The study examined the beliefs of kindergarten teachers (K-teachers) regarding the goals of kindergarten. We asked K-teachers to reflect on their own beliefs, their understanding of parents’ beliefs, and their understanding of the beliefs that guide agents of the education system. We further examined differences between K-teachers based on the type of kindergarten in which they worked (religious or secular) and the socioeconomic status of children’s families (middle-high or middle-low). A total of 120 K-teachers responded to closed questionnaires, and 12 teachers also participated in a semistructured interview.
The results revealed an incongruence between K-teachers’ perspectives and their understanding of the positions of parents and of agents of the education system. K-teachers evaluated fostering children’s positive self-esteem as the most important goal and promoting literacy and mathematics skills as the least important. They believed, however, that parents and agents of the education system regard children’s advancement in literacy and mathematics skills as the most important goal.
Practice or Policy
Recognizing this incongruence facilitates understanding of the rationale behind K-teachers’ actions and their relationships with parents and professional partners. It enables identification of topics that need to be addressed by the professional education community in order to create a dialogue among K-teachers, families, and policymakers.
Conclusions and Implications
This study facilitates understanding of the rationale behind Israeli K-teachers’ actions in classes and their communication with parents and with agents of the education system. Similarly, it helps in identifying the topics that need to be raised in the educational professional agenda and reveals the source of the tension in K-teachers’ everyday work that needs to be addressed (e.g., parents’ demands in a competitive and achievement-oriented society). We think that the Israeli case study presented here illuminates the common experience of educators in general and those in Western society in particular. That is, teachers continually search for ways to reconcile their own views with their perceptions of parents’ demands and requirements of the educational system, all transpiring against the backdrop of rapidly changing social realities.
K-teachers believe that the most important goals in the kindergarten curriculum are the ones they perceive as least important to agents of the education system and to parents. Even if the incongruence that K-teachers experience exists only in their minds, their perceptions matter because they likely influence teachers’ feelings and, potentially, their actual educational practices. Therefore, our study highlights the need to acknowledge and discuss the significance of this perceived incongruence. Most important, it calls for the coordination of expectations among teachers, parents, and education agents. Although K-teachers report that they make efforts to coordinate expectations with parents, their individual efforts are often insufficient to overcome tensions. Therefore, teacher educators and professional supervisors should not leave K-teachers on their own in this mission. Creating a dialogue among K-teachers, families, and policymakers is essential in order to create a common vision among all participants in young children’s development. Having shared expectations may mitigate the sense of pressure experienced by K-teachers and can enhance trust between all stakeholders involved.
The conclusions from this study are consistent with the ecological approach (Bronfenbrenner, 1979), which indicates that teachers are influenced by interpretations of expectations coming from the social environment. We think that those interpretations should be seen as an integral part of teachers’ professional beliefs. The theoretical ideas expressed by teachers about what is right or wrong for them, for their pupils, or for their discipline is not the only component that impacts their beliefs. This insight may help to interpret findings of studies that examine the relationship between teachers’ beliefs and practices. We frequently ask K-teachers “What is your opinion on what is right or wrong?” and then measure the gaps between their statements and practices. The results of our study call for another approach—we might ask teachers about their beliefs in a way that enables them to express the complexity of their reality: “What do you think is right?” “What do you think about the main expectations of the partners in your social environment?” and “What do you think is the best thing to do under the given circumstances?” Such an approach may give us information to specify where to focus our attention when reforms are needed.
This study joins a growing body of research that argues that educational reforms have to take into account teachers’ own beliefs and their perception of the community’s socioideological values (Fang, 1996; Pedersen & Liu, 2003; Yero, 2002). Gallant (2009) studied K-teachers’ experiences and reported that many teachers felt frustrated by requirements, disempowered, and pushed by administrators to implement new policies that were not compatible with their beliefs or their practical context. Researchers have emphasized the need to listen to and support teachers as they face the need to make a change (Gallant, 2009; Van Veen & Sleegers, 2006; Zembylas, 2010). In light of such an understanding, we emphasize the need not just to listen to and support K-teachers on pedagogical issues but to discuss with them the prevailing cultural ideological issues that form the expectations of them.