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The Magic of a “Great” Early Childhood Educator

August 22, 2022

What makes for good teaching? And what makes a teacher great? Liz Willen posed those questions in a recent Hechinger newsletter as she highlighted Jill Barshay’s article Proof Points-The Paradox of “Good” Teaching in which Barshay acknowledged that “deciding what constitutes good teaching is a messy business.” 

No doubt that it is, but I’m sure we can all recall a few teachers who were pivotal to our learning and growth–teachers who inspired us, sparked our passion, helped us change course, or assisted with solving a complex problem.

First and foremost teachers who show up day-in and day-out are great. All teachers, including early childhood educators, have faced unprecedented challenges amid the pandemic with new protocols, requiring more work and time on top of already full days, unanticipated exposures to COVID, closures, and the list goes on. For these reasons alone, all of our teachers deserve our respect and appreciation for showing up for our children during these difficult times. 

Also, second only to parents, early childhood educators are tasked with the single most important role in education - teaching, guiding and modeling for our youngest in helping to develop their emotional, cognitive and social foundation for life. Educators who never lose sight of how important their role is, especially during children’s critical early years when neuroplasticity is greatest, are great. 

Teaching is not just about meeting some qualitative or quantitative metric. It’s about creating an environment in which children are ready to learn and infusing joy and excitement in the learning process. 

Great teachers create a space where children feel safe, included, heard, respected and valued. 

Having trained thousands of teachers over the years, I’ve observed that what makes a truly great teacher is one who recognizes that emotion is central to children’s learning and development.  

They understand that from the earliest years, all children express themselves through emotion–their first language, universally. Teachers need to understand the importance of modeling and guiding children in their emotional understanding, experience, expression and regulation. By providing children with the tools of emotional intelligence, teachers open the door not just to a positive and secure sense of self and empathic understanding of others but to optimal learning. 

However, teachers need to first take care of and regulate their own emotions. A great teacher recognizes when his or her stress, anxiety, frustration or other negative emotion is interfering with their ability to be their best. That teacher knows to ask for support from another teacher to step in so they can take a needed break to regulate their emotions and return to their students in the right mindset. Children are watching and observing their teachers and easily pick up teachers’ emotional states, often emulating them–good and bad.

Just as dysregulated emotions impair children’s ability to learn, so too do dysregulated emotions impair teachers’ ability to teach. Once a teacher is emotionally regulated, they can help a child through their big emotions and develop self-regulation through co-regulation and guided deep breathing exercises. 

The magic of a great teacher is one who puts emotions and emotional literacy at the center of learning. Providing the building blocks of emotional intelligence is key to unlocking a child’s potential to learn and become the best they can be. We’re grateful for the magic of a great teacher. Thank you for all you do.

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