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Principles of Teaching

10 principles of being a good instructor.

After almost 2 years of full-time teaching, I still have no clue what makes a good instructor. You pick up little tricks along the way but there is not one clear blueprint. But, after reading a ton of feedback from my students (and a ton of evaluations from courses) I do think that there are a couple of overarching principles that are generally applicable.

Dieter Rams has his 10 principles of good design. I've condensed my list down to Danny's 10 principles of being a good instructor.

  A good instructor...

01 - gives structure

Gives students clear deadlines. Has an overview of the timetable and is direct in the communication to students. Helps them to study "effectively" and organize their own time.

02 - is approachable

Does not leave any question unanswered. That doesn't mean that there must be a "fast" response, but it must be timely and the student needs to have the trust that you will always get back to them. With every question or problem, you need to collaborate with the student to find a solution.

03 - seeks student feedback

Asks students what they think of the lessons and takes moments to reflect on them. Also asks for feedback in time (during the course) instead of at the end of a course. Looks at course evaluations of previous years and schedules evaluations with colleagues.

04 - is not "above" the students

Teaches subject content not as an expert but as an instructor. Not telling the student "how to do it" but "let's figure it out together". Matches the student's competence level and helps them achieve small victories.

05 - can be tough and critical.

You are not a good instructor if you have become teacher of the year. Being a good instructor doesn't always mean you are the most likable. You are a good instructor if you teach your subject well. And in the end, students need to look back at your course as something where they learned a lot.

06 - lets students provide input.

Teaches in collaboration with the student. Asks for input from students on lesson plans or course material. Tailors the lesson to what students need at that moment while taking situational factors of the students into account.

07 - can convey his subject content with enthusiasm.

Speaks from expertise but can explain this in understandable language (the curse of knowledge) while being enthusiastic about his own content.

08 - has an eye for every student.

Leaves enough room (during class) for questions, and gives each student enough personal attention (time) to solve their problems. A good instructor wants the student to understand it. Provides the student with insight into his or her own progress. Creates a safe atmosphere (relationship) in the classroom.

09 - shows doesn't tell

Explains subject content with practical examples: live demos, diagrams, visuals. Shows how to solve problems instead of talking about it with slides.

10 - breaks through the culture of non-commitment.

Gives direct feedback and avoids procrastination with active teaching methods and formative assignments. By handling solutions to assignments in class (strength of the group).

Danny de Vries