We all have good days and bad days in the classroom. Sometimes life and work throw us curve balls.

We may start our journey as a teacher in the middle of the continuum, then strive to improve and move up, becoming more effective over time. Improving in certain areas of instructional delivery and behaviour management for example.

But then something happens to us, and for some reason, we don’t have the time for such prepared lesson planning, and we fall down the continuum for a period of time. Just like the stock markets, we are changing and evolving.

effective teacher

We are only as good as our last lesson. Sometimes we find our flow, and we are on the top of our game, and sometimes we are not. If you are a perfectionist, then you are in for a tough ride. There is always something that can be better and improved. Yes, we need to ensure we do a good job, but we need to leave some room in the tank for ourselves. We must have a work-life balance. Teachers who do not – risk burnout and this will ultimately make us less effective. It’s all about balance.

How to set goals for improvement.

Having too many goals will spread your time and energy thin. I recommend just a few goals over a three to six month period.

Look at your self-reflection scores above. To make it more measurable, put the continuum out of 10. Look at the lowest score and take a deeper look at why you think you need to improve in this area. Let say you scored yourself low on the learning environment. Ask yourself these questions.

  • What would my classroom look like, sound like and feel like if it was at the higher end of the continuum?
  • Have I seen other teachers who have a high score?
  • What is it in their classroom that gives them a high score?

Once you have the answers to these questions. Ask yourself, what can I do in the given time frame to change my classroom dynamics to move up the continuum? Your ideas might include.

  • Observe an effective teacher who has created a great learning environment.
  • Ask that effective teacher to observe me and give me feedback.
  • Can I attend some professional learning in this area to address my weak spots?
  • Is there any research or textbooks out there that will assist?

Try using a journal to record daily progress and reflections on the journey. I highly recommend journaling because this is a proven way to ensure you achieve your goals. You can spend lots of money on journals like this more expensive one on Amazon. Equally as good, you can have a cheaper one from Kmart.

The beauty of these books are they make you break down your goals into SMART, manageable chunks and have regular reviews on how you are going. I journal in the morning to list what I will be doing today to work towards my goals. Then at night, to reflect on what I did or did not do to achieve my goal.

Don’t forget to celebrate your successes. As teachers, we seem to celebrate everyone else’s success and never our own. When you have your new journal and a fancy new pen, find a quiet room to write, ensure you put down your rewards for when you achieve your goals.

Equally, if you don’t meet your goals in the desired timeframe, be kind to yourself. Reset your goals with more detail and a more realistic time frame.

If you have found this interesting please share.


Croninger, R. G., Rice, J. K., Rathbun, A., & Nishio, M. (2007). Teacher Qualifications and Early Learning: Effects of Certification, Degree, and Experience on First-Grade Student Achievement. Economics of Education Review, 26(3), 312-324.

Kershaw, L. H. (2016). Journeys Towards Expertise in Technology-Supported Teaching. (PhD), Edith Cowan University

Stronge, J. H., Ward, T. J., & Grant, L. W. (2011). What Makes Good Teachers Good? A Cross-Case Analysis of the Connection Between Teacher Effectiveness and Student Achievement. Journal of Teacher Education, 62(4), 339-355. doi:10.1177/0022487111404241

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