What Distinguished Educators Do Differently

What do "Great" teachers do differently?  Todd Whitaker believes the following to be true ...

  • Great teachers never forget that it is people, not programs that determine the quality of a school.
  • Great teachers have high expectations for students, but have even higher expectations of themselves.
  • Great teachers know that they are the variable in the classroom.  Good teachers consistently strive to improve, and they focus on something they can control:  their own performance.
  • Great teachers focus on students first, with a broad vision that keeps everything in perspective.
  • Great teachers create a positive atmosphere in their classrooms and schools.  They treat every person with respect.  In particular, they understand the power of praise.
  • Great teachers have a plan and purpose for everything they do.  If plans don't work out the way they had envisioned, they reflect on what they could have done differently and adjust accordingly.
  • Great teachers have empathy for students and clarity about how others see them.
  • Great teachers keep standardized testing in perspective.  They focus on the real issue of student learning.
  • Great teachers care about their students.  They understand that behaviors and beliefs are tied to emotion, and they understand the power of emotion to jump-start change.

While all of these attributes are indeed great qualities to have in a teacher, I happen to disagree with Mr. Whitaker.  I believe that these are all "fundamentals of teaching".  I personally feel like these attributes that he describes are now the status quo of teaching.  I don't think any of these attributes are innovative enough to be considered "great" ... not anymore at least.

I want to create a list of what excellent teachers do differently.  What superb teachers do differently.  What distinguished teachers do differently?

I would imagine that continual learning, growing, and sharing as an educator would make that list.  I would also imagine that fostering student inquiry, creativity, motivation, and effort might also make the list.  Laslty, I would argue that building capacity in students' strengths, talents, interests, character, integrity, and autonomy might also make the list.

What might you add to this list of what distinguished educators do differently?

What Distinguished Educators do differently?

All comments are welcome!


Whitaker, T. (2004). What great teachers do differently: fourteen things that matter most. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.