Home arrow Perspectives arrow Anna Richert and Julie Nicholson: Foundational Ideas

What are the foundational ideas and dispositions in teaching


We believe that there are foundational ideas and dispositions that are unique to the profession of teaching---in particular teaching directed towards equal and excellent outcomes for all students. Each of these foundational ideas reflects a contemporary characterization of the dynamic and reciprocal relationship that exists between theory and practice. Thus, content, pedagogy, educational theory and its practical application are seen as reflexive and connected elements in a dynamic system of ideas that under gird teaching practice. Our view is that these foundational ideas and dispositions can and must be taught and learned and are therefore essential components of the curriculum of teacher education. Incorporating them in multiple and repeated ways throughout the teacher education curriculum is part of our professional preparation mandate.

One of the challenges in teaching these big ideas is imagining what they “look like” in practice. Take the idea of “knowing the learner,” for example. This idea makes sense to most novice teachers. Yet, it is less obvious what a teacher’s practice looks like if she or he holds deep knowledge of his or her learners. What does learner-responsive teaching look like? How do teachers learn about their students? How do they use what they know about their learners as they make their subject matters accessible to them?

Examples from practice

These short clips - all of which can be used as teacher education "texts" - were taken from three of the Quest K-12 sites. In different ways, each illustrates practice that is informed by knowledge of the learner. Clicking on the teacher’s name will take you to her full site where you can find many other examples of learner responsive teaching. If you click on the image, you can view this particular teaching episode

Example #1 - Mattie Davis: Conferencing with students/conferencing with individuals

Commentary: Mattie takes time to talk individually with her students so she can learn about each child’s interests and ideas, build trust in their relationships, and provide support for individual learning goals. In this clip, Mattie is helping Jerome see himself as a capable writer who can use his past experiences as material for composing stories in their classroom Writers Workshop.

Example #2 - Melissa Pedraza: Inclusion/adapted guided reading

Commentary:  Melissa adapts her Guided Reading group to meet the needs of her early literacy learners. She covers some key words with Post-it notes in Sarah’s book, a student in her class who needs review in using picture clues as a reading strategy. Melissa encourages Sarah to use the pictures in her book as clues for predicting the covered words and then models for her how to check her predictions against the actual text.

Commentary:  Knowing her adolescent learners, Yvonne begins this teaching episode by asking her students to work with someone not in their own clique. The task itself, which requires her students to think about and share things that matter to them, provides her a window into her students’ lives as well.

Other examples of foundational ideas and dispositions demonstrated on the K12 sites and drawn upon by the Quest teacher educators

In addition to "knowing the learner," what other foundational ideas are there and where can they be found on the Quest K-12 sites? Below we suggest several of these ideas that the teacher educators in this Perspective have taught in their courses. Though we have chosen to highlight several key ideas (and the dispositions associated with them) as examples, we do not consider this a finished list of any sort, but rather as an invitation for others to consider what foundational ideas they believe are critical to principled practice in their settings. We recognize that because of the dynamic relationship between educational theory and practice, professional understandings of foundational knowledge will be vary across contexts and over time as new understandings and new research on teaching and learning emerge. Thus, while we believe that the topics we describe below can be considered foundational for all teachers, we recognize that there are other foundational ideas and dispositions which will be shaped by specific sociocultural, socioeconomic, and political educational contexts. We propose that principled teaching---where teachers are ultimately concerned with social justice goals of equal and excellent outcomes for all students---reflects professional commitments to ideas such as those we’ve identified here.

As the fleshed-out examples in the various pages of this Perspective demonstrate, these foundational ideas can be taught in various classes in the teacher education curriculum. Because they are core to the work of teaching, our view is that they can and should be taught in repeated ways over the teacher preparation process. For this Perspective, we clips from the K-12 Quest sites that the teacher educators drew on for their teaching. If you look at the teacher educator sites (links to the three teacher ed. sites), you will see these examples and how the teacher educator used these examples of practice (and others like them) to teach the foundational ideas in their courses.

Taking an inquiry stance in teaching (more)

Commentary: Sarah talks with a colleague during a teacher research meeting where they are reflecting on the structures that support English language development in her classroom. With her colleagues, Sarah watches a video of Betty and Diana, two ELL students in her classroom. Afterwards they collectively engage in discussion of what they see in the video and how this work informs their understanding of successfully teaching their ELL students.


Commentary: After her research meeting, Sarah asks her students to engage with her in an inquiry about their work in the classroom. Sarah has her students watch the video of Betty and Diana working together to complete a class assignment. Then, in this clip, we see Sarah asking her students to reflect on what they noticed in the video. Sarah uses the children’s responses to inform a class list they co-construct of the strategies that good English language learners use.

Knowing one's learners for teaching them well

Commentary: Throughout the school year, Claire learns about her students by asking them to respond in writing to several prompts (e.g., something they are proud of, about their pets, grandparents, what they wish for etc.). She then uses these essays to inform personal letters she composes for each of her students. In her letters, Claire attempts to capture each student’s self-image as reflected throughout their essays as well as her adult vision of their unique strengths and promise. Claire uses these personal letters to communicate to each student that she values them as individuals.

Constructing professional knowledge is part of teaching practice

Commentary: To understand her students’ experience of doing the participant action research project in her 6th grade classroom Emily documented what she saw in the form of narratives.  In this clip she reflects on what she learned from writing these narratives and how what she learned will influence her practice as a result.

Commentary: In this 15 minute video Vanessa documents the evolution of her teaching and her thinking about her teaching over a year’s time.  The work represented here underscores the idea that throughout one’s career teachers continue to construct professional knowledge that will inform their continued growth.


Acting with intention to interrupt cycles of inequity in teaching and learning

Ellen Franz talks about insistence
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Commentary: Ellen talks about “insistence” as one of the strategies she uses for supporting her African American students to be high achievers.  Here she describes what insistence looks like on a daily basis in her classroom.

Ellen Franz talks about building relationships with familiesships wi
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Commentary: Ellen explains how she implements culturally relevant pedagogy and curriculum in her classroom in order to lessen the cultural dissonances that exist between herself (a white, female teacher) and her African American students and their families. She identifies several strategies that she uses consistently—insistence, clear expectations; and strong relationships with parents and families—that have resulted in improving her students’ academic skills and understandings.


Commentary: In reflecting on her role and responsibility as a teacher of adolescents - and adolescents who are in traditionally oppressed groups - Yvonne explains how her teaching is directed at helping her students see themselves as empowered knowers.  In this clip we hear the thinking of a teacher whose practice reflects an intention to break the cycle of inequity that is pervasive in American schools.