Kelly Barrett, our featured teacher of the month, was such a joy to talk to. Here’s what her nominator shared about her:
“Kelly, has an exceptional connection with her students. She has the ability to mesmerize them with a story or song, and understands the meaning of learning through fun. Her appreciation of CLASS can be seen on any given day.”
Kelly, tell me a little about yourself.
I got into teaching because I love children. I’ve been teaching at Head Start for almost six years. I actually teach at the same Head Start center that I went to as a kid! I taught Kindergarten initially but realized that it wasn’t the right fit for me. I enjoy the pre-K age level. I knew I could apply my skills from teaching Kindergarten and still be in the education field but in a slightly different setting.
I have my bachelors degree in elementary education and then got my pre-K certification. Now I have a masters in reading.
What is the most rewarding part about teaching?
I love when I can tell the children are learning or when they come up with a new idea and you can see the excitement in their face. I love being a part of my community and making it a better place. Our staff participates in a lot of community outreach (like Relay for Life and other similar groups). I’ve lived here all my life and I want it be a fantastic place to live.
What are some of the more challenging parts about teaching?
I can’t fix everything or give everyone all the help that they need. You see families who need help with their grocery bill or family issues. There’s a limit to what I can do even though I wish I could be a superhero and fix everything.
You nominator days that you have the ability to “mesmerize” the children in your classroom. How do you do this?
I try to have a childlike quality myself. I joke around a lot with everyone including the kids and try to find the fun in all situations. When I read, my teaching assistant and I act out the story and do character voices. We break out into song all the time. I don’t feel embarrassed by acting silly.
If a child isn't ready to act silly with me, I try to encourage them and until they feel comfortable. I like to push them out of their comfort zone, but they don’t have to participate.
How did you first learn about the CLASS tool?
I learned about CLASS since it’s part of Head Start’s federal review. I’m actually a certified CLASS observer and have been for five years. We observe other teachers within our agency three times a year. Sometimes I travel to other counties to observe and provide feedback. Initially, I struggled with providing feedback. But I realized that by sharing feedback, I’m helping other teachers improve. I’m helping rather than criticizing.
Are other teachers responsive to your feedback?
I think so. We all want to do better and the feedback helps us do that. Our observations help us prepare for the federal review.
How do you provide your feedback after conducting the observation?
We have one-on-one meetings and discuss what I observed, what the scores were, and how to improve. The feedback might not only be CLASS-related (it might be around structuring the classroom differently). I think about it as a mentoring relationship. You develop a relationship with the teacher and build trust.
Does the agency provide tools to help you do this?
How does the video library help you?
I use the video library to explain what interactions should look like. It helps teachers understand the dimensions better and what observers are looking for.
I think everyone should go through CLASS Observation Training. We spend so much time focusing on environmental factors (how much bleach to use when cleaning toys, etc.), but it’s hard for people to really understand how the interactions fit in and then change their lens. It’s hard to “get it” until you “get it,” and the training helps you do that even if you aren’t conducting observations.
How has your teaching changed since you started using CLASS?
I am much more focused on deeper thinking instead of shallow thinking. We’re not teaching kids what to think but how to think. Now I work with kids to get a deeper understanding of things and I ask questions differently.
When were reading the The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything, I was asking many questions. One of the little boys said “Just read it!" Clearly, I ask too many questions sometimes! These kids are so funny and they make you smile everyday. That’s the best part of the job.
What’s an example of an interaction that you’re really proud of?
We were experimenting with vinegar and baking sodas and thinking about cause and effect. We decided to see what would happen if we added food coloring to the mix. The kids were so excited that we tried to add other things to see what would happen. What if we added soap? Then they had rainbow colored foam with huge bubbles! The children still remember that activity. They learned cause and effect and had the freedom to try something new. They came up with the ideas and were able to lead the activity. As a teacher, you go where they lead you. CLASS encourages you to do that—to have classroom experiences that encourage your kids to think.
What advice would you share with other teachers?
Find something everyday that you love. You might not love every moment of every day. You don’t have to love the whole thing but at least a little bit of it everyday. Keep it fun!
Kelly and I also talked about the benefits of learning from other’s experiences. She asked readers could share their stories and advice. So, please feel free to comment below with examples of:
How do you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? I posed that question to a random selection of contacts via text message. What did I discover? Everyone in my sample group spreads on the PB first, then the J. There are a variety of ways though to apply the jelly, but in my random group, the jelly always comes second.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches make me think about Behavior Guidance, a dimension in the CLASS® toddler observation tool. Especially the first two indicators of behavior guidance: proactive and supporting positive behavior. Proactive is the peanut butter! It goes first. That layer of peanut butter is the base for the jelly, which promotes positive behavior.
I was a kindergarten teacher for eight years at a public school. I loved my job, but somewhere along the road I started to become crotchety. I was often annoyed with my colleagues and frustrated with the demands of the district, and I was sure I knew better than any training or professional development session I would ever be forced to attend.
Shared physical presence is a large part of how we’re used to connecting with each other. Strong connections and relationships are important for children who may have recently experienced loss, high stress, or trauma. As teachers connect with children in a virtual setting, it can be more challenging to think about how to create a safe space for learning, sharing experiences, and taking risks.
When COVID-19 hit and schools shut down, many of us were certain that it would not impact the 2020-21 school year. But after more than 18 months, it’s clear that the pandemic is still with us. The length of the pandemic has only heightened concern about COVID related learning loss - especially among underserved populations.