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Excellent teachers have a significant effect on students' learning development.Getty Images

If private school principals could isolate the best qualities in teachers, what would they be?

Life-long learners

The most obvious trait of good teachers is "care and empathy and compassion for kids, love for the kids," says Katherine Nikidis, head of Montreal's Trafalgar School for Girls. But she adds that they are "real life-long learners themselves."

These are teachers "more interested in the learning than the teaching, invested in what the students are learning," as opposed to focused too centrally on classroom pedagogy.

Born to teach

"I'm a great believer that you're born with that innate ability to teach or you're not, and the rest becomes a matter of honing your craft," says Steven Laffoley, headmaster of the Halifax Grammar School.

"So what's that innate quality? It's the gift that you teach children," as opposed to teaching subject matter and lessons. "It's important to recognize who is in front of you. And if you're good at relationships, if you're good at reading the group, then you're bound to have magic happen," he says.

Beyond classroom techniques

"There are various teachers who are using very leading-edge strategies," says principal Sam McKinney at Upper Canada College in Toronto, "whether they are using visual learning strategies within their classrooms, or gamification to support engagement, teaching [computer] coding, using flipped classrooms [in which students learn the material on their own before a teacher engages the class in learning exercises on that material]."

These techniques help establish environments for learning, but "I would say that the superstar teachers in my experience have a tremendous depth of knowledge in their subject areas but, even more, a desire to know the student uniquely," he said.

"All the -isms and pedagogies and different initiatives that have taken place in education, there is none that is shown to have the significant effect in learning development that the quality of the teacher has."

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