Executive Director Blog: The Elements of Teaching

The Elements of Teaching
Peg Oliveira, Executive Director

The periodic table reveals an almost miraculous regularity. In it, the haphazard truths —observed piecemeal by so many individuals day-to-day, over centuries across the world— serendipitously fall in line. In its elemental predictability, a reassurance of order beneath the chaos.

As a psychologist, the periodic table has always inspired a bit of jealousy in me. I wanted that sense of underlying order that my colleagues in the physical sciences enjoyed. But it appears my wish may be coming true: as many states, like my own of Connecticut, join in the laborious steps toward defining the core knowledge and competencies for early childhood educators. Education policy is ambitiously working to lay out its periodic table. We are combining our collective experience with an unprecedented surge in rigorous research to define core knowledge and competencies (CKC’s), the foundational elements of what teachers need to know and be able to do to predict student success.

While some may complain the that the CKC’s are “nothing new,” that is precisely the point. This codification is necessary. Like the periodic table, to understand the elements is to understand the universe.

Over the past four years, I have been honored to lead hundreds of teachers, parents and advocates in Connecticut as they crafted this powerful roadmap for professional development and self assessment. In this process we scanned Federal guidelines, best practice and other states’ frameworks. In the end, we in Connecticut, much like our colleagues in Massachusetts, California, and New York, came to a comprehensive “periodic table” of dozens of skills and knowledge areas across seven domains.

We all use these principles everyday as educators. The CKC’s are simply the mapping of the detailed work that go into each, so that none of the elements will be forgotten. But there are still a whole lot of elements—45 in Connecticut’s version! So I am encouraging leaders to introduce the CKC framework through this more practical three step lens.

  • Know Yourself
  • Know Kids
  • Know Your Kids

Know Yourself

To best support children in their growth it is essential that we have an awareness of our own values and beliefs and they impact our decisions. Reflective practice and self-evaluation are opportunities to challenge assumptions and beliefs about early childhood education and practice, think critically about alternative perspectives and change based on new insights. This includes CKC’s like:

  • Engages in an annual self-evaluation process and uses information to develop an individualized professional development plan.
  • Integrates knowledge based on reflection and critical perspectives on early education.

Know Kids.

Knowing about child development and learning is crucial to guide decisions about practice and construct developmentally appropriate and meaningful experiences. Recognizing what is typical at each age and stage of child development, and importantly knowing that  normal variations occur, This includes CKC’s like:

  • Knows and recognizes the major developmental milestones of children.
  • Recognizes that development is influenced by biology, individual characteristics, family, community, and culture.
  • Modifies own practice in relationship to current theory and research on child growth and development.

Know Your Kids.

Good teachers understand how to promote young children’s learning and development by tailoring experiences to nurture young children’s individual nature. NAEYC recommends that to assess young children’s progress and needs, use methods that are developmentally appropriate, culturally and linguistically responsive, tied to children’s daily activities, supported by professional development, and inclusive of families. This includes CKC’s like:

  • Uses assessment tools and strategies that are appropriate for the child’s age and level of development and accommodate the child’s sensory, physical, communication, cultural, linguistic, social, and emotional characteristics
  • Understands the types and multiple purposes of assessment; as well as how to design, adapt, or select appropriate assessments to address specific learning goals, individual differences, and minimize sources of bias

To do what we know is best, we must know what we do, know what to do, and assess. The periodic table of skills and knowledge are the building blocks of good practice, but the human element at work in their synergy and complex reactions can not be understated. The research is clear that young children thrive when supported by nurturing adults who are intentional about engaging the whole child. To teachers, this is old school from a new lens.

Full Report and a complete description of the three steps and how Gesell Institute strives to meet these goals in our professional development experience, can be viewed HERE!

See our article on this topic in the Winter SEEN Publication, p.36 HERE!