Section Navigation

Study Finds Common Characteristics in Expert Teachers

smith.jpgBOONE — What qualities do great teachers share?

As North Carolina citizens, policymakers and educational leaders scrutinize the quality of public schools, an Appalachian State University professor’s descriptive case study reveals six central tendencies among teachers considered experts in their field:

  • Possessing confidence in themselves and their profession,
  • Viewing their classrooms as communities of learners, where ownership and responsibility are shared among teacher and students,
  • Developing personal and working relationships with students to maximize student learning,
  • Demonstrating a student-centered approach to instruction,
  • Making contributions to their school communities through leadership, service and support to new teachers, and
  • Showing they are masters of their content areas.

For her doctoral dissertation, Assistant Professor Tracy Smith in Appalachian’s Reich College of Education compared three teachers from urban and rural contexts in North Carolina. All three are considered top teachers–they are certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, are leaders in their educational communities and serve as mentors to new teachers.Smith said she wanted to determine what, if any, characteristics these expert teachers share.

“Expertise is more complicated than a checklist of similarities,” Smith says. “But to develop teaching experts, we have to know what we’re developing them toward.

“The central tendencies are helpful in developing not just prospective teachers in the Reich College of Education, but also helping the state’s working teachers who want to be better.”

Smith’s dissertation, “Toward a Prototype of Expertise in Teaching: A Descriptive Case Study,” won the Outstanding Dissertation Award from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education this spring.

The award recognizes excellence in doctoral dissertation research that contributes to the knowledge base of teacher education. AACTE is a national, voluntary association of colleges and universities with undergraduate or graduate programs to prepare professional educators. The 750 AACTE member institutions graduate approximately 90 percent of the nation’s new teachers and other educators each year.

Smith’s dissertation grew from a validity study conducted at UNC-Greensboro, where she earned her doctorate, that compared student work from two teacher groups–national board certified and non-certified teachers. It found that certified teachers significantly outperformed their non-certified peers in key teaching dimensions, including having an extensive knowledge of subject matter; adapting and improvising instruction; creating challenging and engaging lessons; and communicating their belief in students’ abilities.

Smith teaches in RCOE’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction. With more than 2,000 students, the Reich College of Education is one of North Carolina’s largest teacher education programs.