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:
Do you have fond childhood memories of sitting with a special adult and listening to them read one of your favorite stories? I vividly remember my dad reading The Elephant’s Child by Rudyard Kipling to me and how we laughed together at the funny voices he used. As an educator, you know how important those moments are for building warm connections, enjoying time together, and learning about many things. So, even if you missed out on those moments as a child, you want to create those moments for the children in your classroom. With careful planning, you can be confident that your read-alouds will be exciting, effective learning opportunities.
The majority of early childhood classrooms have at least one child who is a dual language learner (DLL) and this population is growing. One in three children from birth to age six speak a language besides English at home. Consequently, the majority of teachers need strategies on how to best support this group of students. We reached out to Veronica Fernandez, Developmental Psychologist and Research Scientist at the University of Miami for strategies she’s found most successful.
As part of our Teacher Spotlight series, we recently asked the CLASS Community to nominate a teacher whose high-quality classroom interactions are making a difference for their dual language learners. Our winner, Kim Schoell, has been teaching for 20 years and is currently a Pre-K teacher in Frederick County, VA. 67% of her students are Hispanic and many of the children are dual language learners.
When COVID-19 hit and schools shut down, many of us were certain that it would not impact the 2020-21 school year. But with the pandemic surging and some schools opening up - only to shut down again, it’s clear that COVID is still with us. The length of the pandemic has only heightened concern about COVID related learning loss - especially among underserved populations.