Teachers are committed to students and their learning.
Accomplished teachers base their practice on the fundamental belief that all students can learn and meet high expectations. Acknowledging the distinctive traits and talents of each learner, teachers are dedicated to and skilled at making knowledge accessible to all students. Educators are thus passionate about building meaningful relationships with young people so students can advance their understanding and experience success. Teachers know that ongoing achievement depends on their conviction in the value and dignity of all human beings as well as the potential that exists within each child. They therefore remain attentive to human variability, its influence on learning, and the interconnectedness of people in different contexts. Accomplished teachers become acquainted with students across social and educational settings, not simply within their own learning environments.
Teachers Recognize Individual Differences in Their Students and Adjust Their Practice Accordingly
Teachers must know many things about the students they instruct so they can respond effectively to individual differences. For instance, one teacher may find that in her class, Alex works with a speech pathologist, Maria loves science fiction, Toby is anxious about mathematics, and Mikayla is captivated by music. Yet, accomplished teachers know much more about their students, such as where they call home, what their families1 are like, how they performed academically in the past, and who they want to become in the future. Children and young adults live in a wide variety of physical locations and household groups; to understand their hopes and aspirations, educators must remain attuned to students’ unique living situations and family dynamics.
Teachers must become attuned to their students’ individual situations and changing circumstances.
Accomplished teachers further understand that student learning is influenced by personality—whether a student is shy or outgoing, impulsive or reflective, stubborn or eager to please. For example, a shy student might not perform well on an oral presentation. Similarly, an impulsive student who fills in answers hastily may receive standardized test results that do not truly reflect his or her knowledge. Accomplished educators take personality traits such as those into consideration when interacting with students, planning for instruction, and interpreting assessments. That kind of specific understanding is critical, for teachers use it constantly to tailor instruction for the individuals within their classrooms2.
Teachers who are accomplished respond to student needs based on their pupils’ interests, abilities, and prior knowledge. When planning a unit on genetics, for instance, a biology instructor will anticipate which concepts and activities certain students may find problematic; while listening to a small group, the teacher will then look for signs of individual student engagement and address any misunderstandings as they arise. By keeping a finger on the pulse of the class, educators decide when to alter plans, work with individual students, or enrich instruction with additional examples, explanations, or activities.
Recognizing that students bring different language practices and proficiencies to the classroom, accomplished teachers also understand the complex role that language plays in learning. For example, they respect the knowledge, perspectives, and experiences that English language learners possess and value the ways in which those factors can enhance and strengthen the learning environment. Similarly, educators know that students use language differently based on social or academic context, and accomplished teachers empower their students by providing them with access points for participating in various situations and occasions. Educators explore opportunities to integrate diverse language practices meaningfully within the learning process.
Accomplished teachers gain knowledge about their students by studying them carefully and seeking additional information from various sources. They learn from experience by listening to students, watching them interact with peers, observing them work in different contexts, reading their thoughts and reflections, and otherwise examining their actions and behavior in the learning environment. Teachers also look closely at how students play so they can encourage those students to explore their imagination during instruction. By engaging students on a social, emotional, intellectual, and physical basis, accomplished teachers enhance learning at every age and developmental level. To inform their pedagogical decisions further, educators analyze assessment data as well, considering it alongside input they receive from family members and other adults involved in their students’ lives.
Such an extensive evaluation represents no easy feat. What teachers are able to see, hear, and learn about students is influenced by their prior knowledge and experience as professionals. When working with children and young adults who have different backgrounds and experiences from their own, accomplished teachers therefore monitor their impressions and thoughts carefully to acquire a deep understanding of their students and the communities that shape their students’ values, outlooks, and attitudes toward learning. All the information that teachers acquire about students through the course of instruction subsequently informs their understanding of teaching and learning, which transforms their practice.
Teachers Understand How Students Develop and Learn
In addition to attaining knowledge specific to their students, accomplished educators consult a variety of learning and development theories to make informed decisions about instructional content and teaching methods. They are familiar with concepts about teaching and learning generated by social and cognitive scientists. Moreover, educators integrate that knowledge with personal theories about learning and development generated from their own practice. Based on their theoretical knowledge and practical experience in the classroom, accomplished teachers understand that each student has different cognitive strengths. Educators determine how to capitalize on those assets as they consider how best to nurture their students’ abilities and aptitudes.
Accomplished teachers provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate their knowledge and showcase their abilities, both in and out of traditional school settings. For example, students who find the calculation of percentages challenging in school may be able to determine value discounts readily while shopping—a mathematics instructor may thus incorporate that activity within an exercise to provide students with an alternate way to demonstrate their knowledge and improve their abilities. Accomplished teachers strive to appreciate and understand their students’ aptitudes and intelligences. By encouraging students to relate their personal experience to the classroom environment, teachers help students make learning relevant and advance their skills across academic settings.
Importantly, accomplished teachers recognize that, in a multicultural world, students possess a wide range of abilities and aptitudes that might be valued differently by families, local communities, and schools. For instance, the knowledge, skills, and dispositions nurtured in a Native American community may differ from those promoted in a Latino community. Similarly, those cultivated by a suburban community may differ from those developed in an urban community. That said, people share important similarities as well, regardless of their social affiliation or cultural background. Those similarities and differences are always shifting.
Thus, teachers must become attuned to their students’ individual situations and changing circumstances. By doing so, accomplished teachers can develop an array of strategies for sharing differences, identifying similarities, and embracing diversity within the learning environment. Those strategies provide educational experiences that capitalize on classroom diversity by connecting students with various cultural experiences while broadening their perspectives on learning and thinking.
Teachers Treat Students Equitably
As advocates for the interests of students, accomplished teachers are vigilant in ensuring that all pupils receive their fair share of attention. Educators recognize their own biases and make certain that any preconceptions based on real or perceived ability differences, exceptionalities, socioeconomic or cultural background, family configuration, sexual orientation, physical characteristics, race, ethnicity, language, religion, age, or gender do not distort their relationships with students. Accomplished teachers maintain an open mind and a balanced perspective on their students.
That approach does not suggest that teachers treat all students alike, because using the same tactics to address similar behavior by different students does not necessarily result in an equitable education. Rather, teachers respond to differences among students, being careful to counter potential inequities and avoid favoritism. Accomplished educators monitor their students’ access to resources and advocate to ensure that students have the tools they need to learn. That level of attention requires a well-tuned alertness, which can be difficult. Accomplished teachers therefore use everything they know about effective—and ineffective—practices to develop strategies that capitalize on their students’ varied backgrounds, using diversity to enrich the learning environment for every student.
Teachers Know Their Mission Transcends the Cognitive Development of Their Students
Accomplished teachers are devoted to supporting the development of character and preparing students for a successful future. To facilitate such growth, educators recognize that failure is a natural part of the learning process; they show students how to cope with it and create environments in which learners are comfortable taking risks. Through failure, children and young adults can attain perseverance and resilience, which will help them achieve their potential. At the same time, accomplished teachers increase their students’ engagement and motivation by providing them with options from which to choose, fostering their ownership in learning, and setting high expectations. Students come to understand that questioning and goal setting are integral aspects of the learning process.
Teachers model all those behaviors, using them to help students advocate for themselves in the classroom and in the community. As participants of a larger world, the students of accomplished teachers recognize the effect that their actions have outside the classroom. They therefore develop civic responsibility and digital citizenship, becoming aware of how their actions affect others. All those lessons—important in their own right—are essential to intellectual development as well. Accomplished teachers consider their students’ potential in that broader sense when making decisions about what and how to teach.
1. The terms “family” and “parent” are used throughout this document to refer to people who are the primary caregivers, guardians, or significant adults in the lives of children.
2. All references to classrooms in this document, whether stated explicitly or not, refer to all educational settings (e.g., laboratories, gymnasiums, libraries, offices, outdoor locations).