What does a great teacher look like?

Image of a teacher with two young students in a school playground.
Researchers say characteristics affect how teachers teach because they influence the way they behave in the classroom.

Teachers who have high levels of self-efficacy, or those who believe in their own abilities, have the biggest impact on student learning, a new University of Melbourne review shows.

Researchers at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education said it was well known that teachers have a bigger impact on student learning than factors such as class size and facilities.

However, they said that until now it was not clear what types of communication style, beliefs, attitudes and personality were common among high quality teachers.

The systematic review of 52 global studies, undertaken by the Centre for Program Evaluation, identified the key attributes of teachers that are most connected to effective teaching.

“Personal characteristics affect how teachers teach because they influence the way they behave in the classroom,” lead researcher Professor Janet Clinton said.

“The characteristics we have identified can independently increase the impact of effective teaching on student learning, teacher wellbeing and school outcomes, like community engagement and school belonging."

These characteristics and behaviours include:

  • Cognitive capability, or their ability to think creatively, critically and competently
  • Social and emotional approach, such as self-awareness and self-management
  • Communication styles
  • Attitudes, beliefs and expectations and motivation
  • Views on diversity and culture
  • Personality
  • How they self-reflect
  • Relationships with colleagues.

“These findings suggest that specific teacher mind frames can improve student outcomes,” Professor Clinton said.

“Effective teachers have evaluative mind frames, they have a belief that they are a change agent, they value professional growth and think critically about their practice in response to student needs.

“Considering teacher quality as distinct to the quality of teaching could allow more individually oriented feedback, acknowledging the importance of the individual teacher and how their personality, traits and capabilities influence their practice, and also help schools help teachers be more effective.”

The review was commissioned by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training.