The top 10 traits of great teachers

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Every teacher is unique. But at the same time, there are traits that tend to be common among all great teachers.

Each year the Global Teacher Prize shortlists 50 of the world’s best teachers. While there can be only one winner of the $1 million prize, everyone shortlisted goes on to become a member of the Varkey Teacher Ambassadors program.

There are now nearly 200 Varkey Teacher Ambassadors, and the amazing work that they do gives an insight into the common qualities shared by great teachers.

Below are the top 10 traits of our VTAs, and of great teachers in general.

  1. Have a strong conviction that education matters, and ensure that all their students have the chance to learn. Catherine Nakabugo, Uganda, is determined that girls can access education. She develops their confidence and set up a scheme to give girls sanitary pads to stop them being absent from school during their menstrual cycle. So that students didn’t have to spend two hours traveling to school, Ryan Homan, Philippines, reopened a school in a remote village, teaching four classes voluntarily. Ryan’s floating library reaches out-of-school children and seasonal workers, and he has trained mothers and siblings to teach their relatives.
  2. Have the courage to challenge some of the most pressing issues in society. No matter how big or controversial the issue might be, VTAs ensure that their students’ learning isn’t impacted. Luis Miguel Bermudez Gutierrez, Colombia, teaches in one of the poorest areas of the country’s capital Bogota, rife with gun violence, poverty and sexual abuse. Concerned by the high rate of teen pregnancy, he introduced sexual citizenship and education, reducing teen pregnancy at his school from 70 to 0.
  3. Have the highest expectations for their students. No matter what their students’ backgrounds are, VTAs believe that every child can succeed. Rebecca Cramer, UK, is Secondary Head Teacher and co-founder of Reach Academy Feltham. Reach is the first all-through free school – where children are educated from age 4 to 18 – in the UK to be rated outstanding in all areas. Despite many students coming from challenging backgrounds, Rebecca’s first cohort of students received outstanding GCSE results, with 98% of pupils achieving a good pass in English and 98% receiving a strong pass in maths.
  4. Are leaders in their field, driving innovation to improve teaching practices. Joe Grabowski, Canada, started ‘Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants’, a non-profit that brings science, exploration, conservation and adventure into classrooms through virtual speakers and field trips. Joe is building an online library that can be used any time by teachers and students.
  5. Work tirelessly to ensure that their students can go to school. Physical distance is no barrier; Binod Shahi, Nepal, took two flights and walked for eight days, crossing two 5000m mountain passes, to reach students living in villages with no electricity or telecommunication in the Himalayas.
  6. Are expert practitioners, applying the latest research to their work. To ensure the best results for their students, VTAs ensure that their pedagogy is research-informed and at the cutting edge of best practise. Sarah Mathews, Australia, is one of the first Master Teachers in Education Queensland, leading evidence-based practice around literacy and numeracy, through coaching and action research.
  7. Are preparing their students for the world of 2030. Considering the future skills that we’ll need, Glenn Lee, Hawaii, helped to launch the state’s first robotics program in an isolated, rural community. Today, there over 750 robotics programs in Hawaiian schools. To make this possible, Glenn fostered partnerships and wrote grant applications, personally bringing in $5m. Also impacting policy, Glenn is working with the Hawaii State Legislature to introduce a bill to create a STEM Innovation Centre.
  8. Are driving change in their communities. When Diego Mahfouz Faria Lima, Brazil, became head teacher, his school was notorious for being the most violent and drug-riddled in the area with the highest dropout rates. Diego transformed the school by involving students, parents, teachers, school staff and the community. Local businesses and schools donated materials, and parents, staff and students worked together to paint and maintain the buildings. The school library was opened to the community, attracting donations and improving literacy. Students now feel they have a voice and are listened to. Successful projects mediated conflicts and raised attendance.
  9. Inspire their students. Marcela Lisette Henríquez Aravena, Chile, teaches language and communication in a small rural town. A teenage mother, rejected by some of her teachers, Marcela was motivated to instil in students the desire to fulfil their dreams. Many of her students are now the first members of their families to enter university. Marcela teaches reading through literary classics, drama, and student’s interests, with extraordinary results including winning a national contest, beating better-funded and exclusive colleges.
  10. Collaborate with teachers around the world, and strive for their students to be global citizens. Koen Timmers, Belgium, launched three global, student-centred projects in 2017. His Climate Action Project, with the mantra “Let’s change the world by bringing it into our classrooms”, involved 250 schools in over 69 countries. Students had to research, brainstorm, discuss, present and share their findings via weekly videos. Support from global figures included His Holiness the Dalai Lama and renowned primatologist Dr Jane Goodall.

This article was written by Georgina Klein. 


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