Friday, March 5, 2010

The Six Principles of Effective Teaching

Guest Writer, Safro Kwame

What do you think of the new (February 2010) book, Teaching as Leadership by Teach For America, which claims that highly-effective teachers do the following?

"(1) Set ambitious goals for student achievement; (2) maintain high expectations for their students at all times; (3) begin every endeavor with the key questions “Where are my students now versus where I want them to be?” and “What is the best possible use of time to move them forward?;” (4) make good judgments about when to follow through on their plans and when to adjust them in light of incoming data; (5) are their own toughest critics; and (6) refuse to allow the inevitable challenges that they face to become roadblocks."

One of their slogans is: “In God We Trust. Everyone Else Bring Data.”

Please post your data and answer. I would love to "hear" from you. The question is: do you agree with Teach For America about the six principles of effective teaching (either for college or pre-college teaching, for underprivileged or privileged students, or both)?

See excerpts from the book:

See articles about the book:

What Makes a Great Teacher? The Atlantic Monthly January/February 2010

Six Principles to Teach By, The San Francisco Chronicle, February 9, 2010

See video about the book:

Secrets of America's Greatest Teachers, ABC World News, 2/26/2010



  1. I must admit, I'm always drawn toward anything that promises "6 reasons for..." or "the 3 most important tips on..." If it can be boiled down into a finite number of elements, it must be true...

    Of these six principles, most to me are self evident, like setting and maintaining high standards, etc. The one that made me stop and think the most was "What is the best possible use of time to move my students forward?" Time use is always a struggle for me. How much of the precious little class time that we have should students spend writing? Talking about writing? Listening to me talk about writing? Reading other peoples' writing? How much time should we designate for discussion of grammatical issues as compared to writing issues? How much time do I spend before the assignment explaining how to succeed at it vs after the assignment explaining why people didn't succeed? How much time do I spend praising student strengths as opposed to explaining how to improve on weaknesses? How much time do I spend listening?

    I have no "data" to offer, but it would be fun--albeit frightening--to videotape a number of classes from a number of teachers and then analyze the time use and what seemed to work well or not.

  2. Excellent Post !

    The Six Principles of Effective Teaching is very useful post for the teachers to make their teaching effective for students.

    I admire your post and hope you

    Great Work !

  3. Thanks Safro, this article/ information kept me thinking the last few days. Is it correct to assume that a lot of the data in the book's study are collected from pre-college results? In any case, it is hard to disagree with the validity of listed "highly effective teacher" attributes (some attributes are easier to agree with than other ones), but like Linda, I have difficulty considering it as some kind of teaching recipe in the sense that if a teacher follows it, they will become effective or more effective. Obviously more data needs to be collected at higher education level both graduate and undergraduate as opposed to pre-college. It seems that at the pre-college level, standardized tests are used to measure both students and schools' effectiveness. I think at the college level, the input could come from our senior students as well as data collected in the course SLO forms. Just relying on a standardized test could not possibly tell the whole story- we need to include the creativity and research process at the college level. The retention rate could play a part, but one has to be careful how to use it as measuring tool. A teacher may be able to bring the level of a less-prepared student (or a group of students) to a respectable C (or even D) from a failing level, but as compared to the larger statistical samples, that teacher (or school) may not be considered a highly effective or even just a simple effective teacher. What I often struggle with is the definition of "teacher effectiveness". Is that the same as being a good teacher? Our student evaluations forms are good tools for data collection, but could be problematic in measuring our teaching effectiveness due to its subjective nature. Some students will appreciate their teachers or the course only long after they took the course, although for math teachers that is an unlikely event -one of the reasons I am not a strong proponent of attribute #5 (being your own toughest critique). The math teachers already get the constant blame from everyone else (everyone needs to be nicer and more appreciative of them). Sometime I hear that a student calls a given professor a "good teacher" or a "bad one". Exactly what does that mean? Does that mean they are thought of as effective teachers? On the other hand, as teachers of course we throw the term good student or bad student around on a daily basis. What does that mean? Is "good student" synonymous with the ability to earn a grade of A? There are just too many factors, but this is not to say data collected in the mentioned book or other studies should be just ridiculed or simply dismissed- it is definitely worth it to give these kinds of data a lot of thoughts (sorry for the lengthy response).

  4. Thanks for all of your comments: Linda, "Canadian college" and Ali!

  5. Thanks previous poster, for showing sympathy for Math teachers, we really need it, specially now. I feel if we can define the term effective teacher then qualities will be self evident, so what is effective teacher? Is it
    1) One who gives many make ups?
    2) One who gets higher passing rate?
    3) One who delivers quality material?
    4) One who devotes lot of time with students?
    5) One who approaches students professionally?
    6) One who challenges students?
    7) One who uses their experience to simplify challenges?
    At this moment I can think of above points, but I am sure there exists One perfect definition.

  6. Pallavi: These are good questions. One suggestion is "one who achieves the desired results," whatever the goals or results are (as set by the teacher and/or school as well as profession, State and even country).