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14 Things Great Teachers Do Differently

What is great? A couple of things come to mind:

  • Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson (Kansas City Chiefs 1962-1975)
  • The Beatles
  • Homemade chocolate chip cookies with walnuts
  • A hammock, cold beverage, cool breeze, Sunday afternoon and just about any Tom Clancy novel
  • Christmas

I’m sure your list looks different. But we all know great when we see it.

Teachers are like that. Some are good, some are average. And every so often, you run into a teacher who’s great. Jim Tomayko and Billy Landes were great. You just knew.

But great is hard to define. How do you quantify greatness in a teacher? What do they do differently? What’s the secret formula?

Todd Whittaker, in his book What Great Teachers Do Differently: 14 Things That Matter Most, tries to describe what makes a teacher great. After years of teaching middle and high school, Whittaker is now at Indiana State University and does a pretty good job of explaining how someone can become a great teacher.

The book describes the behaviors and attitudes that form the fabric of life in our best classrooms and schools. It focuses on the specific things that great teachers do . . . and that others do not.

It answers these essential questions:

  • Is it high expectations for students that matter?
  • How do great teachers respond when students misbehave?
  • Do great teachers filter differently than their peers?
  • How do the best teachers approach standardized testing?

So what are the fourteen things that great teachers do differently?

1. Great teachers never forget that it is people, not programs, that determine the quality of a school.

2. Great teachers establish clear expectations at the start of the year and follow them consistently as the year progresses.

3. When a student misbehaves, great teachers have one goal: to keep that behavior from happening again.

4. Great teachers have high expectations for students, but even higher expectations for themselves.

5. Great teachers know who is the variable in the classroom: THEY are.

6. Great teachers create a positive atmosphere in their classrooms and schools.

7. Great teachers consistently filter out the negatives that don’t matter and share a positive attitude.

8. Great teachers work hard to keep their relationships in good repair–to avoid personal hurt and to repair any possible damage.

9. Great teachers have the ability to ignore trivial disturbances and the ability to respond to inappropriate behavior without escalating the situation.

10. Great teachers have a plan and purpose for everything they do.

11. Before making any decision or attempting to bring about any change, great teachers ask themselves one central question: “What will the best people think?”

12. Great teachers treat everyone as if they were good.

13. Great teachers keep standardized testing in perspective.

14. Great teachers care about their students and understand the power of emotion to jump-start change.

It’s a bit scary to go through the list but you have to ask yourself . . . which of the 14 do I need to work on?

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Excellent and thought provoking list! Thank you for sharing.

    December 21, 2010
  2. Great post. I haven’t read this book yet, but I’ve heard about it. Thanks for a great list to reflect upon for the new year!

    December 26, 2010
  3. Great post! Thanks for sharing.

    December 29, 2010

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