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Being an Effective Teacher (Part 2)

As part of my efforts to become a better and more effective teacher, I have immersed myself in the literature about effective teaching. I had two fundamental questions I wanted to find answers for or at least some insights about:

1) What does it mean to be an effective teacher?

2) What are some of the salient characteristics of an effective teacher?

In this blog, I would like to share with you part of what I have learned so far.

Over the last few years, I read several books and journal articles on the subject of teaching effectiveness, and I found two recurring take away messages in all these readings:

Teaching is effective when the intended learning occurs,


Learning itself can be defined as a transformative process whereby students are changed to a new state where the students know and can do things that the students did not know and could not do initially.

Ruben Parra with books.

Over the past few years I have immersed myself in the literature on effective teaching.

The latter take away message seems to suggest a way to measure how much and how well students are learning. That is, for example by examining the performance of students at two points in time separated by appropriate intervening instruction. In this regard, research shows that an effective teacher tends to rely on multiple forms of credible evidence to determine the quality and extent of learning resulting from instruction.

When I first reflected on the former take away message, Teaching is effective when the intended learning occurs, I was a bit concerned that the responsibility for students learning was entirely on the teacher. However, a closer inspection to the literature revealed the notion that students are indeed expected to take responsibility for their own learning. Thus, success in learning as a result of instruction involves the cooperative interplay of the teacher’s due diligence and the due diligence of the students in their commitment to learning. Accordingly, an effective teacher applies and devises teaching methods and strategies that provide the motivation, guidance, support, and feedback needed to ensure that all students (considering their diverse backgrounds, prior knowledge, and abilities) actively engage in and commit to learning.

In short, the take away message seems to be that an effective teacher facilitates rather than produces students learning.

With regard to my second question, “What are some of the salient characteristics of an effective teacher?,” I found a rich variety of answers, such as:

  • An understanding that for teaching to be successful, learning needs to occur.
  • An understanding that learning is an ongoing transformative process that leads to lasting change; and that learning happens neither in vacuum nor in isolation.
  • Command of a variety of instructional strategies that can help students acquire new knowledge, practice new skills, expand on what they already know, deepen their conceptual understanding, apply knowledge in new situations, and become lifelong, independent learners.
  • Genuine interest for the success of all students. Indeed, an effective teacher establishes and maintains rapport with students, is attentive and responsive to student’s needs, communicates high expectations, give appropriate and timely feedback on student’s work, factors in students prior knowledge, and respect diverse talents and ways of learning.
  • Commitment to a continuous process of professional development. That is, an effective teacher engages in critical reflection, constantly revising practice to improve effectiveness. An effective teacher makes every effort to keep abreast with evidence-based developments on teaching and learning approaches to inform his/her teaching. Indeed, the natural connection between teaching and learning prompts the effective teacher to purposefully align his or her teaching practices with evidence-based learning strategies.
An Effective Teacher: 1) Understands that learning needs to occur, 2) Understands that learnings leads to lasting change, 3) Shows genuine interest for the success of all students, 4) Commands a variety of instructional strategies, 5) Commits to a continuous process of professional development

This diagram shows some of the salient characteristics of an effective teacher and how effective teaching is an ongoing process.

In closing, I find the focus on student learning as a fundamental measure of teaching effectiveness both challenging and rewarding. It is clearly much more than the delivery of course content. Despite the many frustrations, teaching can provide us with joyfulness and fulfillment, especially when we see how our students grow as they learn from our teaching. Please feel free to share any comments about your own insights into effective teaching below.


  1. Reif, F. (2008). Applying Cognitive Science to Education. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  2. David J. R., Arend, B. D. (2013). Facilitating Seven Ways of Learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
  3. Hansen, E. J. (2011). Idea-Based Learning: A Course Design Process to Promote Conceptual UnderstandingSterling, VA: Stylus.
  4. Ambrose, S. A., Bridges M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  5. Bernstein, D., Burnett, A. N., Goodburn A., Savory P. (2006). Making Teaching and Learning Visible: Course Portfolios and the Peer Review of Teaching. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing.
  6. Biggs, J. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university (4th Ed.). Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill.
  7. Fink, D. (2013). Creating Significant Learning Experiences. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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2 Responses to Being an Effective Teacher (Part 2)

  1. Lauri Dietz (@LSDietz) April 27, 2017 at 12:12 pm #

    Thanks, Ruben! I think your chart creates a great visual for the many facets of what a commitment to effective teaching looks like. Because student learning and students’ perceptions of their learning are not always aligned, your blog post makes me think about the ways that we can help students recognize and articulate that learning. Critical reflection, then, becomes a particularly important practice for teachers and their students.

    • Ruben Parra April 27, 2017 at 4:39 pm #

      Hi Lauri, thanks for taking the time to read the blog post. It is indeed challenging to document learning in ways that go beyond grades and students perceptions of their learning. One way faculty and students can engage in critical reflection about quality and extent of learning may include addressing guiding prompts such as:
      o What knowledge and capabilities have students attained as a result of instruction? And how well these have been attained?
      o What are the reasons why some kinds of knowledge and capabilities have not been attained?
      o What learning difficulties have been experienced by the students? And what teaching difficulties have been encountered by the instructor?
      o How could instruction be improved to bring students to an acceptable level of performance? What are some best teaching strategies or practices (supported by evidence) that can help?
      Certainly, all this requires a never ending process of continuous faculty and student development.

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