Many teachers and leaders associate CLASS® with preschool. And we get it! It’s used in early childhood classrooms across the country, including Head Start programs, and it’s been more important than ever for young children as they begin to return to in-person learning.
But the principles of CLASS - Emotional Support, Classroom Organization, Instructional Support - are important for children well beyond Pre-K. The ever-increasing research base shows that interactions matter for children’s social-emotional and academic development. That’s why CLASS is organized to support children from infancy to high school with the developmentally appropriate interactions that drive learning - and why K-12 leaders are embracing CLASS in their schools.
We spoke with David Adams, CEO of The Urban Assembly, and Dr. Elena Hill, Assistant Superintendent for Early Childhood in Dallas ISD, to share their successes from their diverging contexts. At The Urban Academy, David uses CLASS to support his secondary teachers in their “advisory,” a time of day set aside to promote social-emotional learning (SEL) and build relationships with students. In Dallas ISD, Elena has aligned her K-2 teachers with their Pre-K peers by embedding CLASS into ongoing coaching cycles that all of the early grades use.
So, what advice do they have for those just dipping their toes into the K-12 CLASS waters?
All learning is social-emotional learning. With older students, the focus on SEL can slip away in favor of academic learning. But as David emphasized, all of the academics are predicated on the relationships and emotional safety created by teachers and students. These ideas can feel abstract, more of a “what” to do than a “how” to do it. CLASS gave David’s and Elena’s teachers the tools to target and improve on specific behaviors that make a big impact on students.
Buy-in is essential. A barrier that both leaders identified quickly was the potential for this to feel like an add-on for teachers who are already stretched thin. For Elena, this meant up-front training in using the tool for instructional specialists and professional development for teachers. Dallas ISD also embedded CLASS language and principles directly into their existing coaching tools. This meant that everyone was able to start with a shared understanding of the kinds of interactions that were most important, and, critically, why they matter, then build systematically around these topics across the year. That takes the stress off of a given score and makes it actionable.
David and The Urban Assembly also stressed leading with why and making a quick bridge to how with ongoing feedback. All of this comes together to make teachers feel supported and like this isn’t just the “flavor of the week” - as he put it, “I can get better, I’m cared about, and I can care about my kids.”
A unified lens empowers teachers. Even though most teachers agreed that relationships are important, they lacked a shared language around what “right” looks like and how to get there. CLASS gave them a shared vocabulary and created a “shared orientation.” David explains, “The specifics give teachers the power to do this. That helps them grow. When we’re clear with our feedback, that empowers our teachers to do the things they’re already doing more intentionally...here’s what it looks like, here’s some standard naming, and here’s time to practice.” It also brings instructional leaders into alignment with teachers and allows for a clearer focus. For example, at The Urban Assembly, they spent a long time on a cycle of learning focused on peer-to-peer interactions in their advisory. This narrow focus allowed teachers to become meaningfully better, with those results reflected in their students as well.
When you stick with it, it works. Both Dallas ISD and The Urban Assembly stressed seeing this as both a short- and long-term plan. In the short term, teachers can see week-to-week incremental progress with coaching guidance from instructional specialists or leaders. In this context, CLASS is a formative tool that gives ongoing information, not just something that rolls out around the beginning and end of the year. As Elena put it, “As a leader, if I’m only looking at the end-of-year data or comparing from year to year, I’m missing the things that help teachers build capacity.”
But the longer-term is where the magic happens. David explained, “It takes time to get better. If we’re all over the place, we don’t give teachers a chance to improve.” His overall message: “Get something, stick with it, and invest in what works.” And his schools’ evaluation data shows that it works. Since using CLASS, The Urban Assembly has increased teachers’ social-emotional competence, school climate, perceptions of trust, and perceptions of a supportive learning environment. Credit accumulation - needed to stay on track for graduation - improved by 15%. Suspensions are down 42%. They also found that substantial shares of academic learning were due to social-emotional competence (40% in middle school, 33% in high school).
All of these successes are enabled by CLASS: giving organizations a shared language, providing teachers with meaningful feedback and steps for change, and bridging the social-emotional and academic content in ways that allow for continuous quality improvement.
InterAct is Teachstone’s practitioner-focused summit. We’ll be highlighting key sessions from Spring 2021 in the coming weeks. Need more CLASS discussion? Another CLASS Summit is coming in Fall 2021 - sign up for updates! And if you want to learn more about bringing CLASS to your K-12 learning space, we’d love to get in touch.
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When I was a teacher, I can remember taking care to intentionally plan differentiated, or individualized, instruction. And, when I was teaching pre-K I added the same level of intentionality to which materials were available in interest areas, and how I approached transitions throughout the day.
While any level of intentionally, specifically in relation to planning, is important -- I missed a critical opportunity in being more intentional in my interactions with the children in my class.
There is always an opportunity for interaction. Some opportunities are easily recognizable: times of play, free choice, centers, small group. We often see teachers engaged in activities alongside children during these times or hear questions being asked. Other opportunities might be a little less obvious. These are the times of your day that you might see as mundane moments that merely require your supervision or monitoring. The times where you’re going through the motions. “I’m doing this thing so I can move on to the next thing.”
In a previous blog, colleague and early childhood environment extraordinaire, Heather Sason, discussed how your classroom environment can help promote effective teacher-child interactions. In this blog, I propose we explore some of the often overlooked times in your day that are ripe for interactions with children and that do promote exploration, learning, and development!
It's not uncommon for teachers in early education to need to strike a balance between following children's leads and sticking to the classroom schedule. We know that intentional teachers are aware of their responsibility to assess student progress, understand skill mastery, and plan accordingly to provide opportunities for children to grow. However, many times, as teachers begin a specific teacher-directed activity, it is unsettling when students begin to veer from the step-by-step plans the teacher has worked hard to implement.
Teacher and coach, Colleen Schmit, will share how teachers can strike the balance between following the lesson plans and giving children freedom of choice and flexibility in the classroom.
We’re more than a month into the school year, and many educators and school leaders are feeling tired or burnt out already. That’s normal in any school year, as the newness of back-to-school wanes and the reality of a long year ahead kicks in. But, this year, that tiredness may feel like it has never felt before. Chalkbeat has reported that teacher vacancies are up in 18 of 20 large school districts, and it’s not surprising. Many are exhausted after a difficult year and a half (to put it mildly!). Many are also leaving the profession in droves to find work in competitive environments that provide a substantially larger salary.