I had a difficult experience during a training last week. It would have been difficult in any setting, but the group dynamics added to the situation. On day two of a three-day training, we received news that a toddler from one of the participant’s programs had unexpectedly passed away the evening before. One participant, a supervisor in that program, had to leave the training early to talk with parents. The other participants were just sitting there, staring at me while I tried to recover from the terrible news and remain present and in control of my emotions. I looked around at the grief and disbelief on the faces of the participants, and knew we needed a break.
When people returned to their seats, I noticed that the affect in the room was suddenly flat—no smiles, no laughter. All of the enthusiasm had left the room. I knew that I needed to work on the Emotional Support in the room in order to get the participants engaged in the material again.
So I started with Positive Climate...Relationships. I made sure I was in closer proximity, moving through the room, standing behind participants, leaning forward. I made sure that we had an opportunity for shared positive affect by putting on a quick, light hearted and funny YouTube video that we all laughed about. I made sure to increase my positive affect, by smiling brighter and increasing my verbal and physical affection. I patted shoulders, and made positive comments like, “You guys really nailed it!” and “I couldn’t have said it better myself!” I used more first names and increased my eye contact. I cheered for them (literally), and saw the Positive Climate increase again.
But I wasn’t just concerned with the Positive Climate in the room; I was also concerned about (Student) Comfort. Participants weren’t talking as freely as they were before the heartbreaking news. So I started with the basics – Awareness and Responsiveness. I could see that everyone was still experiencing shock and grief. In all honesty, I was too. I acknowledged the serious emotions, mine included. I recognized how difficult it must be for them to remain present and engaged. And I provided as much comfort as I could. I told people to take 10 minutes to call their loved ones, their families and centers and then we would get back to the training.
After intentionally focusing on Positive Climate and Teacher Sensitivity for the first half hour immediately following the tragic news, I realized that although there was still heaviness in the air, we were progressing through the material. People were smiling and laughing with each other and discussing the dimensions. When we talked as a whole group, people freely offered their observations. We were back on track. It should have come as no surprise, but I realized in that moment how much interactions matter and the power of relationships.
When I first learned about CLASS Group Coaching—a training for early childhood professionals about building relationships with children—I was more than a little interested. This, I thought. This is what teaching is all about. It seems to be an obvious concept, but once we dig deeper, we are able to identify the whys and hows of our interactions. CLASS Group Coaching allows us to identify the benefits of our classroom relationships with our students and helps us be intentional in our daily practices. It allows us to utilize each moment we have with our students to deepen our understanding of their perspectives and genuinely connect with them as people. It helps us see the world from their view and guide their learning in a way that is relevant to them.
As a CLASS Group Coaching (MMCI) instructor, the sections of any given two-hour session may feel, at times, very goal driven. These sections titled "Know," "See," and "Do” are interconnected. In particular, it is possible to consider "Do" within "Know," and "See." When an instructor supports in-the-moment experiences that connect new knowledge to current practice, they make the CLASS dimensions more relevant to the educators' daily work. But how can we infuse more “Do” into “Know” and “See?” First, let's re-cap what happens in each section.
I have a confession to make. Recently, I used vacation time to stay home and watch Season 6 of The Walking Dead. I know, I know. How could I have let myself miss a whole season? Oh, and I feel a little bad about taking the time off from work too, but this was very nearly an emergency! I mean it was only weeks before Season 7 of the season premiere. I had to do something. Don’t judge.
While I was watching, I had the strangest feeling of deja vu. I felt like I had actually walked through a herd of zombies, but couldn’t quite place why it felt so familiar. Then it hit me—I had unknowingly created zombie-like participants during at least two of my previous CLASS trainings.