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:
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.