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What Makes a Great Teacher?

What are the top attributes of great business teachers?

November 16, 2014

A few months ago I hosted a Best Practices in Teaching session at a Faculty Summit event that included management faculty from across the globe.  Some of these instructors were relatively new to teaching and some had spent their life in the academy.  Some were fulltime faculty and some were adjunct. Some were very highly rated teachers and some were struggling. 


In the session we had a panel of top-rated instructors talking about how they prevent free-riders on teams, how they give constructive feedback even in large classes, how they manage classroom discussions, how they deal with “grade grubbing”, and how they make what sounded like dry, boring topics interesting and relevant to students.  There were some great pieces of advice and I’ll share some of them in a later post.


To kick off the session, I presented the faculty with some data and a question.  The data was from a study attempting to identify the attributes of top business teachers.  The question was which attributes were most important.


The data came from a study conducted with over 1,000 respondents at four US-based business schools.  92% of the respondents were students, 7% were faculty, and 1% were administrators.  Student respondents were 79% undergraduate and 21% master’s level. Here’s the full list of attributes tested: 



Can you guess which are the top three attributes identified by a combination of students and instructors? 









The blank space here is to give you time to think while you’re scrolling. . . .





Ready? . . . .






Survey says

The combined list of Top Ten attributes of top business instructors shows that both groups value current knowledge, instructor fairness, and a comfortable atmosphere:



As the article mentions:

Teachers who want to improve their effectiveness as teachers can learn a lot from this first group of attributes. The first message is loud and clear: One needs to be current. You cannot use an outdated textbook, old notes and exams or even old cases even if they are classic. You need to take time to read the current business periodicals and use recent illustrations. You need to make the course relevant to the latest developments. But this is only part of the story. Only slightly less important is that the teacher should be fair. This usually means the teacher is neither too demanding to the point of discouraging learning nor too lenient to the point of decreasing the challenge to learn and grow.


However, the faculty and students did not match exactly on their Top 10 attributes. For example, “Communicates and presents material in a way that is easy to learn” was the fifth highest ranked attribute by students and was ranked nineteenth by faculty.


Some of you may notice that the second-highest ranked attribute on the faculty list is missing.  The second-highest ranked attribute for faculty was “Challenges students to think” – it was ranked 20th by the students.








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