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    • Reflect on what it means to be a responsive preschool teacher.
    • Reflect on what it means to be a socially-emotionally competent preschool teacher.
    • Brainstorm how to cultivate and nurture social-emotional competence in your preschool classroom and program.




    How do you nurture and sustain your social-emotional health in your personal life? Are there rituals or activities you engage in that make you feel more connected to yourself or to others? Are there individuals who nurture and inspire you to be and feel your best?

    What about in your professional life? How do you foster your social-emotional health at work? What elements of your work environment sustain your social-emotional health? Is it relationships with coworkers or supervisors? Is it the freedom to work independently to plan experiences and use materials? Is it guidance and constructive feedback from colleagues? Is it sharing concerns, ideas and brainstorming solutions when situations arise? Is it relationships with children and families?

    Throughout this course, you have been learning about the importance of being a responsive caregiver for children’s social-emotional development and that caring, responsive, and attentive adults can foster children’s social-emotional competence and growth. So what does it mean to be a responsive adult? Responsiveness is seen when an adult changes how he or she interacts with a child to match the child’s needs. The adult supports the child, responds immediately, and reacts with positive affect that matches the child’s needs and development.

    What Does It Mean To Be A Responsive Preschool Teacher?

    Researchers Carl Dunst and Danielle Kassow (2008) have identified key characteristics of sensitivity and responsiveness in caregiver-child relationships. Although Dunst and Kassow’s (2008) research focused on defining sensitive caregiving for infants or toddlers, below we outline the responsive characteristics that are most important for preschooler teachers. In the Explore section of this lesson, you will have an opportunity to reflect on these elements as they relate to your own experiences in preschool.

    Dunst and Kassow’s 6 Characteristics of Responsiveness

    • Children playing with sand
    • Positive attitude:

      The teacher frequently smiles, laughs and provides positive statements to children. For example, a teacher may smile at children as they arrive in the morning and say, “I am so happy to see you this morning!” or the teacher may smile and laugh in response to a child telling a joke. Research suggests that teachers should provide five positive statements for every directive or negative statement. Negative or directive statements include demands (e.g., “Stop running on the playground”), nags (e.g., “I keep telling you to stop dripping water on the floor”), criticism (“Julian, you are not listening or doing what you are supposed to do”), or avoidance of a particular child (e.g., the teacher may see a child struggling with an activity and avoid the opportunity to help). Teachers should avoid and limit negative and directive statements. Positive statements can be verbal or nonverbal. Nonverbal positive statements can include following the child’s lead in play, hugs, smiles, specific praise and encouragement, listening to a child tell a story or talk about an experience, or giving positive comments to a child’s mom and dad upon arrival or departure.

    • Support:

      The teacher is available and helps each child develop. For example, many preschool children are learning to share toys and take turns with peers. The teacher arranges multiple opportunities each day for children to practice taking turns during different classroom activities, such as circle, center and snack time or outdoor play. The teacher supports children in taking turns and sharing by modeling turn taking, physically supporting children, and providing encouragement and specific praise for sharing and taking turns.

    • Response quality:

      The teacher responds immediately and appropriately to match the child’s needs. For example, if a child in the classroom fell and is crying because of a scratch, the teacher calmly talks to the child until he or she is calmed down and helps the child bandage the affected area. If the child is excited because he or she has just mastered a new skill (such as riding a tricycle), the teacher responds with excitement as well.

    • Preschooler coloring with Teacher
    • Synchrony:

      The relationship between the teacher and child is reciprocal and rewarding for both parties. For example, the teacher and the child laugh together as they read a favorite silly book, or they enjoy taking turns singing silly songs while washing hands before snack time.

    • Stimulation:

      The teacher arranges the environment to provide multiple opportunities for play and learning, as well as the engagement and encouragement of children. The teacher includes a range of developmentally appropriate materials in the classroom, intentionally uses opportunities to teach children to take turns engaging and playing with the materials, and monitors children to ensure they are engaged and learning form their environment. Additionally, the teacher acknowledges individual differences, preferences, and learning styles in children and is responsive to their needs.

    • Mutuality:

      The adult and child frequently share attention to objects, events and people in the environment and discuss them. For example, while playing on the playground, the teacher and child both observe a bird flying over their heads, or during snack time, a teacher and children may look and talk about a new poster on the wall.

    • Teacher instructing preschool child about the proper usage of wooden blocks

    What does it Mean to be a Socially and Emotionally Competent Preschool Teacher?

    Social-emotional growth and development is a crucial part of the human experience; it helps us learn things about ourselves, establish and maintain relationships with others, and allows for meaningful learning experiences. In your daily interactions with preschool-age children, it is your responsibility to build relationships with them and foster relationships among children by designing supportive environments and by being responsive. Building relationships is an essential, primary component of good teaching.

    In Lesson One, you had the opportunity to explore your own views on social-emotional development. This lesson extends this exploration by encouraging you to consider social-emotional development in your workplace and ask yourself what it means to be a socially and emotionally competent preschool teacher.

    In your work, you are responsible for creating meaningful experiences that incorporate opportunities for the practice of social-emotional skills throughout the day. Being a socially and emotionally competent teacher can be expressed in a number of different ways:

    • Taking time to work on establishing and maintaining relationships with children and colleagues in your classroom and program
    • Trying to work out solutions to challenges
    • Demonstrating flexibility
    • Allowing yourself to make mistakes
    • Being nurturing and responsive
    • Trying new things
    • Asking for help or support when facing difficulties
    • Helping others in need
    • Being willing to accept new or different perspectives
    • Embracing diversity
    • Being open-minded
    • Sharing your own emotions and thoughts

    What are some of your own views about being a socially-emotionally competent preschool teacher? Pause for a few moments and think about this. .


    VIDEO | Click here to watch TED Talks' "Talks from inspiring teachers" (


    Cultivating and Nurturing Social-Emotional Competence in your Preschool Classroom and Program

    Social-emotional competence helps you become part of a workplace community that feels welcoming, supportive, friendly, energetic, and nurturing. It helps you engage children, families, and colleagues in a range of meaningful ways. Consider the following when engaging with children, families, and colleagues in your program.

    Engaging with children

    • Demonstrate empathy and compassion when working with children. Inspire children to be empathetic and compassionate by demonstrating these attributes yourself.
    • Demonstrate positive social skills with children throughout the day, encourage children to do the same, and positively reinforce them when doing so.
    • Use children’s backgrounds, experiences, and interests as inspiration for ideas about experiences and activities in your classroom.
    • Cultivate a climate of respect and appreciation of individual differences in your classroom. Invite children to share their views and experiences with you.
    • Demonstrate respect for children’s values and opinions. Your example will be setting the tone for how children view themselves and for how they treat others.

    Engaging with families

    • Families can be your program’s window into culturally responsive experiences. Invite families to share meaningful experiences.
    • Provide opportunities for families of the children in your classroom and program to meet and get to know each other.
    • Invite families to observe and participate in some of your classroom activities.
    • Send home books with the children about emotions and social-emotional skills.
    • Encourage families to nurture social-emotional skills at home by extending some of your classroom and school experiences in the home environment.

    Engaging with colleagues

    • Connect with your colleagues. Share your interests and experiences with colleagues during staff meetings, lunch breaks, or in-service days. Explain how these interests drive some of the experiences you create for children in your classroom. Get to know the people you work with on a personal level.
    • Exchange ideas with colleagues about experiences that foster social-emotional growth. Invite a colleague to come to your room, observe your activities, and give you feedback. Offer to do the same for your colleagues.
    • Ask a trainer, coach, or supervisor to observe your classroom so they can offer feedback about your use of materials and experiences to promote children’s social-emotional growth.
    • Acknowledge colleagues who are doing great things, who offer you guidance and constructive feedback, and who inspire you to strive for excellence and to be a team player.

    In the Learn section of this lesson, you will find information about the Top Ten Practices to Promote Social-Emotional Literacy in preschool classrooms.



    How do you define resilience and social-emotional development? How do the responsive teacher characteristics relate to you and your practice with children? These are important questions to think about.

    Download and print the Thinking About My Own Resilience, Responsive Teacher Checklist, and Responsive Teacher Checklist Self-Reflection handouts. Take a few minutes to read and respond to the questions in each of these handouts. Then, share and discuss your responses with a trainer, coach, or supervisor.



    Download and print the handout, Learning More About Resilience, which contains links to additional resources you can use to better understand and explore adult resilience and social-emotional well-being. After accessing and reviewing the video clips and information, share and discuss your experiences with a trainer, coach, or supervisor.




    Finish this statement: Synchrony, a trait of a responsive preschool teacher, is…


    True or False? Socially-emotionally competent preschool teachers do not ask for help or support during difficult situations.


    Which of the following actions will help you cultivate social-emotional competence in your program?

    References & Resources

    Berk, L. E. (2013). Child Development (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

    Carter, M., Cividances, W., Curtis, D., & Lebo, D. (2010). Becoming a Reflective Teacher. Teaching Young Children, 3(4), 18-20.

    Colker, L. J. (2010). Teaching Preschoolers to Think Optimistically. Teaching Young Children, 4(1), 20-23.

    Dunst, C., & Kassow, D. (2008). Caregiver Sensitivity, Contingent Social Responsiveness, and Secure Infant Attachment. Journal of Early and Intensive Behavior Intervention 5, 40-56.

    Joseph, G. E., & Strain, P. S. (2004). Building Positive Relationships with Young Children. Young Exceptional Children 7, 21-29.

    Joseph, G. E. & Strain, P. S. (2003). You’ve Got to Have Friends. Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning: Training Materials.

    National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2010). Becoming a Reflective Teacher (training supplements).

    Reivich, K. & Shatté, A. (2002). The Resilience Factor. New York, NY: Broadway Books.

    Schickeadanz, J. A., Hansen, K., & Forsyth, P. D. (2000). Understanding Children. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.

    Schneider, S. (2001). In Search of Realistic Optimism. American Psychologist 56 (3), 250–261.

    Seligman, M. E. P., Reivich, K., Jaycox, L., & Gillham, J. (1995). The Optimistic Child. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.

    Trawick-Smith, J. W. (2014). Early Childhood Development: A Multicultural Perspective, (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.