What do top professors have in common?

'A good teacher is there to inspire and guide,' one expert says

College professors may teach various subjects at differing institutions, but great classroom leaders share a similar set of skills and processes, says Ken Bain, author of "What the Best College Teachers Do," in an interview with Claudio Sanchez from NPR's "nprEd" blog.

Top professors have deep knowledge of their complex disciplines—whatever they are—Bain says, but they also know how to explain them to others simply.

"They may not have studied human learning but they grasp important insights into how human beings learn and how to foster that learning through practice," Bain says.

Determining what they want students to achieve, how they plan to guide them there, and how to deliver feedback make up the important elements of course preparation, he says.

In the classroom, they do not just regurgitate information but instead create an "environment in which students rethink their assumptions." Students are encouraged to persist at tasks they originally failed to complete and to work together on the most difficult challenges.

The best professors "treat their students with decency and respect, no matter how much a student is struggling," Brain says, in order to cultivate students' "intrinsic motivation" to learn.

"A good teacher is there to inspire and guide the individual but ultimately to help them work on their own and take personal responsibility," Bain says (Sanchez, "nprEd," NPR, 5/8).

The takeaway: A strong knowledge of their field and how to encourage a love of learning are qualities the best professors share, according to Ken Bain, "What the Best College Teach Do."

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