We all know that one teacher who is like the children’s pied piper or child whisperer. They seem to have this aura of confidence that draws in children, building a level of respect. They do not raise their voice and have a sense of calm around them. Their classroom seems to run smoothly—almost like magic.
This is not to be confused with children conforming to an authoritarian teacher to avoid being called out or shamed. Nor with the practice of offering external rewards (stickers, toys, or privileges) or threatening to take away something. Instead, the authoritative teacher builds a warm, caring community and has children willingly participating in the classroom. Based on my close observation of teachers, I have noticed these specific practices common to teachers with this skill.
5 Traits of Authoritative Teachers
1. Genuine warmth. Children know if a teacher truly cares for them. They can sense it through facial expressions, the words they hear, and the actions they see around them. Has the teacher connected with them on a personal level? Did the teacher respond to their bids for attention? Did the teacher make any adjustments to meet their special needs? Are the children’s ideas in the lesson plan or implanted into the environment? Are there photos of them displayed?
When a child feels like a part of a community, they are more likely to comply and join the group.
2. Willingness to learn. Effective teachers draw from their experiences, education, and research to help them understand the reasons behind child behaviors. If they don’t know, they’re willing to observe, investigate, and seek appropriate assistance. They never stop learning and are open to new concepts and evidence-based information on child development.
Why did a child knock over that group’s block tower? Perhaps the child needs guidance on how to join a group successfully. Why is a child not speaking at school? The child may be learning multiple languages and just needs time. When teachers know the causes for behavior, they will be better equipped to know how to respond and provide appropriate support.
It also helps to avoid labeling children in a negative way, so that all can feel accepted in the classroom. Additionally, knowledge of child development assists with recognizing physical or mental concerns, which could lead to an early-intervention referral.
3. Consistency and patience. Creating a well-functioning classroom doesn’t happen with the wave of a magic wand. It takes effort and time to cultivate classroom structure. At the start of school, it may not look as organized because children come in with limited experience and knowledge. They need to know what’s expected, where to go, what to say, and how to act.
Teachers create consistency by sticking to the same schedule, upholding classroom expectations, and keeping routines. A teacher must constantly promote social and emotional learning and guide children on how to build healthy relationships.
Granted, there also should be flexibility and room for mistakes. Children are still learning. It’s OK if they don’t get it right away. However, when they make good choices, it should be recognized a lot more than their not-so-great choices. Eventually, they will start falling into the rhythm of the classroom and prefer that consistency, since it harbors a feeling of safety and acceptance.
For children who are not yet ready for certain classroom experiences, a teacher can tweak or make adjustments without compromising structure. For example, after ringing a bell and giving a five-minute warning before cleanup, the teacher turns a sand timer over for a visual of time. They may go around using a picture that symbolizes cleaning to help those who are still building their language skills or who might struggle with transitions.
4. Willingness to provide logical explanations. Just because teachers tell children to do something, that does not mean children understand why or even agree. Why wash hands? Why clean up toys? Why do we ask first rather than grabbing a toy from someone? Providing information such as “We put the caps back on the markers so they don’t dry out and we can use them again” is more instructive than just saying, “Put the caps back on.”
Providing simple, logical explanations helps children grasp the benefits of actions or choices. Usually when children learn logical thought processes, they can apply them to future experiences and make better decisions.
5. Confidence and reliability. We all have a natural sense when someone is exhibiting confidence. Just like adults, children feel safer when the person in charge knows what they are doing and is reliable. Children observe body language and tone of voice. They know whom they can count on, who will be fair, and who will keep all the pieces together. A teacher can have assurance in their abilities if they are building warm relationships, learning child development, maintaining structure, and providing logical explanations.
All of this leads to having caring, healthy relationships with children while maintaining an organized classroom day. Things will not always go smoothly. Not everything is preventable. However, these practices can help children feel safe and valued, building their confidence and willingness to participate.