Six Key Attributes of Successful Teaching

Being a successful teacher depends on many things, not a few of which derive from personal characteristics, attitudes, and the proclivity—or appetite if you will—for the teaching profession. Of course, a demonstrable aptitude for helping students grasp new material, information and concepts goes without saying.

That said—there is no “one way” to become a successful teacher. There are commonalities, however, and key attributes that most successful teachers bring to their pedagogical practice: among them, these six, derived from Fink's 5 Principles of Fine Teaching (2006).

  1. They challenge their students. They demand more than the ability to comprehend and regurgitate the basics. They demand a significant effort. They build their coursework around critical and creative thinking; around interpretation, decision making, and problem solving; around learning how to learn.
  2. They provide active learning opportunities. Passive learning, such as reading, watching and listening has its place, but active learning is where the lesson grabs hold. Learning-by-doing carries a certain “stickiness.” You learn to build an argument, or a bridge, by building the argument, or the bridge.
  3. They care—and it’s discernable. They care about what they are teaching, about the students they are teaching, and about teaching and learning in general. Their passion and interest can be felt. “Students won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” (Anonymous).
  4. They provide leadership. In the classroom, they establish both academic and personal credibility. Students want to know they have a trustworthy, competent and energetic guide when they embark on a new subject. Lectures, classroom discussions, office hours—all of it—must reinforce for students the potential for significant learning.
  5. They offer plenty of feedback. They communicate with their students regularly, providing up-to-date appraisals of how they’re doing along the learning curve, dispensing praise where subject mastery is evident and encouragement and help in areas in need of improvement.
  6. They promise a fair grading system, one that is based on learning outcomes: objective and honest, flexible where necessary, but consistent—across-the-board—for all students, and communicated up-front in the syllabus.

Now, it can probably be argued that there are as many keys to successful teaching as there are successful teachers. The six mentioned above certainly do not constitute a definitive list; however, it is arguable that all six will be found in the pedagogical repertoires of most successful teachers.


Fink, L. D. (2006). Fink’s 5 Principles of Fine Teaching. Retrieved from

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This Teaching Tip was adapted from material developed by the Program for Instructional Innovation at the University of Oklahoma.


Peter Connor - TILT Web Content Writer and Editor