The beliefs of highly effective teachers


Do a google search for the term ‘highly effective teacher’ and you will be presented with a list of results that uses the words ‘traits, characteristics, habits’.

I even checked search results pages, 2, 3 and 10 – and only these three words came up.

I would like to suggest though that it is impossible for a teacher to have any effective traits, characteristics or habits if she does not have a set of beliefs about her learners that make her effective.

So, what are the beliefs about learners then that make a highly effective teacher?

My learners are doing the best they can at this moment in time

What would it mean for a teacher to believe this about her learners? Well, first off, it means that she believes that her learners did not wake up that morning and consciously decided not to be successful or to be naughty or any other negative thing.

Secondly, it means that she believes her learners have the potential to grow and develop from here – and it is an opportunity for her to demonstrate her knowledge and skills as a teacher to make this happen.

My learners are making the best choices with the resources they have

When a teacher believes this, she is acknowledging a number of things about her learners. First, they have the ability to make choices.

Therefore, they are not simply empty jugs that she must fill with knowledge. No, they are thinking, deciding human beings that are able to construct knowledge when given the opportunity to do so in class.

(In other words, less talk and chalk teaching, and more facilitated learning.)Secondly, the learners come to school with knowledge and skills.

This makes it a lot easier to create lessons where learners work with the teacher and with each other to make sense of knowledge and to learn.

Thirdly, although the learners have resources, these resources can be enhanced and improved.

Again, this is the opportunity for the teacher to give the learners better options so that they can make better choices in future. 

Read more: Disappointing matric results? Here are your options

There is a positive intention behind their behaviour – they may just not have the right strategy to achieve what they want 

Whenever I raise this belief, I know I am likely to get some resistance. ‘How can a learner who is being disruptive or not doing their homework have a positive intention?’ is the question I am asked.

The answer lies in the second part of the statement I believe. Everything we do has a purpose or goal – we want to achieve something.

Sometimes though, the way we go about achieving that – what I would call the strategy – is not the best possible strategy for doing so.

A learner who is being disruptive is very possibly wanting to get some attention (and we cannot know why they feel they need that attention, and chances are they may not be really aware of the need themselves)

and of course, by studying hard, being polite, by doing homework and participating in class are probably the best strategies for getting attention from the teacher. But what if they don’t know that?

They will resort to a strategy that is proven to get attention in any classroom anywhere in the world. Think for a moment how much attention you give troublesome learners in your class in comparison to the amount of attention you give star performers.

When a teacher believes that all their learners’ behaviours have a positive attention, she can stop seeing potentially negative behaviour as bad (and the learner as bad!) and focus on helping the learner realise they may be better strategies to achieve the same goal.

There is no such thing as failure, only feedback.

I am writing this just as the 2019 matric results are being released, and sadly there are a number of learners whose results will make them want to disagree with this statement.

They did not pass and they are therefore a failure. What a tragedy for them to think this, and that the education system they have experienced has not allowed them to believe that there is no failure, only feedback.

Read more: How to get your matric as an adult in 2020

What teachers need to believe, and help learners understand, is that failure is a result and that all results are outcomes, whether or not they are what was intended (or desired).

Of course, no learner would wish to get mark that indicated that they have not met the requirements set. What they need to appreciate is that the mark is feedback on what still needs to be done; it is not feedback on who they are as a person or as a learner.

However, this belief has to be held by teachers (and parents and guardians) and demonstrated to young people from the very beginning of their academic careers (and younger too I would argue). 

If a teacher believes that there is no such thing as failure, it means that she appreciates that her goal is to provide the support and guidance to her learners so that they can learn from the feedback. Henry Ford is noted as saying that, ‘Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.’

Having received the feedback the learner and teacher now have more information about what needs to be done, where more focus must be placed, and how much more work must be put in to get a positive result (notice that I did not say to achieve success).

This belief opens up huge opportunities for our learners and teachers to grow and develop.

For you to think about

What would it be like for you to have these four beliefs? What would it mean for you as a person?

What would it mean in your classroom? What would it mean for your learners?

What if?

Via Afrika

Chat back:

Share your story with us and we could publish it. Anonymous contributions are welcome.

WhatsApp: Send messages and voicenotes to 066 010 0325

Email: Share your story with us via email at chatback @

Sign up for Parent24's newsletters.

Read more:

What are my child's career options if they don't finish high school?

How to cope with repeating a grade

The NSC June 2020 supplementary exams: all you need to know

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
A Section 89 panel headed by former chief justice Sandile Ngcobo found President Cyril Ramaphosa has an impeachable case to answer on the Phala Phala scandal.
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Ramaphosa should do the honourable thing and immediately resign.
25% - 681 votes
Ramaphosa should follow due process and submit himself to an impeachment hearing.
32% - 874 votes
Ramaphosa should fight the findings in court and keep his job at all costs
44% - 1198 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.