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How Becoming a CLASS Observer is Like Learning to Drive

26 Jan 2017 by Cierra Johnson

I remember the first time I walked out my house and saw the used 2000 GMC Yukon that my dad had purchased for me. It was bright red and huge compared to my 5’3” self. There was just one small problem—I didn’t know how to drive. The agreement was that the car would be mine if I passed the driver’s test. I thought to myself, “How hard could it be? I have seen people drive my entire life!”

Over the next 6 months, my father taught me how to drive. Each day I learned something new. On the first day, he taught me about the car. I learned how it was made, how to care for it, how to identify the parts underneath the hood, and how to control it. The next day, he let me test-drive it. I can still remember his tone and the look on his face when I slammed on the gas and took us flying into the street. Filled with fear, he screamed, “Cierra! Stop! You’re going to kill us! Easy there, killer!” I slammed on the brakes and we both shot forward in our seats. This was the start of my driving career.

Fast-forward six months and I was a pretty decent driver. Not the best, but hey, I could get you from point A to point B ... alive! I knew how to work my car and I knew the driving rules and regulations. I took my test and passed with flying colors. I walked out the assessment building with a huge smile on my face and my chin held high because I knew that red GMC Yukon was mine!

You’re probably thinking, “Great story, Cierra, but what does this have to do with conducting a CLASS training?” Well, almost everything! I have been driving for more than a decade and consider myself to be a good driver. I have also been CLASS-trained for several years and consider myself to be a reliable observer. There is something that happens when you become reliable or good at something: you forget how it felt to be a beginner. Right now, my cousin is starting to learn how to drive and I am teaching her. Things that are second nature to me are challenging to her. I often grow impatient and find myself thinking, “Come on! The left pedal means stop and the right means go!” (While simultaneously bouncing back and forth as she drives down the street with both feet!)

Sometimes as trainers we forget what it’s like to be new to CLASS, especially if we have been reliable in the tool for years. I know some trainers who have been reliable on the CLASS tool for almost a decade! However, just as we attended the 2-day CLASS observation training with little to no prior knowledge, we must remember our participants are in the same boat. My first training experience was a four-day training with Toddler first, followed by Pre-K. By the end of the fourth day, there was smoke coming from my brain! I try to remember this feeling each time I deliver CLASS training.

Just like I had to learn how my car was built and how it worked, my participants now learn how the CLASS tool was created and how to follow the coding process. Just like I had to test drive the Yukon, my participants have to test drive the CLASS with exemplar and training videos.

Learning how to drive can be hard and so can becoming a reliable CLASS observer. If we trainers can reflect on and remember our first experiences learning to code, we will be able to create a sensitive environment where our participants feel comfortable learning and taking risks as they enter the CLASS world and learn to "drive" on their own.

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