1.1 Physical, social and intellectual development and characteristics of students.

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What does this descriptor look like at different levels?

Physical, social and intellectual development and characteristics of students is the first descriptor of the first standard of the APST.

This descriptor expects Australian teachers to understand how young people learn. It is important for educators to understand how the brain grows and changes throughout childhood and adolescence so they they can work with these changes to help young people develop in the best way possible.

There are certain aspects of child development that are true of all of our students. All of them will build and prune connections in their brains at different times and they will have different social and emotional needs as they grow.

A part of this standard is knowing how the brain forms connections but also how our needs for relationships grow and change. Teachers are also expected to understand the specific needs of their students such as those with ADHD, ASD and other neurodiverse students.

See more: Australian Professional Standards for Teachers Terminology Explained

As with every descriptor that makes up the seven Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, there are a number of different levels. This descriptor expects slightly different things depending on what career stage you are at:


What does it look like?

At the Graduate level, teachers are expected to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of physical, social and intellectual development and characteristics of students and how these may affect learning.

This means that teachers at this level aren’t necessarily expected to act on this knowledge or use it explicitly in their planning and teaching. Teachers will need to have attained this level before graduating with a teaching degree so there are many university courses that will make sure that you are up-to-speed with this descriptor.

What evidence can I collect?

A lot of your evidence for this descriptor will come from your uni assignments. Keeping any work that you have done on the development of children is a good idea as you can use it later as a foundation for the higher levels of this standard.

You can also annotate different lesson and unit plans to explain what decisions you made that relate to the developmental stage or characteristics of your students. You will not be able to do this until you have designed some lessons, though.

You may also like to gather evidence in the form of individual learning plans or profiles of your students. These plans often require you to think about the physical, social and intellectual characteristics of each student and what adjustments need to be made to make sure that they can learn.


What does it look like?

At the Proficient level, teachers are expected to use teaching strategies based on knowledge of students’ physical, social and intellectual development and characteristics to improve student learning.

As you move from Graduate to Proficient, it is not enough to simply know this stuff anymore. You will need to be able to point to aspects of your teaching and say that you did that because you know your students.

What evidence can I collect?

Annotated documents are your best friends here. The key is that you need to explain why you’ve made a decision – it’s not enough for an assessor to be able to assume that you know what you were doing.

If you’ve differentiated a task, explain why. Talk about what students you have in your class and how you’ve scaffolded it to suit their needs. Have you simplified the language for a younger age group? Have you cut it up into bite-sized chunks for students with ADHD? Have you made the instructions very specific and detailed for a student with ASD?

All of these little decisions that you make every day as a teacher are based on what you know about the young people that you teach. If you’re struggling to come up with evidence, think about:

  • Why wouldn’t this lesson work with a younger age group?
  • Why wouldn’t this lesson work with adults?

In answering these questions, you should need to use your knowledge of the characteristics of the young people that you are teaching.

Highly Accomplished

What does it look like?

At the Highly Accomplished level, teachers are expected to select from a flexible and effective repertoire of teaching strategies to suit the physical, social and intellectual development and characteristics of students.

This level of the descriptor understands that you’re never going to be able to predict a situation and you’re never going to know everything about your students. As a teacher, you are always learning and adapting as you go, even within the same lesson. A Highly Accomplished teacher is expected to be able to have a great enough understanding of young people that they can be flexible; that they have enough knowledge and ideas that they could try to change things up as they need.

What evidence can I collect?

At this level, annotated documents probably aren’t going to be enough anymore. Lesson or unit plans with a range of different strategies and resources listed can be great evidence for this descriptor, but you are likely to need some lesson observation data as well.

To be able to really show that you have a flexible repertoire, you’re going to need to be put in a situation that you didn’t expect. Teachers experience this every day regardless of what level you are working at, but Highly Accomplished teachers are expected to use their knowledge and understanding to respond to these situations whereas a lower level teacher may be able to get away with a more emotional reaction or one that they can’t justify as well.

That’s not to say that Proficient and Graduate teachers behave to these situations improperly, but that they are not expected to be able to justify everything that they do with the firm scientific backing that a Highly Accomplished teacher can.

See more: Lesson Observations – Common Questions and Concerns for Teachers


What does it look like?

At the Lead level, teachers are expected to lead colleagues to select and develop teaching strategies to improve student learning using knowledge of the physical, social and intellectual development and characteristics of students.

This level of the descriptor requires you to be implementing change on a larger scale than just your own classroom. You need to be using your knowledge and understanding of how students learn to build systems and resources for other teachers to improve their teaching as well.

What evidence can I collect?

There are a range of different types of evidence that you can collect for this descriptor. Meeting minutes are great because they show how work is delegated amongst a team and can show evidence of your leadership and teamwork towards a common goal. Annotated documents are again a great piece of evidence. To provide evidence at the Lead level, you will want to have policies, procedures, or broader curriculum documents that demonstrate your influence on school-wide practice.

Learn about the other focus areas and descriptors for Standard 1:

1.2 Understand how students learn

1.3 Students with diverse linguistic, cultural, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds

1.4 Strategies for teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students

1.5 Differentiate teaching to meet the specific learning needs of students across the full range of abilities

1.6 Strategies to support the full participation of students with a disability

Elise is an enthusiastic and passionate Australian teacher who is on a mission to inspire and support fellow educators. With over a decade of experience in the classroom, Elise leverages her expertise and creativity to provide valuable insights and resources through her blog. Whether you're looking for innovative lesson ideas, effective teaching strategies, or just a dose of inspiration, Elise has got you covered.

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