What does effective teaching look like in preschool?

There's a lot of talk--and policy--these days directed at fostering "effective teaching" to boost student achievement. You would think there was a common definition of effective teaching, or an agreed upon way to determine which qualities and approaches make teachers effective, but so far it has proven elusive. Even how to measure effective teaching is a subject of great debate. The Gates Foundation is investing millions to get to the bottom of these questions.

But for the most part, the focus on effective teaching is limited to the grades when students are tested--starting in the third grade. What does does effective teaching mean for our littlest students, those in PreK and kindergarten? Does the term even apply?

Surely all of us can remember great teachers who made an impact early in our lives. They inspired us, comforted us, made us feel confident, safe, excited, thrilled by discovery and hungry to learn. They taught us important life lessons that we still carry with us today. ("Aparna, don't stare at others when they're eating--it's not polite," my preschool teacher, Ms. Ellis said, reprimanding me ever so gently as I coveted my friend's peanut butter sandwich. To this day, I dare not.)

The Washington Post yesterday profiled one such beloved teacher. Louise Chapman retired this year as a preschool and kindergarten teacher at Peabody Elementary's School Within a School, a program within the DCPS school in Capitol Hill. Her former teachers and colleagues marveled at Ms. Chapman's patience and gentle ways of inspiring brilliance in her young pupils. She gave them the time they needed to process and answer questions, letting them fill long silences that could make grownups feel awkward. She just seemed to have a way with young children.

But most people agree, effective teaching is not just an art. There's also a science--or at least a method--to it. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has many online resources for preschool teachers looking for ideas and strategies to use in the classroom.

We need to give all early education teachers and caregivers opportunities for professional development. Great teachers never stop learning and working to improve. Ms. Chapman, the article said, is attending teaching workshops this summer.