Working Together: Characteristics of Effective Teachers

Every now and then I come across an article that fits beautifully with my vision and my work toward quality early education and care. And, I am especially pleased when it is the kind of message that I can use over and over again in different venues.

Several years ago I came across one such article from Young Children, which is the Journal of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

“Twelve Characteristics of Effective Early Childhood Teachers,” written by Laura J. Colker, compiled feedback from forty-three experienced teachers as they thought about what it takes to excel in their work. Reflecting on their practice, they identified the personal characteristics they believe are integral to effective teaching. Keyword here is effective. If we’re going to teach, our aim should be high!

These personal characteristics, which are often based on feelings and beliefs, are sometimes difficult to identify. But, when one combines these characteristics with both knowledge and skill, you have the makings of an excellent teacher.

The twelve characteristics are:

  • Passion about Young Children: Enthusiasm is one thing, but something stronger, drive and passion, set the excellent teachers apart. When you feel you can make a difference, passion is ignited!
  • Perseverance: Dedication, sometimes tenacity, but always the willingness to advocate for something better for the child.
  • Risk-taking: Sometimes thinking “out of the box” makes the difference when working with children – despite the fact that it has never been done before.
  • Pragmatism: Compromising moves the plan along. Even if the gains are small and steady, effective teachers know they will eventually accomplish their goals.
  • Patience: A long fuse is necessary when working with so many. Patience is a must!
  • Flexibility: The expectation is that a teacher will be able to deal well with change and unexpected turns. That is the nature of the work.
  • Respect: In thought, word, and deed!
  • Creativity: Essential! The hallmark of an effective teacher!
  • Authenticity: You know who you are and what you stand for. Children are very good judges of character – they know who is real, authentic, and they respond accordingly.
  • Love of learning: To inspire this in young children, the teacher must also exhibit the characteristic.
  • High energy: Most children respond positively to the teacher who has energy, physical stamina, and the ability to play.
  • Sense of humor: Isn’t learning supposed to be fun? There is nothing better than children’s spontaneous laughter in a classroom. Enjoyment! Besides, laughing feels so good!

A pretty good list. Do you agree?

If you would like to read the entire article, you can find it in Young Children (March 2008). NAEYC members can access the article via

I have used this article with my teaching teams – as a basis for reflection and as a tool in setting professional goals. Teachers choose one characteristic on which to work for the year. Reading, thinking, and talking about each of these characteristics reminds all of us why we love the work we do, and why we continue to grow in the field.

Our goal – to become excellent teachers of young children!

I share this article with you in order to continue to motivate and inspire those with whom you work. Let me know if you use it – and in what context.

This entry was posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Training for Early Childhood Directors. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Working Together: Characteristics of Effective Teachers

  1. Linda Clark says:

    Enjoyed your latest article and might use it as a basis for a staff meeting. Ask them what they think are the characterisics of a good teacher!Pragmatism is alwlways hard for me because I wanted to see the result but now I know, change takes time.

    • Marcia Hebert says:

      A great staff meeting tool!!! Let me know how it goes.

      As for wanting change to happen quickly, you are not alone!! We all are impatient. But, I’m learning that with age, Linda, comes wisdom and the desire NOT to hurry through anything, anymore:) I’m working on focusing only on the moment at hand.

  2. Johnnie says:

    Do I agree? yes indeed

  3. Esmirna says:

    I am from the North of Belize and the article motivated me more for the Certificate in Early Childhood Education they are offering. Am a Preschool teacher who wants to learn and apply new strategies in my class. It is never late to learn more.

  4. Esther Carrington says:

    Hi Everyone,
    I am a Certified UPK teacher in a very diverse multicultural classroom in Brooklyn New York. I love working with the children and families. My joy rises when I make the “sad” child smile.
    I do portray those mentioned qualities, but every time I’m reminded of my expectations as a teacher, my passion for the job expands.
    Great post. Keep the great work up.

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