Penn State University

Definition of Teaching Excellence

At Penn State, teaching excellence is viewed as:

  • an academic process by which students are motivated to learn in ways that make a sustained, substantial, and positive influence on how they think, act, and feel;
  • a process that elevates students to a level where they learn deeply and remarkably because of teacher attributes that are outlined below.

Attributes of an excellent teacher

An excellent teacher is viewed as one who contributes positively to the learning environment by providing exceptional energy, keen interest in students, and extraordinary strengths in the following five roles:

Subject matter expert

  1. Possesses thorough knowledge of subject matter and demonstrates a contagious enthusiasm for it;
  2. goes further than the standard textbook materials;
  3. researches and develops important and original thoughts on the subject specialty;
  4. thinks about the discipline, analyzing its nature and evaluating its quality;
  5. follows regularly intellectual developments in the discipline and related fields;
  6. takes strong interest in broader issues, and is intellectually admirable.

Pedagogical expert

  1. Sets appropriate learning goals and objectives and communicates them clearly;
  2. demonstrates a positive attitude toward and trust in students and continually works to overcome obstacles that might subvert learning;
  3. evaluates and grades student work fairly and promptly;
  4. encourages students to think and empowers them to find their own creativity;
  5. promotes a wide range of ideas and the open expression of diverse opinions while maintaining an atmosphere of integrity, civility and respect;
  6. guides students successfully through exploration of the creative, critical thinking, and problem solving processes and helps students grapple with ideas and information they need to develop their own understanding;
  7. promotes student self discovery;
  8. pursues teaching and learning as scholarly activities;
  9. exhibits a strong sense of commitment to the academic community in addition to personal success in the classroom;
  10. provides, on a regular basis, constructive and objective feedback to students;
  11. finds unique and creative ways to connect students to each other.

Excellent communicator

  1. Demonstrates effective oral and written communication;
  2. demonstrates good organizational abilities and planning skills;
  3. helps students learn to use effective communication skills;
  4. listens attentively and is available and approachable;
  5. utilizes teaching tools appropriately and effectively;
  6. simplifies and clarifies complex subjects that result in provocative insights;
  7. bridges language and cultural barriers.

Student-centered mentor

  1. Makes student learning the highest priority;
  2. experiments willingly to affect student learning;
  3. strives to stimulate each student to learn through a variety of methods and encourages and invites active student participation;
  4. helps students connect learning experiences and facilitates development of self-knowledge;
  5. conveys to students that they must reach beyond facts to the understanding and application of concepts;
  6. instills a desire in students for life-long learning;
  7. inspires them to higher intellectual levels and does not give up on students;
  8. connects with students easily and is understanding and personable.

Systematic and continual assesser

  1. Develops and uses appropriate student outcome assessments to continuously improve student learning experiences in keeping with stated course objectives;
  2. employs a systematic approach to assess teaching, keeps the class material fresh and new, makes appropriate changes where indicated and sets clear objectives that indicate the kind of thinking and acting expected of students;
  3. creates an environment that invites constructive student feedback to the instructor;
  4. adapts teaching style to accomplish the objectives of successful student learning;
  5. recognizes own limitations and shortcomings, confronts and learns from them;
  6. advocates learning over testing.

Baker, W., Franz, G. Glenn, A., Herron, N., Pauley, L., Pierce, G., Snavely, L., Von Dorpowski, H., 2005. Definition of Teaching Excellence. Teaching Excellence Committee, Teaching and Learning Consortium, Penn State.

Sources consulted

  • Bain, K. (2004). What the Best College Teachers Do. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
  • Bartlett, T. (2003, December 12). What Makes a Teacher Great? The Chronicle of Higher Education, 50(16) A.8.
  • Alfred State University (1991). Definition of Teaching Excellence. Retrieved June 29, 2004, from
    manual/emplresp.html. [Now available on electronic reserve for Schreyer Institute, Penn State University Libraries.]
  • Mount Allison University (2000). Strategic Plan. Goal 3: To Foster Excellent Teaching. Steering Committee. Retrieved March 30, 2005, from
  • Also consulted: McKeachie, W. J.; Weimer, M.; Sherman, T. M. & others.

Penn State resources

  • Hyman, D., Ayers, J. E., Cash, E. H., Fahnline, D.E., Gold, D. P., Gurgevich, E. A., et al. (2000). UniSCOPE 2000: A Multidimensional Model of Scholarship for the 21st Century. University Park, PA: The UniSCOPE Learning Community.
  • Office of Human Resources (2003). Policy #HR23 Promotion and Tenure Procedures and Regulations. The Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved March 30, 2005.
  • Teaching & Learning Consortium (2001). Teaching Portfolios. The Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved March 30, 2005, from
  • Teaching & Learning Consortium (2000). Lori J. Bechtel Closing Commentary: Working Together for a Better Learning Community. The Pennsylvania State University. Spring 2000 Retreat. Retrieved March 30, 2005, from
  • Recognition Awards: Undergraduate Faculty Teaching Awards. (2004). The Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved March 30, 2005, from
  • College of Engineering. (1994). World Class Engineer. The Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved March 30, 2005, from
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