What are the key characteristics and practices of expert teachers?

This new study seems to have partially found the holy grail of teaching: What constitutes teacher expertise? They base their conclusions on a metasummary of 106 empirical studies of expert teachers. Why did I write ‘partially’? Because the authors admit that the prototype they’ve found remains far from complete.

Now, what are the answers? Well, there are 73 features of expertise across six domains, from cognition to practice. I’ll include them at the bottom of this post, but some of the answers are:

  • Are driven by moral duty towards their learners — motivating them to work hard, reflect critically and exhibit unconditional care for learners
  • Have a passion for teaching, a positive self-image and a desire to succeed in their profession, helping them cope with challenges
  • Have three qualities central to expert teacher professional development: reflection, lifelong learning, and collaboration with peers
  • Assess progress, spot misunderstandings and offer ongoing feedback
  • Offer individualised support and feedback throughout the lesson

But how should this research be used? One of the two authors, Jason Anderson, states, “From the meta-summary, we describe the expert teacher, a prototype in a sense, rather than a prescriptive checklist, which professionals in education can draw upon for support in their roles.”

Abstract of the meta-summary:

While expert teachers remain a frequent focus of research in education, to date there have been very few attempts to conduct systematic reviews of this literature. This paper presents the findings of the first systematic metasummary of research on teacher expertise in K12 education (primary/elementary and secondary levels), based on analysis of 106 empirical studies from 16 countries involving 1124 teachers identified as experts. The inductively-developed coding framework was applied independently by both authors to the dataset to generate agreement counts for specific coding themes, firstly for specific domains of teacher expertise, and then stratified to compare primary and secondary studies. We present 73 specific features organised into six domains in our expert teacher prototype. Salient findings indicate that, with regard to professional practice, expert teachers reflect extensively and often critically on their practice, help their colleagues frequently, and are continuous learners throughout their careers. Concerning knowledge, we find that expert teachers have well-developed pedagogical content knowledge and knowledge about their learners. In the domain of pedagogic practice, we observe that expert teachers display flexibility in the classroom, build strong interpersonal relationships with their learners, whom they engage through their choice of activities and content, and frequently make use of strategies typically emphasised in both constructivist and learner-centred education literatures. We offer our prototype as a useful initial sketch of family resemblance among expert teachers rather than a checklist of necessary or expected features of expertise, also cautioning that the prototype remains far from complete.

This is the extended list:

Domain and theme (# themes with AC count ≥5 out of total # themes) AC Level comparison
Empty Cell Pri. Rank Sec. Rank
Knowledge base (5 out of 16 themes)
 PCK well developed 17 1 = 1 =
 Extensive knowledge about learners (both general and individuals) 16 1 = 1 =
 Extensive subject/content knowledge 13 1 = 3 =
 Extensive, integrated knowledge base (incl. wide range of topics) 11 4 3 =
 Extensive knowledge about curriculum 6 5 5
Cognitive processes (6 out of 14 themes)
 High awareness of what’s happening in class 12 1 1
 Extensive and automated cognitive processes/heuristics (teaching or planning) 8 2 = 4 =
 Primary concern with student learning/on-task behaviour 6 4 = 2 =
 Able to make informed decisions in class 6 4 = 4 =
 Regularly engages in progressive/experimental problem solving 6 2 =
 Able to predict potential problems 5 2 = 6 =
Beliefs (8 out of 32 themes)
 Relationships/rapport as important 9 4 = 1 =
 Treating Ls as individuals with diverse needs & backgrounds 7 2 = 3 =
 Belief in constructivism (or aspects of, esp. non tabula rasa, Ls construct own knowledge) 7 1 6 =
 A sense of moral duty or mission towards Ls 6 4 = 3 =
 Engaging Ls as important 6 1 =
 Facilitating development of Ls as human beings/future citizens (social responsibility) 5 2 = 10 =
 Having high expectations/setting high challenges for Ls 5 3 =
 Accepting primary responsibility for learning 5 10 =
Personal attributes (5 out of 13 themes)
 Passion for profession/work as teacher 12 4 = 1 =
 Care for/love their learners 12 1 3 =
 Positive self-image/self-confidence/self-efficacy/identity 12 4 = 1 =
 Strong desire to succeed/ambitious/motivated 8 2 = 5
 Resilience (and persistence) 8 4 = 3 =
Professionalism (10 out of 18 themes)
 Reflects extensively 21 1 1
 Continuous/lifelong learners/striving to improve 16 2 = 3 =
 Helps colleagues as T educator (incl. mentoring, informal peer support) 16 2 = 3 =
 Dedicated/hard working/committed 14 4 = 3 =
 Collaboration, PLCs, CoPs important 13 6 = 3 =
 Reflects critically (e.g., self-questioning, problematising practice) 13 6 = 2
 Leaders (either in school and locally or more widely) 10 7
 Interest in CPD/INSET/in-service qualifications 6 4 = 10
 Share resources/ideas with colleagues regularly 6 6 = 9
 Challenges self incl. through experiments, risks, innovation (incl. PPS) 6 8
Pedagogic practice (39 out of 89 themes)
 Displays flexibility/improvises when teaching (adaptive expertise) 20 1 = 1 =
 Engages learners through practices/content/activities/strategies 17 8 = 1 =
 Links learning to/builds learning on learners’ lives and schemata 17 1 = 3
 Scaffolds learning effectively 15 4 = 4 =
 Has clear routines and procedures 14 1 = 8 =
 Continually assessing throughout lesson/dynamic assessment 13 4 = 11 =
 Considers Ls’ needs when planning (both group and individuals) 12 14 = 4 =
 Creates positive, supportive learning environments 12 14 = 6 =
 Make regular use of collaborative/cooperative learning (pair & groupwork) 12 8 = 6 =
 Develops HOTS (incl. creativity and critical thinking) 10 7 17 =
 Careful planning (as either mental or written process) 9 22 = 11 =
 Monitors learners (circulating) during activities 9 8 = 17 =
 Develops Ls’ study skills/autonomy/metacognition 9 4 = 35 =
 Differentiation provided according to Ls’ needs, interests or challenges 9 14 = 11 =
 Provides one-to-one tutoring/personalised support (e.g., when monitoring) 9 8 = 17 =
 Reflects interactively 8 35 = 8 =
 Develops close meaningful relationships with Ls 8 8 =
 Develops Ls’ understanding 8 14 = 17 =
 Formative assessment is central to practice 8 22 = 11 =
 Adapts core curriculum materials (e.g., textbook) 7 8 = 35 =
 Can anticipate and prevent potential disturbances 7 22 = 17 =
 Cultivates mutual respect/trust 7 35 = 11 =
 Makes use of inductive (e.g., problem-based/discovery) learning 7 14 = 23 =
 Peer tutoring encouraged (incl. peer teaching/correction/feedback/support) 7 8 = 35 =
 Teacher talk/communication (dialogic interaction, verbal ability) is appropriate 7 14 = 35 =
 Assessment of prior knowledge precedes new instruction 7 14 = 23 =
 Develops own materials/resources/activities 6 22 = 23 =
 Provides developmentally appropriate activities/tasks/instruction 6 22 = 23 =
 Shows sensitivity towards emotional environment of classroom 6 35 = 17 =
 Lesson is made enjoyable for Ls (e.g., humour, fun activities) 6 11 =
 Balances T-led (e.g., WCT) and learner-centred (e.g., activities) lesson phases 6 35 = 23 =
 Provides qualitative feedback to learners on their work 6 35 = 23 =
 Considers long-term objectives when planning 5 14 = 58 =
 Plans flexibly and contingently 5 23 =
 Cohesion/links between learning activities support(s) learning 5 35 = 23 =
 High time on task 5 35 = 23 =
 Wide range of strategies to convey content (evidence of PCK) 5 22 = 35 =
 Use of independent activities (seatwork or groupwork) 5 35 = 23 =
 Teacher questioning of Ls varied 5 22 = 35 =

Notes. Themes are ordered by agreement count (AC) per domain, showing only themes with AC = ≥5. Standard competition ranking for stratified subsets also shown for each domain; ‘ = ’ indicates a tied ranking. Pri.: primary/elementary; Sec.: secondary; T: teacher; L: learner; PCK: pedagogical content knowledge; PLCs: professional learning community; CoPs: communities of practice; CPD: continuing professional development; INSET: in-service training; PPS: progressive problem solving; HOTS: higher-order thinking skills; WCT: whole-class teaching.

One thought on “What are the key characteristics and practices of expert teachers?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.