What is an Effective Teacher

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What is an effective teacher? Does it mean all of the kids and parents love you, or could it mean that you know how to effectively run a classroom for stellar results?

Many teachers, from those just beginning to the ones who have been in the trenches for years, have a misunderstanding of what it really means to be an effective educator.

It is probably the most difficult part of being in a classroom, and even seasoned veterans struggle with it.

teacher showing a picture to the class
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What Classroom Management Is (and Isn't) 

~ by Harry and Rosemary Wong

Teachers who view classroom management as discipline find that discipline then becomes the focus, instead of learning. Those who see it as a process of organizing and structuring classroom events for student learning are much more effective than teachers who believe that they can force students into compliance.

Perhaps you have seen these terms:

  • Property management
  • Financial management
  • Health management
  • Business management
  • Team (sports) management
  • Time management
  • Network management

You hire someone to manage your business, your physical exercise program, your team, or your computer network. If you take a time management class, you learn how to handle your time.

Likewise, classroom management has to do with operating the classroom in such a way that the students are responsible for their work and learning.

The Research on Classroom Management

Jacob Kounin’s Research

The original research on classroom management can be traced to the work of Jacob Kounin when he observed 49 first- and second-grade classrooms in 1970. From his research, Kounin summarized that good classroom management is based on the behavior of teachers - what the teachers do - not the behavior of students.

This led him to look closer at answering the question, "What is an effective teacher?"

Kounin observed that two of the behaviors effective teachers exhibit are “with-it-ness” and “momentum.”

"With-it-ness" is seen in those classrooms that are so well-organized that the teacher always knows what is going on, even if the teacher’s back is to the class. With procedures, the teacher - and more so, the students - know what is going on. Both the teacher and the students are with-it, and as a result, the lessons flow smoothly and a learning momentum is maintained.

Based on his research, Kounin states it is what the teacher does that produces three things:

  • high student engagement
  • reduction of student misbehavior
  • maximizing instructional time

Julie Sanford's Research on What is an Effective Teacher

Julie P. Sanford at the University of Texas in 1984 observed and noted the difference between effective classroom managers and ineffective classroom managers.

Effective classroom managers had classroom procedures. The students took their seats immediately on entering the room and began by copying the objectives and assignments for the day from the chalkboard, while the teacher quietly handled administrative chores.

Effective teachers had procedures that governed students with regard to:

  • talking
  • participation in oral lessons and discussion
  • getting out of their seats
  • checking or turning in work, what to do when work was finished early
  • ending the class

At the beginning of the school year, the teachers clearly explained their classroom organizational procedures and expectations and then followed their presentations with review and reminders of procedures and expectations in subsequent weeks. In all classes, the teachers gave clear, simple directions and were noted as excellent in structuring transitions. 

They kept students apprised of time left for an activity; they forewarned the class of upcoming transitions; they brought one activity to an end before beginning another.

The teachers also: 

  • told students what materials would be needed for an activity
  • had students get materials ready before beginning the lesson
  • taught procedures that governed how students were to work with each other

These teachers’ manner in conducting class was task-oriented, businesslike, and congenial.

In contrast, Sanford described the classrooms of the ineffective classroom managers as having no procedures.

  • no procedures established for beginning and ending the period
  • no direction regarding student talk during group work
  • little instruction about getting help from the teacher
  • unclear expectations about what to do when work was finished

These teachers had difficulty conducting transitions from one activity to another, such as from reading to science, or, science to physical education. They often did not bring one activity to an end before giving directions for another.

They gave directions without getting students’ attention, and they seldom forewarned the class or helped students structure their time.

In essence, Sanford described these teachers as having no evidence of classroom management with procedures.

Remember that teaching students the rules and procedures for your classroom will provide a full year's worth of benefits, in both behavior and achievement.

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