On the surface, it might seem like quality facilities equal quality education. So when looking at schools, many parents understandably assess quality based on facilities.

Focusing on facilities fails to consider the crucial role teachers play in your child’s education. It has been said that “great teachers can teach in a tent”. So, although a school might have wonderful facilities, if teachers are aloof, disinterested or more concerned about the school’s rankings than your child’s development, your child’s education suffers.

Quality teachers are the real key to quality education. But because most schools don’t showcase their teachers, it is difficult – perhaps even impossible – for parents to assess the quality of a school, so they look to the facilities for clues.

Essential traits great teachers possess

So what makes a great teacher? Firstly, there are some obvious traits that make up great teachers such as a love of learning, breadth and depth of knowledge of relevant subject matter and a love for young people.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, there are a range of soft skills that are the ‘secret sauce’ of great teachers. These skills include active listening, creative intelligence and patience. Great teachers understand that the learning journey is ongoing for students and so take the time to sow into students’ lives. Above all of these traits, however, one stands tall - the ability to foster authentic relationships with students.

The importance of teacher-student relationships

Great teachers understand the vital role they play in the lives of their students and partner with them on the learning journey.

Research has consistently shown that the student-teacher relationship is crucial. Students with constructive relationships with their teachers are more likely to do well. Teachers who intentionally build positive relationships have a powerful impact on the lives of their students.

A review by Professor John Hattie, an education expert from the University of Melbourne, found that teacher-student relationships outweighed the contribution of teachers’ subject knowledge, teacher training, curriculum, or home and school effects when it came to student achievement.

Conversely, negative interactions can have the opposite effect. A 2003 study published in Child Development, for example, found that relational negativity in Kindergarten was related to academic and behavioural outcomes through to the study’s conclusion at year eight.

Students with a good relationship with their teacher are more likely to feel positive about school, be willing to work hard, risk making mistakes, and ask for help when needed.

“Teachers who are passionate about making a difference are more likely to make a difference.” John Hattie

According to educational expert Angela Maiers – who has been exploring teacher-student relationships for more than 20 years – a positive relationship has two key elements.

The first is care. A quality teacher truly cares about their students and lets them know they are valued. They are accepting, warm and empathetic towards their students’ thoughts and feelings.

Research has shown that in a caring relationship, students show better school adjustment and achieve better marks.

Care shouldn’t be mistaken for permissiveness, though. Students thrive on order and security but need to know that teachers have their best interests in mind.

The second element is described by Maiers as ‘press’. Teachers need to believe their students can succeed and ‘press’ them to do so, she writes.

She explains that a teacher’s beliefs about students are vital because they subconsciously influence how they treat each child. Quality teachers push their students to achieve more than they thought possible while supporting them to achieve it.

“Holding high standards without providing a warm environment is merely harsh. A warm environment without high standards lacks backbone. But if you can create a combination of high standards with a warm and supportive environment it will benefit all students, not just the high achievers.” Lee Jussim

Quality schooling isn’t only about academics

It’s important to remember that a good education is about more than academic success. A quality teacher will encourage your child’s development in all areas – socially, emotionally, and spiritually as well as academically.

They will recognise your child’s uniqueness and giftings, regardless of whether they are scholastic, musical, athletic, artistic, interpersonal, or something else.

A holistic teaching approach helps to ensure your child grows into a balanced young adult who understands and appreciates their own talents – and those of others.

Preparing your students for the future

Excellent facilities may be great, but it’s the teaching that will equip students for the future. Global education expert Tony Wagner questioned hundreds of business, not-for-profit and philanthropic leaders about what skills young people needed. He was surprised to find that technical competency was regularly considered to be less important than skills like critical thinking, collaboration, adaptability, leadership, initiative, and effective communication.

Facilities may provide some tools of the trade, but tools constantly change, and even the best-built environment can’t instil abilities like these. In contrast, a quality teacher can help young learners develop the skills to succeed in a rapidly changing world.

Identifying key teacher characteristics

So, how do you tell a good quality teacher? Experience matters, but it’s not the most important thing. Great teachers come at all ages and stages – as do not-so-good ones.

According to Professor Rob Klassen, an educational psychologist from the University of York, research has shown that some teachers are consistently more successful than others.

His research has examined how to identify key teacher characteristics. “There can be a lot of leeway in how personal characteristics are expressed, but we want all teachers to have qualities such as empathy, resilience and adaptability in the face of challenges,” he writes in _The Guardian.

He adds that some traits – like communication or organisation – can improve with professional development. But personal attributes like empathy are harder to build.

According to website teacher.org, other characteristics of great teachers include patience, passion, humour, organisation and resourcefulness. These are all qualities you can look for when talking to your child’s potential teachers.

One thing is sure, you won’t find them in facilities!

“One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.” Carl Jung

Buildings don’t teach children, teachers do. With this truism in mind, understand that sometimes growth in student numbers does necessitate new buildings, but they are not the most important attribute of a great education.