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:
As an infant classroom teacher, you know that talking to babies is important. For instance, you tell the infants in your care what they are looking at (“You see the new block basket on the shelf!”). You label objects (“You have the red ball!”). And you describe events that take place in the classroom (“The tray just fell off the table! That scared you.”). These are all examples of talking with babies. Why, then, can it be so challenging to do this consistently in the classroom?
A few years into teaching early childhood, I applied to work at a school that does incredible work in the local community. I was thrilled to get an interview but realized very quickly that, even though the environment was supportive and the students were wonderful young people, I was much too intimidated to work there.
One of the best things about teaching is having a fresh start every morning. Greeting your students plays an important part in setting the tone of your classroom. I like to think that, as teachers, we get a chance to make a good first impression each day. Let's take a moment to consider the impact greetings can have with students, not only at the beginning of the school day but throughout the day as well.
We all know people are naturally social beings—we need interactions to survive. But just because we’re naturally social doesn’t mean we know how to be social. We have to learn social behaviors—from our families, caregivers, and peers. Teachers play a key role in promoting social development, which includes peer play and friendships.