30 Habits of Happy, Effective Teachers

For most educators, teaching is as much a passion as it is a profession. Teachers tend to devote heart and soul to the job of educating young (or somewhat older) minds. But we know that the work, while fulfilling, can also be exhausting.

Yes, education website TeacherVision is not wrong when it suggests that “teaching can be a messy, uneven, chaotic business even on the best days, and even when performed by the most high-capacity, motivated, and organized people (like you).”

Fortunately, “cutting through that chaos to maintain a balance of efficiency and productivity in your work life and some harmony in your personal life IS an achievable goal — with a plan.”

Preferably, a plan that is built around good habits. Read on for a comprehensive review of notable habits of highly effective teachers. Along the way, reflect on which ones feel most important or helpful to you.

30 Habits of Effective Teachers [The List]

Let’s start with our top 12.

1. Think of yourself as a great teacher
Aim high! You likely encourage your students to do so, and you should too. “Happy teachers never forget that they are awesome educators with one of the most influential, interesting jobs on the planet,” says We Are Teachers. No pressure, right? Adopting the mindset that you are a great teacher helps you channel the mindset — the self-motivation, the commitment to self-improvement — that is required to excel in the classroom and have fun doing it.

2. Be very prepared
Classful recommends planning lessons at least one week in advance. “When you set a firm block of time each week to tackle the following week’s planning you may be amazed by how much more productive you feel. Setting hard start and stop times for these sessions is another hack that helps you to up your productive output.” Beyond lesson planning, “be prepared” also applies to your overall state of mind and your ability to react to situations you have not necessarily planned for.

3. Organize your desk and classroom
Massachusetts elementary school teacher Mikaela Prego, writing for TeacherVision, suggests, “Take some time to organize your desk so it’s a space that makes you feel productive and you don’t lose time searching through a messy pile of books, papers and whatever else ends up there. … As I write this, I’m actually decluttering my desk of a million papers I no longer need and reorganizing so I know exactly where everything is and where it belongs.” Keeping things smartly organized also applies to your classroom, where you want students to feel comfortable and free of distractions so they have an optimal environment for learning.

4. Respect your students
“Teachers who give the highest respect get the highest respect.” This observation comes from education publisher Abeka (“12 Characteristics of an Effective Teacher”), which urges respect for student privacy and counsels, “Always avoid situations that unnecessarily embarrass students.” Respect in the classroom also applies to honoring your students’ different backgrounds and cultures, and cultivating an atmosphere of shared respect for each other.

5. Cultivate a sense of belonging
“The most effective teachers have a way of making students feel welcome and comfortable in their classrooms,” says Abeka, which recommends projecting “a warm, welcoming attitude that helps students know they belong in your classroom.” Also, don’t be shy about communicating how much you love teaching, since that can help inspire a love of learning among students.

6. Exercise patience
Yes, patience. In fact, slowly count to three before you read this one. Part of the deal is that teaching can occasionally feel like a job that makes you want to pull your hair out. For such moments, Edutopia offers some helpful habits for “keeping your cool.”

  • Take a few breaths: Step right outside the door. You are “offstage,” and this can help shift emotions really quickly.
  • Count: To three … or five … or seven … maybe even 10.
  • Ask a question: Instead of giving a declarative statement, try, “How might you rephrase that comment so it’s more respectful to your classmate?”
  • Pause and think before speaking: It’s OK if your students are waiting for your words. The silence creates a space that is calming and contemplative for everyone.
  • Smile: This is the best cover for unpleasant feelings. It can melt tensions, or at least suspend them.
  • Wait for the right moment: You do not have to address disruptive or inappropriate behavior right in that very moment. You can wait until a bit later to address that child one-on-one.

7. Be compassionate
Abeka suggests that “the most effective teachers are concerned about students’ personal problems and can relate to them.” Sometimes when students reflect back on teachers who have made a difference, the story connects to the learning experience; but just as common are memories about “how the sensitivity and compassion of caring teachers affected them in profound and lasting ways.”

8. Have a sense of humor
“The main benefit of incorporating humor into education is that it can potentially help students better retain knowledge,” according to MasterClass. “Laughter releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which activates the reward system in our brains. When this happens, your long-term memory and goal-oriented motivations are stimulated, which means you not only have the drive to learn more, but your mind can hold onto it longer.”

9. Treat yourself to “school-free” time
“Teachers are notorious for convincing themselves they have no time for personal time, and it’s just not true. You must choose to make it a priority,” counsels Wabisabi Learning, because “being the most important part of a young student’s life means being the best you can be in mind, body, and soul.” Their suggestions include: Enroll in a course. Explore a new hobby. Work in the garden. Exercise every day. Visit friends. Take a trip. File this one under: self-care.

10. Explore new digital tools
Today there are countless digital tools designed to inspire learning, while also expanding students’ comfort level with tech in a world dominated by technology. Here are a few suggestions:

11. Be receptive to critique
This is essential to the goal of becoming the best teacher you can be. As an educator, “you are constantly being evaluated and criticized by your boss, teachers, parents and even children,” says Edutopia. “Instead of feeling bitter when somebody has something to say about your teaching, be open-minded when receiving constructive criticism and form a plan of action.”

12. Love being a teacher
Occasional frustrations aside, teaching is ideally a deeply fulfilling way to make a living. When you consciously embrace your passion for the profession, every day is more fun — both for you and for your students. Edutopia offers a mini pep talk on this topic, encouraging you to “Let your passion for teaching shine through each and every day.”

OK, are you taking notes? To ensure that we don’t run out of time before the (imaginary) classroom bell signifies the end of our time together, it is time to pick up the pace. Here are some additional helpful habits of effective teachers:

13. Spread positivity
14. Focus on fairness
15. Bring creativity
16. Display a personal touch in your classroom space
17. Hold high expectations, for your students and yourself
18. Admit mistakes
19. Be forgiving
20. Give jobs to students
21. Set time limits
22. Wear clothes that makes you feel good
23. Strive for a friendly, welcoming classroom
24. Practice sound classroom management skills
25. Be a positive, helpful colleague – every day
26. Build your personal learning network (PLN)
27. Engage in professional development
28. Investigate new pathways for learning
29. Breathe new life into lessons
30. Focus on making a difference

Atomic Habits: Boost Learning, and Joy, in the Classroom and Beyond

If you are looking for additional help in building positive habits that will make a difference in your classroom, we may be able to help.

Here at the University of San Diego, a core component of our mission is offering affordable, high-quality courses and programs for teachers that fulfill your need for lifelong learning and ongoing professional development, while also offering new skills and strategies — and inspiration — that you can bring to your classroom.

In fact, the subject of how positive habits for educators connect to effective teaching lies at the heart of one of our popular online courses: Atomic Habits: Develop Habits to Increase Learning, Efficiency and Joy in the Classroom and Beyond.

The course is built around the teachings of “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones” by James Clear, a New York Times Best Seller that explains the author’s theories of how undertaking minuscule changes can lead to life-altering outcomes.

Adapting the ideas presented in the book for working teachers, the Atomic Habits course helps participants “learn how to identify and change habits in their own lives, with their students and in their classroom practice.”

Productivity Resources for Effective Teachers

As a trusted education partner to teachers around the country and beyond, the University of San Diego is also invested in sharing resources with readers of our blog. Here are several links to teacher productivity resources:

Additionally, USD offers a wide range of education-related courses on such highly relevant topics as classroom management, bullying prevention and mastering Google for Teachers.

Effective Educator FAQs

What are some of the key characteristics of effective educators?

Loving what you do and actively thinking of yourself as a great teacher are examples of the mindset that contributes to effective teaching. Other top tips touch on: patience, positivity, creativity, organization, compassion, humor and respect. Most effective teachers also share a passion for lifelong learning.

How do I enroll in a USD educator course?

You can explore course options and enroll in courses through our website, or you may call during business hours (M-F, 8:30 am–5 pm PST) at (619) 260-4585 or toll free at (888) 321-6658.

What type of credit do I earn when taking a USD course?

The credit earned is considered Graduate Level Extension Credit, in semester hours, meaning that the credit earned can often be leveraged toward salary advancement or professional development hours, but typically does not count toward a degree. Prior school district approval is highly recommended. It is the responsibility of the student if using the units toward salary advancement, credential renewing and/or recertification.