The recent revision of Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs lists five fundamental principles related to children's learning and development. These guidelines were written to inform education decisions and practice. Last month we concentrated on the first guideline: Creating a Caring Community of Learners. This month we are focusing on the second guideline: Teaching to Enhance Development and Learning. Let's take a look at the teacher's role in this important process.

Effective Teaching Requires Balance

As adults provide the climate, materials, curriculum, and opportunities, children construct their own learning by initiating activities and interacting with materials and the people around them. Creating and maintaining this balance is a continuous goal for all good early childhood programs.

As you think about how your program can best facilitate and enhance children's development and learning, consider the following goals:

  • Respect, value, and accept children. Treat them with dignity at all times. Remember that children are very sensitive to the attitudes and interactions of adults around them. They respond to others as they are treated. Watching and listening to the ways children interact with one another can help you understand what they are seeing and how they perceive they are being treated.
  • Make it a priority to get to know each child well. Taking time to observe and interact with children individually provides important insights. Use what you learn to adapt and create activities, curriculum, and strategies.
  • Create an intellectually challenging and responsive environment. Promote each child's learning and development by making sure you offer a rich variety of experiences, opportunities for choice, and extended periods of uninterrupted time for play and study.
  • Strive to offer experiences, materials, and equipment that support diverse learning styles, cultures, special abilities, interests, and skills. As you know, language arts, math, social studies, science, art, music, health, and physical development are just some of the areas children can enjoy, learn about, and excel in. Seek ways all children can not only participate in all curriculum areas but find special places where they can soar.
  • Foster collaboration. Encourage children to work cooperatively on projects and in problem-solving efforts-large and small. One strategy is to vary the groups children work in. Be involved just enough to enhance interest and provide meaningful direction when needed.
  • Develop, refine, and utilize a repertoire of teaching strategies. Use varied approaches such as posing problems, asking questions, modeling and demonstrating skills, active listening, coaching, and reflection to encourage children to develop individual initiative and learning styles.
  • Use strategies that help children learn to be accountable for their actions and encourage self-control. For example, set clear, consistent, and fair limits, redirect inappropriate behaviors, and patiently repeat rules and their rationale.

Maintaining a balance of all these practices isn't easy and will not happen overnight. Think of this process as a long-term goal, one that teachers and administrators, working together with families, can use to create the best possible settings for the healthy growth and development of every child. Next month we'll take a closer look at the third guideline, Constructing Appropriate Curriculum.

Strategies for Administrators

Enhancing children's development and learning demands a concerted effort from everyone involved. Here are strategies that will help.

  • Use the points listed under "Teacher's Role" as the basis for a checklist or add them to your current evaluation. Together, define specific ways to observe whether they are happening in your program, and encourage each teacher to use the checklist regularly.
  • Set aside time when you can come together as a group and teachers can reflect on their own teaching-both strengths and needs.
  • Be a role model. Nothing is more powerful than watching an experienced teacher or hearing someone think through a process.
  • Strive to spend time (even a few minutes) every day with one teacher demonstrating or talking about a specific strategy or aspect of teaching.
  • Observe and encourage. Take time to observe each teacher by sitting down in her classroom and really listening and watching. Give teachers time to observe each other. Encourage discussions.  

Remember: Human beings thrive on assurance, approval, and direction. Offering ongoing praise and support is the single most important role of an administrator. Share constructive criticism privately and glowing praise publicly!