In early education, young students are working on developing their identities. During this formative time, one of teachers’ most important jobs is to set children up for future success by helping them discover how they learn best. To do so, teachers need to watch each student’s identity evolve and be ready to nurture and tap it.
In this student-centered approach, teachers guide children to learn (and to demonstrate their learning) in ways that work for them. By creating a safe space for students to try new things and offering them choices, teachers help children “own” their learning and find the best personal fit—an important part of their identity as students.
Individual learning styles and interests are just some of the factors that shape children’s identity. Teachers have to discern the effects of these as well as other dimensions of diversity—such as students’ cultural and socioeconomic background—in order to understand their students and tailor instruction appropriately.
To prepare new teachers for this range of diversity, colleges of education teach culturally responsive pedagogy, child development and the science of learning, classroom management and accessing community resources. In addition, candidates practice a range of instructional techniques with a variety of students. The latest performance assessments for novice teachers require demonstration of cultural competence and ability to differentiate instruction.
It’s also important for preparation programs to have a culture of continuous improvement that supports teacher candidates in documenting their practice, reflecting, and identifying what works—and what to try differently the next time. In short, teachers need to be competent learners themselves.