Last week, I had the good fortune of stumbling onto John Savery’s article titled “BE VOCAL: Characteristics of Successful Online Instructors” in which he talks about the unique challenges facing teachers who are working with students in the online environment.

Savery uses the acronym VOCAL to emphasize five specific traits that a successful online teacher must possess. I created the visual below pairing each of his traits–visible, organized, caring and compassionate, analytical, and leader by example–with specific behaviors. I hope this will serve as a guide for educators who are navigating their new roles as online teachers.

Savery believes that teachers who demonstrate these characteristics in their work with students online are more likely to create a productive and positive learning environment and deal with fewer management issues.

Savery, J. R. (2005). BE VOCAL: Characteristics of successful online instructors. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 4(2), 141-152.

26 Responses

  1. No disrespect – but these criteria, while certainly relevant – do not seem all that different to me than the criteria for any good teacher, online or face-to-face. The challenge, for me, is to be able to establish and maintain the levels of mutual trust and respect that lie at the heart of any productive pupil-teacher relationship. I have no problems, apart from occasional technological blips, in maintaining trust and mutual respect with online students where it already exists. Establishing such mutual trust and respect online from scratch is certainly more of a challenge – but a challenge that can be overcome if I apply the principles of good practice that I do with my face-to-face students.

    • Hi Richard,

      I agree that these are important traits for all teachers to possess. However, I think it is challenging for teachers who have traditionally taught face-to-face to think about what these characteristics look like online. What does it look like to be “visible” online? What behaviors can help a teacher be more visible in the online environment? I hope the specific examples help provide some clarity for teachers navigating this new learning landscape.

      Take care.

      • I did my MS in Ed online in early 2000s and now I am adding a Leadership certificate online and tge difference in professors is amazing. The one weekly session makes such a difference.

        I think connection is the most important for younger students as well. Weekly synchronous for k – 8 may be too little, but the 6 hours my 4th grader did was too much. High School students even with constant google classroom presence may not even go there without synchronous mandates. I agree with above all may be best practices that need to be tweeked.

      • Thank you so much for your prompt response. Trust me I agree whole heartedly. I am 50 years old and have been a teacher for 14 years and I am absolutely terrified I will be unable to be the teacher these students deserve. Everything right now seems to be very unsteady but perhaps that’s a good thing.
        Thanks again. Your input is helpful. Have a wonderful day and stay safe.

        • You’re welcome, Richard! This year is daunting for most teachers, so you are not alone. I do hope there are opportunities for teachers (and students) to grow in this moment despite how uncomfortable we are with the current situation.

          Wishing you the best of luck for a smooth start to the school year!


  2. Thank you for making this quick visual! Of course these are the same traits we have in the classroom, but this will be different in many ways.

  3. How can we remain visible at the secondary level (6-12) without overwhelming our students? That was one of the biggest challenges my school had last year that we did not anticipate. I saw frustration from both my students and my own 11th grader trying to navigate through several messages from as many as 8 teachers per day.

    • Hi Jen,

      I think being visible can take many forms from the most obvious, hosting video conferencing sessions, to more subtle, facilitating asynchronous online discussions. I worry about the approach some schools are taking where kids have to spend the majority of their day online “meeting” with teachers and the class. I’d love to see a balance between the synchronous and asynchronous work, so we do not overwhelm students.


  4. How can a teacher be visible online?
    1) Do synchronous classes often ( every day 30 mins)
    2) Reply to students’ email as quickly as possible ( within minutes or less than an hour)
    3) Answer chat questions precisely
    4) Always update your LMS
    5) Grade often with feedbacks
    6) Smile while on camera

    • Hello there,

      I think you nailed it! My school begins next week. Staff is spending this week in preparation! Definitely the smile. I also teach secondary school and am looking for horns, bells, some goofiness to start the sync stuff with. Communication is vital.

      have a good year.

  5. I think the visual is great and these traits are important. Communication is the key to establish trust, connection respect.

  6. To me, these seem like the traits of a good teacher whether online or in the more traditional classroom. Good meaningful communication between the teacher and student is absolutely necessary for both parties.
    It is also necessary for most teachers to realize this may be a much bigger deal for us in terms of technology than it is for many of our students, not all necessarily, but many.
    It is an excellent opportunity to show students that we are still learning as well and don’t know everything.
    ***Is there anywhere we can get this poster? It’s great. Thanks for sharing.

  7. I am excited to begin this new challenge online. I am a bit nervous with the technology aspect, but I am confident that my experience in the profession will help

  8. I am very visual and this will help me a lot. Hopefully I am fully prepared for my Pre-k students.

  9. I feel that I’m being supported by my teammates and administration and looking forward to seeing my students. I do feel worried about the technology part. Hoping the upcoming trainings give me the tools that I need.

  10. very good comments and questions concerning the new year ahead for all of us,students and teachers, hope we can manage and get through this successfully.

  11. I like your traits of an effective online teacher. They were visual, organized, caring, analytical. and a leader by example.

  12. I enjoy acronyms as a way of remembering important information, so this works for me.
    Being an early childhood educator for almost 30 years, my challenge is to make it fun for the littles.

  13. Thank you! I like the comments. These are traits of a successful Online and In Person Teacher. Always, teach (lead) by example.

  14. Technology is a huge learning curve for me. It might not be so with students . But with practice and good communications with students planning could be tweeked and I am a visual learner sure things will get better.

  15. I agree with Mr. Lynas. As I read the article, I too thought that these are things I already do. What do I need to do differently in this environment? One way is to be visible in a different way. The district has given us great courses to customize for the first six weeks of school. I do not like seeing and hearing myself on video. I have had to get over it. This will be a whole new class of scholars with whom I do not have established relationships. So, I put on some makeup and just started shooting videos of myself. For example, I noticed the digital citizenship reminders were not elementary kid-friendly so I recorded myself reviewing and explaining those reminders. Prior to Covid, I planned to get my head wrapped around Blended learning. This has just helped me keep that promise to myslef.

  16. Thank you for the visual. I’m not too worried about following the traits listed. My issue is more about dealing with technology issues and the limitations of the student/teacher connection coming from the student’s end.

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