The CLASS measure allows us to quantify the quality of teacher-child interactions—and that is a powerful thing. But collecting observation data, alone, does nothing to impact students. Improving child outcomes takes more than just data collection; it’s what you do with the data that really matters.
During my time at Teachstone, I’ve seen too many programs use CLASS observation data solely to provide summative feedback. Although this is certainly a valid use of data, the most successful coaches I’ve spoken with use CLASS data to provide individualized, formative feedback to teachers—and they also use that data to determine what sorts of professional development will be most relevant and impactful to individual teachers. Of course, scheduling regular CLASS observations at the individual teacher level can be both time and cost prohibitive, which leads me to my next point ...
It is critical to establish a systematic cycle for teacher improvement throughout the year in order to achieve incremental gains—Teachstone recommends conducting regular observations that will inform coaching and professional development. Generally, the more formal observations a program conducts, the better; but less formal, anecdotal observations are important, too! Coaches collect anecdotal observation notes in many ways; for example, a coach might offer to watch a particular lesson for the teacher’s use of Language Modeling. For the teacher, this provides an objective, specific, and detailed account of her interactions in this dimension (without the added stress of being assigned a score). This also allows the coach to better provide individualized support.
Let’s be honest—if you’re trying to establish a supportive, coaching relationship with a teacher, that’s going to be really difficult if you’re also planning to use their observation data as a “gotcha” measure or to call out their “problem areas.” When using CLASS data in a formative way—to differentiate support, goals, and professional development plans—it must be associated with achievement, rather than punishment.
The best data tells a story—and when it comes to CLASS data—that is the story of improving interactions, and ultimately, outcomes for children. While data can be used at the individual teacher level to differentiate coaching and professional development, administrators also have stories to tell. For example: How has our new coaching initiative impacted CLASS scores over time? Who are the standout teachers in my organization? How well are we achieving our goals this year? Data is a critical tool from the individual teacher level all the way to highest levels of our educational leadership.
Student engagement is crucial for learning. Students who understand the rules and routines of the classroom and have something to do are less likely to engage in disruptive behavior, allowing the teacher to focus more on instruction. Engagement is only heightened when teachers make learning come alive. Warm, caring, and responsive teachers inspire students to focus on classroom activities, be it a read-aloud in an early childhood classroom or a writing activity in an upper grade classroom.
I embarked on my longest trip to date to provide a pre-conference presentation and keynote address at the Early Childhood Care and Education International Rendezvous in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. During my three days at the conference, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend over 15 research presentations by early childhood educators from around the world including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Australia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Brunei, Malaysia, Mauritius, and Austria.
Strong cognitive skills in early childhood are associated with later school success. Cognitive skills are the mental processes that help us think, analyze, reason, and solve problems. These mental processes are complex and include a number of sub-skills that include attention, perception, memory, use of language, problem solving, and creativity – a set of skills referred to as executive function.
There are plenty of pre-K skeptics out there. How much can one year of playing on the rug, singing songs, and learning how to share really help kids in the long term? Some recent research supports the idea of “fadeout,” such as the study of Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K. It found that even though students who had enrolled in pre-K entered kindergarten ahead of their peers, this advantage dissipated by the end of their first year of elementary school. By second grade, pre-K completers were actually behind.