When tenth-grader Carrie found out her high school English class would start a unit on rhetoric and forming arguments, the topic sounded boring and not particularly relevant. But after her teacher polled the class for their opinions about their school district’s plan to end open lunch privileges, Carrie rethought that opinion. Her teacher told the class about an upcoming hearing: school board members would listen to feedback before making a final decision on the issue. Carrie and her classmates, who relished their open lunch privileges, did not want to see them end. They suddenly saw the relevance of knowing how to form a strong argument. By connecting the class material with an issue important to her student’s lives, Carrie’s teacher ignited their motivation to learn. The most inspirational teachers have extensive knowledge of and passion for their subject matter, but they also know how to make it meaningful for their students.
Effective teachers stand at the center of student success, and research has shown a direct correlation between student achievement and the quality of their teachers. According to the report “Cumulative and Residual Effects of Teachers on Future Student Academic Achievement,” students score fifty percentile points higher on achievement tests when they study under the instruction of a highly effective teacher three years in a row. So, what makes a teacher highly effective? What teaching skills must a teacher master to meaningfully affect the lives of students?
Teachers work in a variety of environments and with a diverse range of students. However, developing and honing certain skills benefit all teachers regardless of their setting. By earning an Online Master of Arts in Teaching or an Online Master of Education in Education Policy from American University, aspiring educators can master the teaching skills needed to become highly effective teachers and help students reach their full potentials.
Expert Communication Skills
Communication is at the core of teaching. Every day, teachers use guided verbal instruction, written directions, planned activities, questions and answer sessions, and presentations to convey subject matter. In every case, they need to know how to make the material accessible. For instance, successful teachers carefully break down skills into parts and guide students through clear steps that lead them to understanding. Additionally, teachers employ evidence-based strategies that allow students to grasp both concrete and abstract concepts.
Part of communicating is listening. In the classroom, listening does not exclusively mean hearing the words spoken. It also means reading student body language, monitoring student participation or the absence of it, examining student work, and observing student interactions. Each of these ways of listening provides teachers with information about the level of student comprehension, what students enjoy and dislike, areas of strength and weakness, and ways students are hindering or enhancing the learning of their peers. Teachers can use this vital information to address comprehension gaps, plan activities that motivate students, design lessons that focus on improving skills, and thoughtfully group students to maximize collaborative learning.
Vocal and nonvocal communication both serve important roles in a classroom. For instance, teachers can respond to disruptive behavior by first moving closer to the disruptive students. In this way, teachers do not interrupt a lesson but do communicate to the students nonverbally that they need to change their behavior. Sometimes problematic behaviors originate from student confusion, or perhaps students missed key directions and need simple redirection. Proximity to a student alone can communicate a teacher’s concern and availability to the student. By looking at students’ desks, noting if they are on the right page, examining what they have written, or simply pointing to the directions on a worksheet, teachers can refocus students and identify if there is a learning issue. If there is a learning issue, the teacher can adjust the lesson accordingly or ask leading questions that build student understanding and get them back on track This approach turns interactions into teaching opportunities rather than disciplinary confrontations. Teachers who effectively communicate with their students transform classrooms into welcoming environments where learning can truly thrive.
Adaptability in the Classroom
Teaching is not always neat, nor does it always go according to plan. Effective teachers therefore must know how to adapt to the needs of their students and respond to the unexpected. Every class of students will have unique interests, abilities, and challenges. Teachers must be flexible enough to tap into the specific motivations of individual students, properly assess when students struggle with a concept or skill, and shift accordingly.
Teachers might arrive to class with a specific learning objective, prepared activities designed to teach that learning objective, and an intended time frame for completion. However, any teacher with classroom experience knows all that thoughtful planning might require an on-the-spot overhaul for any number of reasons. Teachers might discover, for instance, that students need twice as long to learn a skill as expected. Perhaps the teacher realizes in the middle of the lesson a better way to teach the skill students are struggling with. The best teachers regularly seek out the pulse of a class to determine student engagement and understanding, then make appropriate tweaks and adjustments along the way. Other issues might also arise, such as the technology that the lesson relied on failing. Adapting to situations as they come is one of several indispensable teaching skills.
Just as individual lessons can require adjustments, plans for an entire semester might need restructuring. A curriculum suitable for one class might prove unsuitable for another. Teachers can encounter groups of students with much more advanced skills than classes from prior years, or they might have classes with greater numbers of English language learners or special needs students who will benefit more from different final projects than those previously given or demand additional differentiated instruction. Administrations might introduce new guidelines or initiatives requiring teachers to incorporate specific themes or competencies into their curriculums as well. In addition, new technology such as a smartboard might arrive for teachers’ use. But once again, to address the changing requirements and take advantage of new opportunities, teachers must adapt and respond with resilience.
Using Technology to Advance Learning
Strong teachers are always looking to grow and change. They have plenty of opportunities to do so in the digital age of education technology. Technology can meaningfully impact student learning when it is used to provide interactive activities that cater to individual student learning styles. To enrich their instruction, effective teachers take advantage of new technologies that can enhance their lessons and bring material alive. For example, teachers with access to smartboards can exchange traditional student worksheets for electronic worksheets that allow students to practice concepts by actively clicking and dragging while working in a group or on their own. Teachers can also use smartboards to seamlessly integrate music, visuals, and movie clips into a lesson.
Technology fills the lives of today’s students. This gives teachers the responsibility to teach students how to navigate it, as well as the opportunity to teach students how to harness its power as a learning tool. When teachers know how to effectively use different types of technology, they can offer multisensory learning experiences and give students multiple entry points to engage with material. For example, teachers can provide students with assistive technologies that aid them in overcoming learning disabilities, such as text-to-speech tools that allow students to work more productively and confidently. In addition, teachers can provide their students with technological tools that give them a variety of ways to demonstrate their learning. For instance, digital creation tools designed for educational use, including video animation tools, art and design tools, and storytelling tools, give students creative ways to design projects and presentations. With this technology, students learn through experience and by building models, developing their thinking in the process.
Teachers can also use technology to supplement classroom learning or take the place of it. Some technologies provide a more efficient means of delivering instruction than standard classroom presentations. For example, educational apps, often designed to function like games, can teach skills in areas such as math and grammar. They allow students to work at their own pace, deliver work tailored to an individual’s skill level, and provide specific data to teachers about a student’s progress.
Harness the Skills of Master Teachers
Cultivating the teaching skills needed to inspire and support students so they can thrive requires experience and training. American University offers advanced degrees in education that prepare educators to succeed in their important work. By arming teachers with the latest research and providing training under the tutelage of experts, graduates complete their coursework ready to meet the challenges of the classroom.
Discover how earning an Online Master of Arts in Teaching or an Online Master of Education in Education Policy from American University prepares educators to master the skills of highly effective teachers and transform the lives of students across the country.
- ASCD, “Highly Effective Teachers: Defining, Rewarding, Supporting, and Expanding Their Roles”
- ASCD, “The Flexible Teacher”
- Common Sense Education, Best Tech-Creation Tools
- Houston Chronicle, “What Skills Knowledge & Experiences Are Needed to Become a Teacher?”
- The Edvocate, “10 Essential Skills for the Education Leader of Tomorrow”
- The Heartland Institute, “Cumulative and Residual Effects of Teachers on Future Student Academic Achievement”
- The Journal, “How Teachers Use Technology in the Classroom”
- TeachHUB, “Making Technology in the Classroom Effective”
- TeachHUB, “15 Professional Development Skills for Modern Teachers”
- Understood, “Assistive Technology for Kids with Learning and Attention Issues: What You Need to Know”
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, High School Teachers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Middle School Teachers