25 Things Successful Educators Do Differently

January 25th, 2013 42 Comments Features

Successful teacher

If 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?

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Here are 25 things successful educators do differently.

1. Successful educators 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 flourish.

2. Successful educators 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 who have a sense of purpose and who 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 educators 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 grow.

4. Successful educators 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 educators 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 educators 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 educators 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 educators use praise smartly

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 educators 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 teaching.

10. Successful educators 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 educators 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 and understanding.

12. Successful educators seek out a mentor for themselves

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 educators 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 educators 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 educators 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 moves on.

16. Successful educators 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 educators 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 have a pulse on 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 educators 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 educators 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 educators 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 educators 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 educators 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 educators 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 educators 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 the 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 educators 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.


Julie DeNeen has her bachelor's degree in Clinical Psychology from the University of New Haven. She spent several years working for a local Connecticut school at the district level, implementing new technologies to help students and teachers in the classroom. She also taught workshops to teachers about the importance of digital student management software, designed to keep students, parents, and teachers connected to the learning process.

You can find out more about her @jdeneen4 and Google+.

42 Responses

  1. […] 25 Things Successful Educators Do Differently […]

  2. Susie H says:

    Great list! Could you fix the apostrophes in #18?

  3. Great post. I would add “Great teachers keep their egos out of interactions with students.” I’ve seen too many teachers get upset when students act badly or treat them with disrespect. A calm cool response that shows you aren’t upset is less likely to make matters worse than an emotional response. Unfortunately, you have to earn students’ respect today. Get use to it and be respectful all the time, even if students don’t seen to deserve it. @DrDougGreen

  4. Wonderful list! I will share with my students who are preservice teachers. (And I see no errors in #18). Thanks for posting.

  5. Kevswife says:

    I agree. There are no apostrophe mistakes in #18. Great list!

  6. To be a successful educator seems as difficult as being superman 🙂
    Great list.

  7. Great list. Are any of these research-based? And if so, can you supply a link to the research?

  8. eslteacher says:

    Well thought out list! Many thanks!

  9. Tallan says:

    Could you post your sources? I’d love to incorporate your ideas into my school’s website, but I need verified content.
    Thanks a million!

    (Also, if this post is just your opinion, let me say that I share it completely!)

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  11. Successful Educator says:

    Successful educators don’t mind doing the same things and reading the same tired philosophy over and over and over and over and over again.

  12. […] didn’t know when she asked me to write on this topic, how timely it was in my life. After reading 25 Things Successful Teachers Do Differently, a recent blog from InformED syndicate, TeachThought, Megan wondered what the attributes of a […]

  13. Tana Bevan says:

    Actually, much of this list can be adapted to comporting oneself in life.

  14. Cheers from Brazil, Julie !
    Great article with wonderful insights !

  15. Mimmi says:

    very informative and thought provoking …a good guide to go by..well done and thank you for sharing !

  16. […] researchers had already determined that teacher quality influenced students’ test scores, and that those scores could predict college attendance, but […]

  17. […] 25 Things Successful Educators Do Differently: I wrote this post, which originally was published for Open Colleges and then reposted on dozens of education sites (all with over 1k likes). So what was it about this piece that triggered an outbreak of sharing? It reached a broad, but pointed demographic (teachers), it evoked emotion, and…it was practical. Lists and practical content are more likely to be shared. […]

  18. craig caple says:

    That was some great stuff thanks for the ideas and the reinforcement of teaching .

  19. Louis Goutos says:

    Great list! It all sounds like common sense but so hard to consistently implement.

  20. […] an interesting post on 25 things successful teachers do differently.  This list consists of things that are instantaneous (such as knowing when to ignore students) […]

  21. devhallmark says:

    Excellent points. A Complete guide for a new teacher. Heartiest thanks for posting such useful content.
    Indian Teacher

  22. Fethi Kayalar says:

    To be out of ordinary, successful educators should be different and develop themselves better than the others. I like this article, it is very useful and worths reading..

  23. meestiza says:

    This is very useful..thanks for sharing.. 🙂

  24. Collins says:

    I am a teacher from Kenya, and I must say I find the article to be insightful, relevant, and universally applicable .
    I’m sincerely grateful for the wonderful pieces of advice.

  25. Rahul Desai says:

    Excellent and very helpful article !!!
    Looking forward for more such mails
    Thank you

  26. Lisa Arp Cundey says:

    Great job. Thanks. Teaching ELA 11th grade in the fall for the first time and
    will be using these as reminders to stay positive.

  27. Emma Perez says:

    I always strive to become a better educator. It is something that will surely be my satisfaction for my life, and in imparting skills to others for their self development. This post just gave me some insights that I should not take for granted. They are the best and useful for me and everyone who needs to become the best educator. Thanks so much.

  28. I would like to thank you for pointing out the factors which a teacher should be taken into consideration to be a successful educator. Teachers play an important role in society by shaping and strengthening it. So, they deserve respect from their students as well as from society. Besides, teaching professionals should gather a lot of knowledge by enrolling in different types of online platforms and should utilize it to strengthen their teaching ability.

  29. Janny Korss says:

    Being an educator is not a simple thing to do, especially when dealing with people of different levels or caliber. You need to have a better understanding of them, their beliefs and everything but I believe this post has shaped me a bit on becoming the better educator than I am at the moment. Thanks for the effort.

  30. To be a successful educator, you need a plan and a strategy and not just content. It is important to have a vision, mission, and workplan in order to achieve success. Thanks a lot for the informative post have added some point.

  31. Puseletso Thipe says:

    Thought provoking ,and very inspiring, thank you!one is attracted to move in the direction of attaining good practices, BRAVO!

  32. Winnie says:

    To be a successful educator, first you need to be passionate about the same. Then grasp other tips as they come. This list is helpful but if you can apply them rather than just read through them. Thanks a lot for inspiring aspiring educators like me.

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