catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 48, Num 1 :: 2008.10.01 — 2008.12.15


The 10 habits of highly effective teachers

In 1990 Stephen Covey wrote a book entitled The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in which he discussed seven habits that are characteristic of people who are successful and effective. As a student and as a teacher I have observed several habits that are characteristic of teachers who are highly effective in their profession. I would like to highlight ten of these habits.

1. Love your students.

Students are very perceptive. They know when a teacher really cares about them. There is a lot of truth in the statement, “they don’t really care how much you know unless they know how much you care.” In reading the Gospels, one is made aware of how much Jesus loved his disciples.  In fact, he loved them so much that he was willing to die for them.  

One of the ways to get to know and to love your students is to spend time with them outside the classroom. For example, having a meal together in the school cafeteria provides a good opportunity to show your interest in students. Also, making a conscientious effort to learn the names of students communicates a love for them.

2. Be passionate about your subject.

The best teachers I know have a passion for what they teach. Their passion for the subject is contagious. Students pick it up from their teachers. If teachers aren’t passionate about their subjects, the students will be affected in a negative way.

When doing a course evaluation at the end of a semester one student wrote, “It would help if it was more obvious that you really cared about [the subject being taught]…it would have been nice to hear some emotion and passion in your teaching.” That student was de-motivated because of the teacher’s lack of passion for the subject being taught.

3. Have clear learning objectives.

Effective teachers start with clear objectives. These objectives will enable the teachers to select which instructional methods would be the most appropriate to use. Student learning can be assessed in light of the desired objectives. This cycle (objectives, methods, assessment) can be repeated throughout the course.

For example, let’s say that one of the objectives in a course on evangelism is for students to learn how to use the “Bridge Illustration” when sharing the Gospel. In light of that objective, the teacher could choose to use the method of demonstration by drawing the illustration on the white board while students copy the illustration step by step. Then students can take turns drawing the illustration without using their notes. This would enable the teacher to assess how well they have achieved the desired objective.

4. Use a variety of teaching methods.

It is said that, “variety is the spice of life”. Students are more highly motivated when teachers use a variety of teaching methods instead of relying on one method they are most comfortable with.  Effective teachers are even willing to try new methods.

Jesus used a wide variety of teaching methods (e.g. lecture, question & answer, parables, group discussion, problem-solving, demonstration). He used different methods depending upon the setting, the subject, the time available, and whom he was teaching. One college student said, “If the teacher uses only one method the students will lose interest because the teacher becomes too predictable.” Predictability leads to boredom and decreased motivation.

5. Promote interactive learning.

The most effective learning takes place when a teacher is able to engage his or her students in the learning process. An effective teacher is always looking for ways to help his or her students to become personally involved in interactive learning. Students need to be actively participating in the learning experience rather than passively receiving input from the teacher.  

Recently I was teaching a course on Acts and the Pauline Epistles. I remember the day we were to study about Paul’s disagreement with Barnabas regarding whether or not they should take John Mark with them on Paul’s Second Missionary Journey (Acts 15:36-41). Initially I was planning on lecturing to my students about the incident. But then it occurred to me that it might be better to involve my students in some way. I decided to have volunteers from the class play the roles of Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark. This activity showed some of the issues that may have led to the disagreement about John Mark. It was a very lively class session and one that I’m sure communicated well with the students.

6. Continual learning and growing.

Luke 2:42 tells us that Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men”.  Effective teachers are characterized by a desire to keep learning and growing in their knowledge of the subjects they are teaching. Teachers need to keep reading and studying so they become more and more competent in their subjects – as well in areas that will broaden their horizons quite outside their fields.  

One goal that a teacher can set is to read a new book on the subject every time he or she teaches it. Also, teachers can participate in teacher training workshops and seminars to help them become more effective in the classroom.

7. Be well-prepared.

Students definitely desire to have teachers who are academically competent in the subjects they teach. And they tend to be even more motivated when their teachers also come to class fully prepared to teach. Since we as teachers tend to get busy with administrative responsibilities in addition to our classroom teaching, we sometimes may come to class unprepared. This should never happen. Effective teachers are always prepared for the classes they teach.

I well remember the time when I was a seminary student and at the beginning of a class period our professor discovered that he had brought the wrong set of lecture notes! The notes he brought for a different course! Although he had written books and journal articles on the subject we were studying, it was obvious to us that he was not ready to teach that day. Consequently our motivation as students was diminished because the professor was not well-prepared. 

8. Model what you teach.

It has been said that “actions speak louder than words.” Whatever you teach should be modeled by your life. Verbal exposition can be confusing and hard to comprehend, but one’s example is always clear and understandable. The Apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to “set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” (I Timothy 4:12)

Let’s say that one of the things a teacher wants to communicate is the importance and value of Scripture memorization. Unless the students can see that the teacher himself or herself is one who memorizes Scripture, they will probably not be motivated to be involved with Scripture memory. If we don’t practice what we teach, we are hypocrites.

9. Help students see the future utility.

A major component of student motivation is whether or not they can see how what they are studying will be helpful to them in the future. A wise teacher can help them see the value of what they are learning. This should be conveyed to the students on the very first class session as well as frequently throughout the course.

An example of this habit could be a course in Church History in which the topic for the day is the origin and use of the Apostles’ Creed. The teacher can help motivate his or her students by telling them about a former student who, after taking the Church History course, did a series of messages in his local church on several Sunday mornings in which he taught about the Apostles’ Creed and its meaning. The messages were well received, and this really encouraged the student pastor. Hearing about how a former student used the information about the Apostles’ Creed in his church could help the Church History students see the future usefulness of things they were learning in their course at the Bible College.

10. Get feedback from your students.

The best teachers are those who want to improve their teaching. One of the main ways to improve how they teach is to have periodic course evaluations given by their students. This constructive criticism, if taken seriously, can greatly help teachers improve their effectiveness in the classroom.

If teachers genuinely want to improve their teaching, they will be willing to listen to what their students are saying. It is easy to become defensive when constructive criticism is given, but it is definitely one of the best ways to improve. Effective teachers take seriously what their students say and modify accordingly the way they teach in the future. 

Becoming an effective teacher is not something that just naturally happens.  It takes time and effort to become effective as an educator. The ten habits we’ve looked at in this article are only a few of the many habits that highly effective teachers have. Choose one that you desire to work on and practice it until it becomes a habit of yours. With the Lord’s help we can become highly effective teachers!

your comments

comments powered by Disqus