Qualities of Effective Teachers
Science Teaching and Learning
Fall 2004/Spring 2005
Summary of Qualities of Effective Teachers
Teacher effectiveness has been in the forefront of education even before the emphasis on accountability for educators. Administrators are eager to find a “one size fits all” description from which to evaluate teachers succinctly. The popularity of the Madeline Hunter Method in the late 1980s gives evidence to the perceived need for teacher effectiveness evaluations. The book, Qualities of Effective Teachers, published by the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development strives to collect and present the personal and professional qualities of effective teachers that are common throughout the research literature.
Design of the Chapters
The author clearly identifies the audiences it intends to serve by publishing this book: teachers who desire to improve performance, teacher mentors, teacher supervisors, teacher and administrator educators, and policy makers. The book is rather concise, as it explicitly takes into consideration the value of time for both teachers and administrators. Each chapter begins with a quote from a teacher indicating issues addressed in the chapter. The chapters are segmented into small chunks with subtitles to help guide the reader. After a brief description of the quality, for example verbal ability, conclusions from the research are listed in bullet form. The end of each subtitled section lists the large number of research articles from which the author draws his conclusions. Research literature is the anchor for the claims the book makes regarding the qualities of effective teachers, and the end of each chapter includes a matrix describing over forty research articles and the qualities they address. The feature of the matrix makes referencing the hundreds of researcher articles cited much easier for teacher and administrator educators as well as policy makers.
Layout of the Book
There are two overall parts to the book, seven chapters describing what it means to be an effective teacher, and three resources to use regarding teacher effectiveness. The first two chapters of the book focus on personal qualities of teachers such as prerequisites of effective teaching and the teacher as a person. The prerequisites of effective teaching are described by the author as verbal ability, knowledge of teaching and learning, certification status, content knowledge, and teaching experience. The author identifies caring, fairness, effective student interactions, enthusiasm, attitude, and reflection to be personal qualities effective teachers possess. The next four chapters of the book discuss professional qualities effective teachers have, such as organization, classroom management, implementing instruction, and monitoring student progress. The last chapter of the book is called “Effective Teaching: What does it all mean?” and attempts to summarize the finding from the previous chapter in three categories: recognizing complexity, communicating clearly, and serving conscientiously. Part two of the book provides three sections oriented to the administrator or teacher educator, a teacher skills assessment checklist, a list of teacher responsibilities and behaviors, and an annotated bibliography. The annotated bibliography includes a one page summary of the research articles that were cited most often in the book along with keywords they used for associating the articles to the qualities identified in the book.
Positive Aspects of the Book
The author makes a intrepid attempt at fusing research and practice. He effectively balances the research, which is often difficult for practitioners to read, with behaviors involved in practicing teachers. The introduction of the book details the process the author used in making his conclusions. He searched the core research articles regarding teacher effectiveness and found as many intersections as possible. From the intersections, he categorized behaviors and placed them in a coherent order. Utilizing the available research findings and providing the reader easy access to the resources offers validity to the information presented in the book. If there were not extensive reference to influential research findings, this book would appear as though it was the author’s opinion. The author has clearly indicated his role as organizer to the information, not creator to the information, which gives the book more legitimacy.
The author also distinctly helps readers access the research articles for verification. The matrix at the end of each chapter lists the articles used to compile the conclusions mapped against the qualities listed in the chapter. For example, in the chapter describing monitoring student progress and potential, there are 34 research articles listed in the first column of the matrix. The first row of the matrix lists the key behaviors discussed in the chapter: homework, monitoring student progress, and responding to student needs and abilities. There is a dot in the cell of the matrix where the two overlap. For example, Berliner and Rosenshine (1977) wrote a research article that addressed monitoring student progress, so there is a dot in the row for Berliner and Rosenshine under the column monitoring student progress. If an educator wanted to look up further details from this particular article, they could easily find the article, even without the actual title. Not only does this give a solid foundation of scholarship to the book, it is useful as a tool for researchers. A scholar could also see the frequency of the names published for a particular academic area, and be able to see who is important to read for that topic.
The author is successful in addressing his arguments to all of his previously identified audience. For teachers, the author provides humanistic elements such as quotes from other teachers and actual classroom practices in the summary. For teachers who would like to be mentors, the author provides a concise outline of qualities for the mentor to foster. Mentors could use this book as a checklist if they want to address all concepts to the new teacher, or mentors could take one or two of the chapters and work with the new teacher for a more in-depth approach. For school administrators and teachers, whose time is valuable, the book is written in a manner that can be easily scanned for major ideas. The structure of the text includes plenty of subtitles and bulleted items. The summary is often one or two paragraphs, which would prove useful to busy professionals. Supervisors and staff development specialists could use this book as a training manual. The author identifies very specific and measurable behaviors from which supervisors and staff development specialists can use to evaluate teacher effectiveness. Teacher and administrator educators can use the excellent synthesis of research in teacher training or leadership programs. Policy makers, who often only read briefs on educational topics, can successfully use this resource because it is a succinct format that avoids educational jargon. Because this book is well organized, summarizes a great deal of research, and avoids the use of specialized language, it serves as a valuable resource to a variety of educational professionals.
One strength of this book is that it takes a very amorphous topic, teacher effectiveness, and utilizes the research to ground this topic into achievable and measurable behaviors. When dealing with human behavior, there are so many variables that it is difficult to identify specific activities regarding effectiveness. For instance, one of the identified behaviors is caring. Ask five different people “What is caring in terms of teacher effectiveness?” and you will probably get five very different answers. The author chooses to take a stance utilizing the findings of a varied collection of research literature. He finds that caring has the components of listening, of understanding, and of knowing students. He goes further to describe what caring behaviors entail and lists the key points in a bulleted format. He is very adept at sifting through the literature and translating the key points into observable characteristics.
Negative Aspects of the Book
I believe the major drawback of this book is the lack of definition of effectiveness. The author makes a concerted effort to discuss the uses of the book, the intended audience, but neglects what is meant by effectiveness. There is a great deal of variance involved with teacher effectiveness. Is an effective teacher one whose students achieve high scores on high-stakes tests? Is an effect teacher one who encourages life-long learning? An effective teacher could be one who fosters the quality of wonder in their students. The book tries to prescribe behaviors that are desired in teachers, but it does not address the most important outcome, how the teacher affects the students. Phrases such as “tend to be more effective with all students” are used a great deal throughout the book, but it does not inform the reader about the definition of effectiveness.
Although the book is very rigorous in terms of teacher behaviors, references to student behavior are illustrated only from the perspective of the teacher. Teachers are not entities to themselves; teachers’ role is to have a positive influence on their students. In presenting the material only in terms of the teacher, the author predisposes himself to a more didactic philosophy. That is, he implies that the behavior of the teacher is the only factor in student learning. By neglecting the student perspective in the interaction, he is missing the point that students have some responsibility in the learning process. Teachers who read this book may be put off due to the one-sided presentation of the material.
Administrators who read this book may be lead to believe that there is only one prescribed way to be an effective teacher. Since the author does take a definitive stance on the behaviors of effective teachers, the book’s ideas tend to be very concrete. An abridged checklist of effective teacher behaviors is available in the second part of the book. If administrators adopt this checklist as the only way to be effective, much the way the Madeline Hunter method was universally adopted, administrators could be ignoring many other behaviors that also influence effective teaching. For example, when the Madeline Hunter method was adopted as an administrative tool for evaluating teacher effectiveness, all teachers were required to have the five parts of the method in each lesson. This requirement leads to truncated discussions or investigations because all five steps needed to be implemented in the time of one class period. Regardless of the nature of the content, if all five portions of the Madeline Hunter method were not addressed, the teacher received an unsatisfactory evaluation. I am always wary of administrator checklists for effectiveness, because a checklist always eliminates the context of the lesson, which could be the most important variable in effectiveness.
Suggestions for Improvement
It is imperative that effectiveness be defined at the beginning of the book. The author cannot gloss over this issue, as it is the major premise for the existence of the book. The author assumes that teacher effectiveness is important for the realm of education, but does not define what he or the research has defined as effective. He includes an introductory paragraph called “What it Means to Be an Effective Teacher”, but only discusses the contents of each chapter in this section. Although the author is very rigorous in finding behaviors that are common in educational research, his omission of the definition of effectiveness makes his conclusions weak. Effectiveness could be so many different things, it is virtually meaningless to ask teachers to perform the given behaviors but not define what it ultimately means to be effective.
A section regarding student outcome would present a more balanced approach to teacher effectiveness. The ultimate goal of teachers is to enhance student performance, whether it is emotional, social or cognitive. This book tends to ignore that factor and spends all of its energy addressing teacher behavior without the inevitable link to student behavior. The book’s length would perhaps double if the student perspective were added to the book, so I would suggest a statement toward the beginning of the book addressing this issue. Ignoring the issue of student outcome takes away from the validity of this book. Because of this omission, it presents the teachers’ role as didactic. Including at least a section talking about student outcomes would enhance the idea of teachers as facilitators.
Because the book addresses only teacher behavior and provides a checklist for evaluation, it promotes a one-dimensional description of healthy educational relationships. This book would improve if writing were included addressing the ambiguity in the profession of teaching. Administrators may be lead to believe that there is one concrete way to be an effective teacher from the text. A more narrative way of looking at the profession of teaching would deal with the more human side of teaching. A checklist tends to elicit behaviors from teachers that emulate “filling the vessels” of students rather than being facilitators to the student construction of knowledge. Effective teaching behaviors should include more conversational methods of instruction, rather than telling the teacher to be a “sage on the stage”.
(2002). Qualities of
Effective Teachers. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development,