Friday, July 1, 2016

Common traits of an effective teacher

Having the advantages of being in 2 schools and also in the vantage position of able to observe lessons of different teachers in action, I think I can start to see some common traits of highly effective teachers. 

By "Effective", I mean able to value-add in terms of marks. It is scientific and easily tracked, but I am not discounting the intangibles. So here go.

1) systemic approach with the end in mind.

All teachers have an approach to writing, reading, or whatever skills u are talking about. It's never about a lesson, it's about the year. There are various milestones to achieve, the work done by pupils are progressive and structured. 

2) Practicality trumps innovations. 

It might be counter-intuitive here. U don't see these teachers pursuing "flavors of the month", going for rara showmanship. One of them told me very bluntly, I use no ICT for my graduating class, very minimal unless mandated. She teaches a spectrum of pupils, both high progress and low progress, and are able to produce excellent results for any group.  

This is not to say these group of teachers are not receptive to feedbacks. To begin with, they would have given much thoughts to a lesson or a concept. When u give valid feedbacks, they are excited and adapted very quickly. 

If it is a new concept, they will try, and if does not produce "results" they will axe it and say it is useless. 

They dun spend time discussing, they do it and refine it. 

3) They "waste" a lot of time talking "male chicken" to their children

Again, counterintuitive. Ladies also do "make chicken" talking. They talk about their past, relate their experiences, in short, they work on the emotional aspect of their children, and not just their cognitive aspect.

4) They customize their work for their children.

A file check on these teachers, or lesson observations all show the same thing. We might have already jointly develop resources, discuss what is needed to teach a certain skill properly. They will go back, create additional PowerPoint, different practices, extra resources so that it suits their style and belief when executing those lessons. Same same but different.

5) Drill to the last detail and pursue the last enemy

This is the most ruthless trait of all. In writing, it goes down to the spelling of common words, daily spelling of it, frequent writing of it, staying back to teach slowly, finding whatever time possible for additional lessons. 

In oral, it goes to memorizing of conversation structure,1 to 1 coaching, reading of samples, fluency, confidence level and etc

I just finished my mid-year review for myself and my department. The results was rather bad, my pupils' included.

My P ask me to consult the "effective" teacher and ask how. I knew the answers but nonetheless have a talk with her. 

Well, I did gain some additional insights but her suggestions are more aligned to my beliefs than my P. My P ask if I want to deploy teachers to co-teach? Or get them to emulate "successful teachers" tactics. I said it will not work that way. 

The effective teacher said the same thing as me, it's about the teacher pursuing the last pupils down to the last details. He and she must be willing to spent extra time if necessary (do whatever I takes) to have enough frequency in whatever is done so that pupils can achieve competency/ mastery in what they need to do.

It is never about a lesson plan. Never about the tool of the lesson. They are important, but the teacher behind them
Make all the differences. 

Both the horse and the cart are important. Just don't put the cart in front of the horse. There is too much focus on methods and tools and too little focus on the teachers. 

Same same but different. 


  1. Hi SI,

    Thanks for the great post :)

    Let's see if I hit your criteria:
    1) How I do this is how I plan my savings. Break down into months and then weeks. I know by roughly this month I need to do this thing and that. For me, I can't really plan into years because students with different abilities comes in at various times. Sometimes I only have 2 months to do 2 yrs worth of things, so LL suck thumb loh. The challenge for me is thus to know what are the things I have to do and in what sequence so that I can impart the most knowledge and skill in the shortest possible time.

    2) I never use fancy technology. They are at best distractions for me. Pen and paper, and they will copy notes if necessary. Unless really rushed for time, I won't print out notes for them. The writing makes all the difference. Also no powerpoint haha...I'm old sch and hey, it works :) I like to read the student's notes though, while they are doing their work. Helps to keep me updated on the best ideas and presentation. I copy the best :)

    3) This depends. I do that to students who are easily distracted and lost focus. So I've to manually bring them out of the heaviness of the subject matter, to talk about our lives then bring them back into the topic again. In the past I think it's a waste of their money, but now, I see it as motivational talk. Music must have periods of rest, if not, it'll be noise.

    4) Tuition is all about customization. Small group tuition too. I have generalised worksheets with different graduation of difficulty, but I think mostly I'll have to write questions on the spot for students who are finding difficulty in doing one or two things.

    5) I do drilling towards the exams. It's boring for them and for me, but it's needed to achieve the required standards for exams. This can be quite mindless, as it's about doing things until it becomes second nature to them. Watching paint dry for me lol

  2. Hi LP,

    3) is not just about ICT, it. Can be anything. Actually, anything is good for something, but it's of no use if people do it for the sake of doing it

    Self-assessment is good. But I frown when people say with a straight face that ticking stars is good. Being there, done it. Most of us know it's bullshit, nobody say anything as it is politically incorrect.

    Lucky I need not do those craps. The P1 and P2 teachers told me those are bullshit, I said yes, take it out

    Peer collaboration, it's important. Social skills ... But if the pupils have no enough input to be able to give output, it is a waste of time. It depends if subject matter and also the pupils proficiency, then the pedagogy prowess of teacher. Some are doing it well, adding value, many are doing it for the sake of doing it

    Customization is a plus!! U score full marks

    The efficient teacher talk "male chicken" so pupils accept drilling willingly and happily. It's 2 wings of the engine

  3. Hi SI

    Just curious on how a teacher KPI and objective is being set in the school. Are they a combination of both tangible results and intangible? How do they assess the latter part in such cases?

    Sorry if this is a noob question... "D

    1. HI B,

      This is not a noob question, this is a question that was even ask to our former minister (who I respect a lot) by those in our fraternity. He is asking about pupils and not about teachers.

      Right now, KPI for the intangibles are based on observations and not numbers.

      Which I think is a right thing to do. We can tell if a teacher has rapport with pupils and how much efforts was put in to manage "difficult" pupils. It is very fair world, the brighter pupils, teachers need to manage "difficult" parents.

      However, the bone of contention is not with having to assess teachers based on both tangible and non-tangible aspects of a child development. I shall not say more.

  4. Sillyinvestor,

    Reminds me of a presentation to the top management of our IT dept (all ang mohs)who were going around to seek the "best practices" from other parts of the organisation.

    Representing Trading Shanghai, I wrote on the white board:

    1) People first

    2) Then business

    3) Then KPIs

    That generated lots of discussions within the group ;)

    They feedback my words were 一针见血.

    That's what's "wrong" with their department...

    Nothing wrong with plans, methodologies, systems, etc. But when the pendulum swings to far to one side, we'll know we have "Macdonalised" our organisation...

    1. Hi SMOL,

      I think with a big organisation, we always have to grapple with trade-offs. Having been in the management side, I do think my beliefs while not wrong, might be too idealistic, since not all teachers are motivated and hardworking.

      When the higher out roll out certain initiatives, I do understand where they are coming from and where they wish to go, and I am also aware there are no easy alternatives to minimize the "damage" of over-zealous management.

      But since I am free to talk "male-chicken" here, I can rattles on without coming up with PLan B



  6. Well Yeh,

    That is one side of the story.

  7. Thanks Yeh, for sharing my link :)

    I was once a motivated teacher. Now I am still motivated by my students' progress and liking for the lessons. But I am done with the routine, restrictions and management bullshit.

    It is probably me, I hate doing mindless stuff and being in a big organisation, there are often times when we have no choice. So now I make my own path.

    Look out for the subsequent Departure Chronicles posts ;)

  8. Nice blog and I really love this post of yours. You have mentioned common but highly effective traits of an effective teacher. I especially like these lines -

    It is never about a lesson plan. Never about the tool of the lesson. They are important, but the teacher behind them Make all the differences.

    Very well done. Keep it up!!

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