Do you ever find it difficult to explain to others what you do as a profession and what CLASS is?
When I was a classroom teacher and people asked me about my job, I could say, “I am a teacher,” and everyone knew exactly what I did. But, when I joined Teachstone and began delivering trainings on the CLASS tool, things seemed to change. I couldn’t answer that question with such a simple answer. Here is a recent conversation I had at an airport where I was asked about what I did for a living.
Me: “Excuse me, is this seat taken?”
Random Stranger At the Airport (we’ll call him RSAA for short): “No it’s not, you can have it.”
Me: “Thank you.”
RSAA: “Are you traveling for work?”
(What could have given it away? Maybe it was the computer, hotspot, one of my many manuals or binders, my venti size coffee, or the massive bags under my eyes at 5:30 a.m.)
Me: “Yes, this is work travel.”
RSAA: “Me too. I’m in sales. What do you do?”
Me: “I’m in education.”
RSAA: “That’s awesome that you are a teacher. We really don’t pay our teachers enough money.”
Me: “Oh yes you got that right. We certainly don’t pay them enough money. But I’m not a classroom teacher anymore. Now I’m a trainer.”
RSAA: “That’s cool too. Are you a personal trainer at a gym?”
Me: (trying hard to control the laughter that is about to erupt from the thought of me as a personal trainer) “Oh no, definitely not. I am an educational trainer. I work with coaches and educators around the country delivering professional development trainings.”
RSAA: “What grade levels do you work with?”
Me: “I work mainly with early childhood educators, although we have seen an increase in our work with elementary and secondary teachers.”
RSAA: “So, is that like daycare teachers?”
Me: (cringing at the word daycare) “Childcare and preschool age, mainly.”
RSAA: “What subject do you deliver trainings on?”
Me: “The trainings I deliver are on the CLASS tool. CLASS is a way to measure the interactions teachers have with their children in classrooms.”
RSAA: (blank stare)
I went on to talk a little bit more about the CLASS tool, trying my best to explain it to someone that was not in education, but I think I lost RSAA about two minutes into that conversation. I’m not sure if it was because it was just something very new to him or the fact that it was 5:30 a.m. and he was still half asleep as well. Nonetheless, I am sure he left that conversation with more questions than answers.
This recent interaction got me thinking. It seems easy enough to explain CLASS to another educator, but how do we do this when we are speaking to someone that is not an educator?
The way in which I describe CLASS has evolved over time. In the beginning, I would state exactly what the acronym stood for - Classroom Assessment Scoring System. But this didn’t seem to be quite enough information to really explain the importance of the work we do every day. It didn’t convey an image in someone’s mind of what CLASS was truly assessing. OK, it tells someone that there is some sort of an assessment going on, but what are you assessing? And the biggest question—why?
Then there was the phase of talking about CLASS as a way to improve teaching practices. But again, I did not find this definition of CLASS all that informative either. Saying that CLASS is a way to improve teaching practice implies that our current methods in education are ineffective. CLASS does support improving effective teaching practices, but there is also much that is going well in classrooms that needs to be acknowledged.
I then went on to refine my explanation a bit further. The CLASS is a tool used to measure the way in which teachers and children interact, how children respond to these interactions, and the effectiveness of those interactions. All of those interactions can be sorted into categories (AKA domains and dimensions). We measure things such as the climate of the room, whether positive or negative, a teacher’s ability to help children regulate their behavior, as well as how teachers help to expand language and cognitive skills in children.
We then train others on how to use the CLASS tool and become reliable in it, so that they can go out and conduct observations in classrooms. Once observations are complete, coaches can then begin the work of supporting teachers in maximizing their strengths and find opportunities for growth. The end goal is to have all children in classrooms with highly effective teachers. Research has shown that the more effective the interaction, the more likely a child is to be successful later in life—socially, emotionally, and academically.
I would love to hear your thoughts. Can you relate to my example of explaining CLASS to others? And if so, what do you say and how do you describe CLASS to someone that is not an educator?
I recently heard a great analogy about the CLASS tool and I had to share it. I can’t take credit for the idea. Affiliate Trainer, Teresa Bockes, originated the concept, and I loved it the minute I heard it: CLASS is like a house. Let’s build a house step-by-step to learn more about this metaphor.
As I sat in on an Infant Train-the-Trainer session, participants reflected on their previous experiences with CLASS: learning about it, using it to observe classrooms, supporting teachers, and training others to observe. One participant spoke up:
“CLASS is a measure you have to get wrong to get right.”
CLASS Specialists are always thinking about the complexity of the CLASS tool as we prepare for our trainings. As a trained CLASS observer, I am comfortable observing and recognizing quality interactions that fit in the tool. But I needed a strategy to convey this information to those who may not be as familiar with the tool.
As it turns out, using an analogy is a perfect way to make the complex relatable, less overwhelming, and more familiar to our participants.