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Knowing all students

All students are active, capable learners with unique potential. However, students demonstrate competence in a range of ways and progress at different rates. A key role of the teacher is to really get to know their students, so that they can help them to recognise their competencies, demonstrate their strengths, and work towards their aspirations.

To build awareness of your current practice, you can ask:

  • How do I encourage each student to participate in learning? How do I acknowledge their strengths and support the development of them?
  • Do I use a growing knowledge of my students to make connections to their prior learning and enhance the relevance of new learning?
  • Have I identified strategies that are most likely to support my students to learn?
  • How does my teaching impact on my students?

Addressing such questions will help you to think of each student as a competent and capable learner. It will encourage you to get to know students with an "inside" rather than an "outside" view.

"We often stop at the outside of the child, focussing on how they appear, rather than looking through to the inside. For Pasifika students, looking inside is key to understanding important cultural values and principles, so that these can be used as a part of the foundation for learning."

Pasifika education facilitator, project interview, 2013

Knowing our learners requires us as teachers to build relationships with them and to understand what we bring to these relationships – we need to know ourselves well in order to be able to really come to know our learners. Sometimes, our own beliefs and perspectives about disability and diversity may determine how we see, know, and teach students. Our assumptions can either support inclusive practices or be barriers to students participating and learning.

If students come with "labels" or diagnosed disabilities, we should not assume they are less capable of learning than their peers. When we act on such assumptions, we may inadvertently deprive them of the chance to engage in the same activities and opportunities as other students. As we build knowledge of their strengths and aspirations, we are more likely to provide opportunities for them to realise their potential as active learners. The challenges they face should not be ignored, but nor should they limit them from learning within the New Zealand Curriculum with their peers.


In Example 9, a years 5–6 teacher builds on what she knows about her students to plan a science unit and creates space for students to bring their interests and talents to the fore – in the process, she learns more about her students and they learn from each other.

Next – Encouraging student voice

Published on: 02 Jun 2015