Why It is Important for Teachers to Understand Child Development Stages
Although all children develop in their own unique fashion, as a direct result of both hereditary and environmental influences, there is a certain pattern of development that applies to nearly all children. It is crucial for today’s educators to have a thorough understanding of that development. Schools today play an important role in the socialization of children and therefore it is critical that teachers know how to best socialize their students. An understanding of basic human developmental stages can be used to gear the teacher’s lesson plans in order to maximize the success of students in both the academic and the social realms of their lives. This understanding can also be used to minimize problems in the classroom.
Importance of Understanding Human Development in the Classroom:
Human development is one of the biggest contributing factors to human behavior. As children go through their different stages of life, they approach learning in different ways. When an educator has an intricate understanding of human development, he or she can use that understanding to make assessments about the behaviors of children in the classroom. This can be used to prevent problems in the classroom that often result from normal developmental acting out behavior. Such problems may also occur as a result of having a small number of children within the larger classroom who are at a different developmental stage of their lives from the stage of the other students.
Potential Problems Resulting From Lack of Understanding Development:
Educators who do not understand the role of development in the behavior of the classroom often find that they are frustrated in their working lives. This is because they simply cannot relate to why their approach to teaching the children is not working. Educators who fail to gear their lessons and teaching approach to the correct developmental stage will find that they are not reaching the children in their classrooms. This can upset the power balance between student and teacher, undermining the latter’s authority and creating a chaotic classroom environment.
Additionally, teachers who fail to understand the developmental stages of their students frequently have problems with one or two specific students. These are generally the students who are developing at a slower (or occasionally faster) pace than the larger group, and so they stand out to the teacher. Without an understanding of why that particular student’s behavior may differ from the behavior of the other students, teachers may feel that the student is merely a problem student. This also leads to a chaotic classroom environment, which is problematic not only for the teacher but also for the individuals students who may fail to accomplish appropriate development as a result.
Teacher Behaviors Which Promote Development:
It is critical that the adults who are in a child’s life, especially during critical developmental stages, are able to successfully lead these children through completion of each stage and on in to the next developmental stages of their lives. For example, the stage when children go through middle school is a time when they can be heavily influenced by external factors. With the pull of peer pressure in place, teachers may find it difficult to reach their students at this stage of life. However, there are numerous things that middle school educators can do to positively influence the students in their classrooms, creating a more positive classroom environment and contributing to the development of each individual student.
Let’s look closer at the middle school example to see how important it is that educators understand the developmental issues of this time when teaching.
The first stage of middle school development is a pivotal time for educators to teach children some basic thinking skills. First of all, this is a time when children are able to master reading and math skills, so educators should be focused on making sure that each child exercises their critical thinking skills in these areas. This can be done by incorporating reading and math in to each subject taught in the classroom so that children in the classroom get a well-rounded approach to seeing how these skills fit in to the whole of life.
In another second stage of middle school development, as children are trying to answer the greater questions about their own identity, it becomes less important for teachers to focus on skill mastery and more important to allow, within a structured environment, for children to try on different roles. Incorporating playacting in to the classroom at this time can be an excellent way to accomplish this.
Both of these stages of middle school development are directly related to the strength of the child’s developing ego, and therefore it is important for educators to make children feel successful in the classroom. In the first stage, children need reinforcement that they are doing well in the classroom so that they can develop a sense of industry. Teachers can promote this by setting small, achievable goals for their classroom as a whole and their students as individuals, with measurable success. Charts depicting success in the classroom or rewards for reaching certain goals are ways in which teachers can reinforce that success.
In the second stage of middle school development, students will measure their success less and less in terms of skill mastery and more in terms of their sense of self. It is important, within reason, for teachers to support their students as they try on new social roles. Teachers can lead their students to success in this area by creating an environment where children feel safe in practicing new roles but are also structured enough to not harm themselves while doing so.
Student Social and Emotional Wellbeing:
Middle school is a time during which children are undergoing constantly fluctuating emotions, which they feel with great intensity. This is especially true in the second stage of middle school development, when children are trying to figure out their own sense of self. Because they are trying to define themselves, children feel that every little thing which reflects any part of themselves is of the utmost importance.
Teachers can contribute greatly to the student’s social and emotional health during this critical time. Throughout the middle school years, it is important that teachers set firm boundaries in their classrooms. This structure helps children in the early middle school stage of development learn how to play within the rules. This means that they can better relate to their peers and they will accomplish the ability to properly associate with others. In the later stage of middle school development, setting appropriate boundaries will teach children where it is and is not appropriate to challenge authority. This sets the stage for the rest of their human development. Children who properly learn this skill can go on to create change in the world while children who fail to learn this skill may become anti-social.
Positive Classroom Environment:
The major challenge that middle school teachers face is trying to balance the changing personalities of each child within the context of the classroom (a challenge that all teachers face to some degree). While there are two basic developmental stages during this time of life, each child does develop at different rates. Some students may enter middle school still going through earlier stages of development than their peers. Some students may actually already be in the second stage of middle school development when they enter middle school. This combines with the fact that much of the aim of that second middle stage is to test boundaries and try on different roles and creates a situation which can be potentially highly chaotic.
Teachers need to remember that, in order to create a positive classroom environment, they must set the overall mood and tone for the classroom. They should maintain a highly structured environment so that children know what to expect and how to treat one another. They should encourage appropriate social interaction so that all children feel safe in the classroom. This can then be reinforced with appropriate reward systems which help children to develop their sense of industry and sense of self. Children who feel supported within such a structured environment are likely to help to create a positive environment in the classroom.
Diversity and Equality:
American children grow up in classrooms that are increasingly diverse. There are different races, different genders and increasing acknowledgment of different sexual orientations. Children who are developing their sense of self may feel threatened when their sense of self does not match what is considered the “norm”. For this reason, it is crucial that teachers take a broad view on accepting diversity in their classroom.
It is also important that teachers show their students how to accept diversity during this stage of life. In the early middle school stage of development, children are learning how to interact appropriately with their peers. Teachers who support diversity in the classroom and who teach their students that all of the individuals in the classroom are equal are able to successfully move their students in to becoming appropriately social. This is done primarily through the attitude of the teacher, which should show support for all different lifestyles through every day actions. This is enhanced when teachers are able to incorporate in to their curriculum teachings about different cultures and different ways of life. When using examples in their classroom instructions, teachers should be sure to use a range of different gender and race combinations in order to reinforce for the students that all different ways of life are equally acceptable.
In the second middle school stage, students will often attempt to rebel in order to define themselves. Teachers should work to reinforce appropriate rebellion and minimize inappropriate rebellion. For example, students may decorate their notebooks with song lyrics they identify with or they may dye their hair unique colors. Teachers who reinforce respect for the children’s choices in such harmless areas of life will help the students accomplish age-appropriate development. In contrast, students ma act out in violent or self-destructive ways, and teachers need to be on the lookout for such behavior so they can help to prevent it from continuing. Teachers who do so will teach their students that all lives are equally valuable and while therefore help students in developing an internal sense.
The importance of an educator’s understanding of their students’ developmental stages is clear. Educators play a critical role in the socialization of their students. Middle school is a particularly time of great confusion and a time when students are undergoing dramatic changes that will shape who they are for the rest of their lives. By teaching them appropriate socialization and helping them to develop a strong sense of personal identity, teachers can lead their children in to becoming healthy well-developed adults.
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