Over the last few weeks, I’ve interacted with teachers, coaches, and administrators as the “new” year begins for the adults and children in their care. What I am hearing has a common theme—frustration, disappointment, hope. What is going on? Well, maybe we can use the CLASS to think this through.
As we plan for the new children, new setting, new staff—there are a lot of moving parts. The truth is, time for intentional planning, reflection and considering the developmental needs of the children in our care is hard to find. I want to take a look at these moving parts with the hopes of helping us all ground ourselves in perspective. And while it’s hard to find the time, it’s really critical to ask yourself some questions. Try to remember, who they are? What is their reality?
Why don’t these kids know what to do? How do I help them understand? Does my vision for how children tell us what they need jell with how I respond? Try to remember that each child is an individual and they need support that meets their needs. Try to remember that each of us has our own story.
Now let’s imagine that you are 3 years old. Maybe you’ve been in early care since you were a baby, maybe this is your first group experience. Maybe your life experience has been one where someone helped you navigate your developmental needs, or maybe not. Maybe you are feeling a lot of big feelings: excitement (this could be really fun, look at all those cool toys!) or apprehension (wait, when do I get a snack, I’m hungry!) or confusion (what does “find your spot” mean anyway? I don’t see a spot, I see a colorful carpet). Does my teacher know what I’m feeling? Does my teacher see the world with my eyes? What if I make a mistake? What if I do the “right thing?" How do I know? Try to remember a time that you walked into an unknown situation. Maybe a new job. Did you need someone to orient you? How will you help these children know the answer? We need help and so do our children.
Breathe everyone. The first weeks of school are about guidance—showing the way, understanding the times of day. Moments of anxiety, moments of delight. As the adult, we have had the benefit of experience and we’ve learned from that. Our three year olds have been around for thirty six months. They are negotiating so many things. They want to please us. They are crushed when they get it wrong. What is it that you want them to experience during the day? Try to remember that they depend on us to make it all make sense.
So, how do we help? Be clear about your expectations. Be consistent in your responses. Plan for ways to help your children learn the rules. The first weeks should be all about learning the ropes. Be kind. Mistakes are embarrassing, humiliating, or maybe opportunities to learn. If your teacher helps you find the way without shaming you, by telling you what is the right thing AND WHY—your days become predictable, you can focus on the fun, your peers, your relationships. Try to remember that you are setting the stage for a child’s memory of their experience with you. Children are children and do not have the capacity to manage their emotions and behavior without your help.
Try to remember that the children will always remember how you responded.
So, it’s June and you have just wrapped up the year with your students. They have made tremendous progress over the course of the year. The routine of the day flows naturally, the expectations about what is and isn’t appropriate behavior is fairly clear to all of them (and to you), and you leave the school year feeling confident that they are ready for the new challenges that lie ahead. You go into the summer months looking forward to a much needed break, but also looking forward to your new group of students in the fall.
As a Certified CLASS Affiliate Trainer, I enjoy reading the discussion posts and responses in the CLASS Learning Community. It gives me further insight into the areas that teachers have questions about, and the responses and techniques that members of the community are sharing with others. Usually I just sit back, read along, and take it all in.
Then recently someone posted, “I'd love some great examples of what Quality of Feedback looks like when you're working with less verbal children. For instance... creating an effective feedback loop off of what a child does more so than what he or she says.”
Many teachers will agree that their first year of teaching can be one of the most grueling, challenging, and stressful experiences for them as they take on the task of educating our youth. In my first year of teaching, I was not familiar with the CLASS tool and its impact in the classroom. I was not aware of the dimensions, indicators, and the tremendous power of interactions. Looking back, I recognize the many ways the CLASS tool was reflected in my classroom, but I also see the value in how familiarity with the CLASS tool could have benefitted my classroom. Although many external forces impacted my role as a high school Spanish teacher, the CLASS tool’s invaluable purpose could have made a profound impact on my first year teaching.