you ask a student what makes him or her successful in school, you
probably won’t hear about some fantastic new book or video lecture
series. Most likely you will hear something like, “It was all Mr. Jones.
He just never gave up on me.”
What students take away from a successful education usually centers
on a personal connection with a teacher who instilled passion and
inspiration for their subject. It’s difficult to measure success, and in
the world of academia, educators are continually re-evaluating how to
quantify learning. But the first and most important question to ask is:
Are teachers reaching their students? Here are 25 things successful educators do differently.
25 Things Successful Teachers Do Differently
1. Successful teachers have clear objectives
How do you know if you are driving the right way when you are
traveling somewhere new? You use the road signs and a map (although
nowadays it might be SIRI or a GPS). In the world of education, your
objectives for your students act as road signs to your destination. Your
plan is the map. Making a plan does not suggest a lack of creativity in
your curriculum but rather, gives creativity a framework in which to
2. Successful teachers have a sense of purpose
We can’t all be blessed with “epic” workdays all the time. Sometimes,
life is just mundane and tedious. Teachers with a sense of purpose that
are able to see the big picture can ride above the hard and boring days
because their eye is on something further down the road.
3. Successful teachers are able to live without immediate feedback
There is nothing worse than sweating over a lesson plan only to have
your students walk out of class without so much as a smile or a, “Great
job teach!” It’s hard to give 100% and not see immediate results.
Teachers who rely on that instant gratification will get burned out and
disillusioned. Learning, relationships, and education are a messy
endeavor, much like nurturing a garden. It takes time, and some dirt, to
4. Successful teachers know when to listen to students and when to ignore them
Right on the heels of the above tip is the concept of discernment
with student feedback. A teacher who never listens to his/her students
will ultimately fail. A teacher who always listens to his/her students
will ultimately fail. It is no simple endeavor to know when to listen
and adapt, and when to say, “No- we’re going this way because I am the
teacher and I see the long term picture.”
5. Successful teachers have a positive attitude
Negative energy zaps creativity and it makes a nice breeding ground
for fear of failure. Good teachers have an upbeat mood, a sense of
vitality and energy, and see past momentary setbacks to the end goal.
Positivity breeds creativity.
6. Successful teachers expect their students to succeed
This concept is similar for parents as well. Students need someone to
believe in them. They need a wiser and older person to put stock in
their abilities. Set the bar high and then create an environment where
it’s okay to fail. This will motivate your students to keep trying until
they reach the expectation you’ve set for them.
7. Successful teachers have a sense of humor
Humor and wit make a lasting impression. It reduces stress and
frustration, and gives people a chance to look at their circumstances
from another point of view. If you interviewed 1000 students about their
favorite teacher, I’ll bet 95% of them were hysterical.
8. Successful teachers use praise authentically
Students need encouragement yes, but real encouragement. It does no
good to praise their work when you know it is only 50% of what they are
capable of. You don’t want to create an environment where there is no
praise or recognition; you want to create one where the praise that you
offer is valuable BECAUSE you use it judiciously.
9. Successful teachers know how to take risks
There is a wise saying that reads, “Those who go just a little bit
too far are the ones who know just how far one can go.” Risk-taking is a
part of the successful formula. Your students need to see you try new
things in the classroom and they will watch closely how you handle
failure in your risk-taking. This is as important as what you are
10. Successful teachers are consistent
Consistency is not to be confused with “stuck.” Consistency means
that you do what you say you will do, you don’t change your rules based
on your mood, and your students can rely on you when they are in need.
Teachers who are stuck in their outdated methods may boast consistency,
when in fact it is cleverly-masked stubbornness.
11. Successful teachers are reflective
In order to avoid becoming the stuck and stubborn teacher, successful
educators take time to reflect on their methods, their delivery, and
the way they connect with their students. Reflection is necessary to
uncover those weaknesses that can be strengthened with a bit of resolve
12. Successful teachers seek out mentors of their own
Reflective teachers can easily get disheartened if they don’t have
someone a bit older and wiser offering support. You are never too old or
wise for a mentor. Mentors can be that voice that says, “Yes your
reflections are correct,” or “No, you are off because….” and provide you
with a different perspective.
13. Successful teachers communicate with parents
Collaboration between parents and teachers is absolutely crucial to a
student’s success. Create an open path of communication so parents can
come to you with concerns and you can do the same. When a teacher and
parents present a united front, there is a lower chance that your
student will fall through the cracks.
14. Successful teachers enjoy their work
It is easy to spot a teacher who loves their work. They seem to
emanate contagious energy. Even if it on a subject like advanced
calculus, the subject comes alive. If you don’t love your work or your
subject, it will come through in your teaching. Try to figure out why
you feel so unmotivated and uninspired. It might have nothing to do with
the subject, but your expectations. Adjust them a bit and you might
find your love of teaching come flooding back.
15. Successful teachers adapt to student needs
Classrooms are like an ever-evolving dynamic organism. Depending on
the day, the attendance roster, and the phase of the moon, you might
have to change up your plans or your schedule to accommodate your
students. As they grow and change, your methods might have to as well.
If your goal is to promote a curriculum or method, it will feel like a
personal insult when you have to modify it. Make connecting with your
student your goal and you’ll have no trouble changing it up as time
16. Successful teachers welcome change in the classroom
This relates to the above tip, but in a slightly different way. Have
you ever been so bored with your house or your bedroom, only to
rearrange it and have it feel like a new room? Change ignites the brain
with excitement and adventure. Change your classroom to keep your
students on their toes. Simple changes like rearranging desks and
routines can breathe new life in the middle of a long year.
17. Successful teachers take time to explore new tools
With the advance of technology, there are fresh new resources and
tools that can add great functionality to your classroom and curriculum.
There is no doubt that the students you are teaching (far younger than
you) probably already use technologies you haven’t tapped into yet.
Don’t be afraid to push for technology in the classroom. It is often an
underfunded area but in this current world and climate, your students
will be growing up in a world where technology is everywhere. Give them a
headstart and use technology in your classroom.
18. Successful teachers give their students emotional support
There are days when your students will need your emotional support
more than a piece of information. Connecting to your students on an
emotional level makes it more likely that they will listen to your
counsel and take your advice to heart. Students need mentors as much as
they need teachers.
19. Successful teachers are comfortable with the unknown
It’s difficult to teach in an environment where you don’t know the
future of your classroom budget, the involvement of your student’s
parents, or the outcome of all your hard work. On a more philosophical
level, educators who teach the higher grades are tasked with teaching
students principles that have a lot of unknowns (i.e. physics). How
comfortable are you with not having all the answers? Good teachers are
able to function without everything tied up neatly in a bow.
20. Successful teachers are not threatened by parent advocacy
Unfortunately, parents and teachers are sometimes threatened by one
another. A teacher who is insecure will see parent advocacy as a threat.
While there are plenty of over-involved helicopter parents waiting to
point out a teacher’s mistakes, most parents just want what’s best for
their child. Successful educators are confident in their abilities and
not threatened when parents want to get into the classroom and make
their opinions known. Good teachers also know they don’t have to follow
what the parent recommends!
21. Successful teachers bring fun into the classroom
Don’t be too serious. Some days, “fun” should be the goal. When
students feel and see your humanness, it builds a foundation of trust
and respect. Fun and educational aren’t mutually exclusive either. Using
humor can make even the most mundane topic more interesting.
22. Successful teachers teach holistically
Learning does not happen in a vacuum. Depression, anxiety, and mental
stress have a severe impact on the educational process. It’s crucial
that educators (and the educational model) take the whole person into
account. You can have the funniest and most innovative lesson on
algebra, but if your student has just been told his parents are getting a
divorce, you will not reach him.
23. Successful teachers never stop learning
Good teachers find time in their schedule to learn themselves. Not
only does it help bolster your knowledge in a certain subject matter, it
also puts you in the position of student. This gives you a perspective
about the learning process that you can easily forget when you’re always
in teaching mode.
24. Successful teachers break out of the box
It may be a self-made box. “Oh I could never do that,” you say to
yourself. Perhaps you promised you’d never become the teacher who would
let students grade each other (maybe you had a bad experience as a kid).
Sometimes the biggest obstacle to growth is us. Have you built a box
around your teaching methods? Good teachers know when it’s time to break
out of it.
25. Successful teachers are masters of their subject
Good teachers need to know their craft. In addition to the
methodology of “teaching”, you need to master your subject area. Learn,
learn, and never stop learning. Successful educators stay curious.