The Study of Educational Psychology

The Nature of Teaching

Exercise 1.1. Your Core Convictions and Teaching Goals

Learning is an active process. Reflecting on what you already know and what you are learning enhances understanding and application of course content. Before you read further, consider your current teaching beliefs, values, and priorities. For example, what is the role of the teacher? Which skills are required? How should teachers support student development? Motivation? Which instructional techniques are best? How will you know what students have learned? List your core convictions and teaching goals. These lists will help you formulate your teaching philosophy later.

Core Convictions About Teaching & Learning Teaching Goals










Source: Adapted from The nature of teaching (n.d.).

Teaching is Multidimensional

Teaching involves many domains, which we will explore throughout this course. Not only do teachers need to be experts on content, but they also need to understand student development, the learning process, factors that influence learning, classroom management, instructional techniques, and assessment. All of these domains impact the effectiveness of the teacher and the ability for students to learn.

Whether working with preschoolers, elementary children, adolescents, or adults, teachers must understand their student’s development. Cognitively, learners may be in different stages, possessing varying capacities for thinking, learning, and decision-making. Physically, brain maturation, sensory-perceptual abilities, and motor skills will change with age. Psychosocial development will affect social relationships, self-regulation, and emotion management. Understanding the cognitive, physical, and psychosocial development of the students we serve makes us more effective teachers.

Teachers must learn the theories and practices of the learning processes from various approaches. These different approaches may be utilized depending on what and how something is to be learned.  The behavioral approach is a set of learning theories that focuses on how we are conditioned to respond to events or stimuli with predictable, observable behavior. These theories explain how experience determines behavior. In the 1950s. the cognitive approach gained attention as new disciplinary perspectives in linguistics, neuroscience, and computer science were emerging, and these areas revived interest in the mind as a focus of scientific inquiry. The contextual approach considered the relationship between individuals and their physical, cognitive, and social worlds. They also examine socio-cultural and environmental influences on development. Biopsychology explores how our biology influences our behavior. and thinking. Neuroscience has helped us understand more about how the structure of the brain, neuro-communication, and neurochemistry allows us to learn. An educational psychologist would be interested in how these physiological systems impact learning.

Helping students learn also requires understanding motivation and learning differences. Some students are highly motivated to learn, while others need to be motivated by external factors. In some cases, there may be factors that interfere with the motivation to learn. In addition, students may have learning differences that also impact learning. Teachers need to be aware of how factors like intelligence, learning disabilities, or mental health issues can affect students’ learning and how a teacher can assist students.

A significant domain for teachers to consider is classroom management and instruction. Teachers learn many techniques for how to manage student behavior, structure their classrooms and instructional time, as well as many teaching strategies. Approaches that work well with one class or student may not work well with another. Choosing the best techniques and strategies to be effective is part of the art of teaching.

Teachers cannot assume that what they teach is what students learn. Assessment, both informal and formal, helps teachers understand what students know and do not know. In some cases, assessment is meant to inform teaching so the teacher can create opportunities for additional learning. In other cases, assessment is the final summary of what students have learned about a subject. Assessments may be teacher-created or standardized, but regardless, how, when, and what to assess must be considered as part of a complete teaching plan for effective teaching.

Teachers are Part of a System

Teachers are not an island. They, and their students, are part of a larger system with this microcosm at the core of the system. Teachers are directly influenced by the policies and practices of their departments, schools, districts, and states. School systems are influenced by larger macrosystems, such as laws, professional organization recommendations, and cultural norms.

Figure 1.4.1. Circles of systemic influence on teachers.

At the macrosystem level, federal legislation dictates that all states and school districts adhere to specific mandates that guarantee access to education and protects students’ rights (many of those laws are linked below). These laws are the basis for state and local regulations, policies, and practices. Professional organizations, such as the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, provide standards for teacher proficiency to promote effective teaching and improvement in schools. Historical and cultural contexts also influence the classroom. Consider the increase in school shootings in the United States in recent decades. Active shooter plans are now required by state and local policies. Active shooter drills have become a regular practice. The anxiety associated with this risk is now woven into the school and American culture.

Federal Education Legislation

Legislation, regulations, guidance, and other policy documents can be found here for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and other topics.

Please note that in the U.S., the federal role in education is limited. Because of the Tenth Amendment, most education policy is decided at the state and local levels. So, if you have a question about a policy or issue, you may want to check with the relevant organization in your state or school district.

Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended

FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act)

Civil Rights

IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)

WIOA (Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act)

Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended through P.L. 114–95

Higher Education Act

Teachers and students are directly influenced by the exosystem. These are the policies, practices, and standards established by state and local agencies. The curriculum that is mandated, the teaching materials adopted, the technology available, and the assessments required will directly impact a teacher’s choices in the classroom and students’ achievement. When considering what to teach, how to teach it, and when, teachers will need to follow the standards and curriculum set form by this ecosystem. Students’ learning experiences may be enhanced or hindered by their exosystem.

The Digital Divide

The expanding use of technology affects the lives of students both inside and outside the classroom. While exposure to learning technology inside schools and classrooms is important, access can also differ once those students are in their homes. It’s important for educators to be aware of the potential barriers to technology and internet access that students may face. A recent report from NCES, Student Access to Digital Learning Resources Outside the Classroom, highlighted some differences in home internet access for students.

The percentage of 5- to 17-year-old students with either no internet access or only dial-up access differed by students’ race/ethnicity.


Access also differed geographically. Remote rural locales had the highest percentage of students with either no internet access or only dial-up access at home. Within these remote rural areas, the percentage of students lacking access differed by students’ race/ethnicity. Forty-one percent of Black students and 26 percent of Hispanic students living in remote rural areas had either no internet access or only dial-up access at home. This was higher than the percentage of White students (13 percent) and Asian students (11 percent) living in remote rural areas who had either no internet access or only dial-up access at home.


The percentage of students who had no access to the Internet or only dial-up access was higher for students living below the poverty threshold (26 percent) than for students living between 100 and 185 percent of the poverty threshold (15 percent) and at greater than 185 percent of the poverty threshold (4 percent).


In 2015, the two most common main reasons for children ages 3 to 18 to not have home internet access were that it was too expensive or that the family did not believe they needed it/ were not interested in having it (38 percent each). Other main reasons for not having home internet access included that the home lacked a computer or a computer adequate for internet use (8 percent), internet service was not available in the area (5 percent), the Internet could be used somewhere else (3 percent), and privacy and security concerns (i.e., online privacy and cybersecurity and personal safety concerns) (2 percent).

What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards proposes five core propositions for teaching. These five propositions provide a vision for accomplished teaching and are the basis for National Board Certification.

  1. Accomplished teachers are committed to their students and their learning. They recognize individual differences and adjust their teaching according to their students’ needs. Teachers understand how their students develop and learn, but understand that their mission goes beyond students’ cognitive development. They treat students equitably.
  2. Accomplished teachers know their subject and know how to teach their subjects to students. They understand how knowledge in their subject is created, organized, and linked to other subjects. They also know how to convey their subject to students by utilizing multiple paths to knowledge.
  3. Accomplished teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning. They utilize multiple methods for meeting their instructional goals and supporting student learning in various settings. Teachers engage students in the learning process and value student participation. They also regularly assess student progress.
  4. Accomplished teachers think systematically about their teaching and learn from their experience. They use feedback and research to improve their practice and make difficult choices that challenge their professional judgment.
  5. Accomplished teachers are members of learning communities. They collaborate with other professionals, families, and the community.

Video 1.4.1. What Teachers Should Know reviews the National Board for Professional Teach Standards five core propositions.

Exercise 1.2. Self-Assessment of Teaching

Questionnaire for self-assessment of teaching. Reflect on these characteristics and consider which skills you will improve during this course.



Strongly Disagree     Strongly Agree
I can explain how people develop and learn. 1 2 3 4
I know my subject matter and can explain it to others. 1 2 3 4
I can identify several ways to get to know my students and what they know. 1 2 3 4
I know what content standards are and can plan a lesson that meets those standards. 1 2 3 4
I can demonstrate more than one instructional strategy. 1 2 3 4
I can assess other’s learning using a traditional test and at least one other measure. 1 2 3 4
I often reflect on teaching and learning and can identify how I can modify my teaching based on data collected about student learning. 1 2 3 4
I can identify several ways to demonstrate respect for students. 1 2 3 4
I can identify at least three members of my learning community. 1 2 3 4

Source: Adapted from The nature of teaching (n.d.).

Effective Teaching

Exercise 1.3. Traits of an Effective Teacher

Think about the most effective teachers in your experience. What made them effective? What characteristics, attributes, or skills did they possess that made them effective?

Personal Attributes Professional Skills, Attributes, Abilities






Source: Adapted from The nature of teaching (n.d.).

What is an effective teacher? Walker (2008)  asked in-service and pre-service teachers to identify characteristics of their most effective teachers–“effective” meaning that these
teachers made the most significant and positive impact on their lives. From those responses, twelve characteristics emerged.

  1. Prepared. Effective teachers are prepared for each class and are ready to teach. Time on task is a priority. Students report that it is easy to learn because the teacher is prepared and time passes quickly because they are engaged in learning.
  2. Positive. Effective teachers are optimistic about teaching and about their students. They look for the positives in every situation. They also are available to students, communicate with students about their progress, and give praise. These teachers also support students to respond positively to each other.
  3. Hold High Expectations. Effective teachers hold the highest standards and believe that all students can be successful. They challenge their students to do their best and build students’ confidence.
  4. Creative. Effective teachers are resourceful and inventive. They will do things outside of the norm to keep students engaged and motivated.
  5. Fair. Effective teachers are fair in how they handle students and grading. They allow students equal opportunities. They give clear and consistent expectations. They also recognize that not all students learn the same way, and “fair” does necessarily mean treating everyone the same.
  6. Display a Personal Touch. Effective teachers are approachable and connect with their students personally. They share experiences and take an interest in their students.
  7. Cultivate a Sense of Belonging. Effective teachers project that their preferred place is in the classroom and they make students feel welcome and comfortable there as well.
  8. Compassionate. Effective teachers are concerned about students’ academics, but also their personal issues. They show sensitivity and compassion toward their students.
  9.  Have a Sense of Humor. Effective teachers can make learning fun and do not take everything seriously. They use humor while teaching and dealing with difficult situations.
  10. Respect Students. Effective teachers give the highest respect and get the highest respect from students. They do not deliberately embarrass students. They respect their privacy and speak to students alone about sensitive issues, grades, or conduct.
  11. Forgiving. Effective teachers forgive students for inappropriate behavior and do not hold grudges. They refuse to give up on difficult students.
  12. Admit Mistakes. Effective teachers admit when they are wrong and apologize for mistakes.

What Makes a Good Teacher Great?

Video 1.4.2. What Makes a Good Teacher Great discusses some of the lessons Azul Terronez learned about being an effective teacher from his students.

Exercise 1.4. Traits that Make Me an Effective Teachers

Which of these personal and professional characteristics and skills do you possess? When you formulate your teaching philosophy, you can discuss the characteristics of an effective teacher that you possess.

My Personal Attributes My Professional Skills, Attributes, Abilities






Source: Adapted from The nature of teaching (n.d.).



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