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Interactions Are Our Core: The Key Ideas Behind CLASS

24 Aug 2016 by Bridget Hamre, PhD

At this year’s InterAct Summit, Bridget Hamre delivered a powerful message during the opening keynote. We pulled out some of her key points into a two-part blog series, Interactions Are Our Core. Below is the second part of a two-part series on Interactions Are Our Core. You can find the first part here.

When I delivered the very first Train-the-Trainer (TTT) Program, I didn’t want to focus solely on the logistics of training, but to really convey certain ideas. Here’s what I shared during that first TTT and how the ideas have grown since:

CLASS is CLASS is CLASS

Classrooms are complex. There’s so much going on in a classroom and it’s difficult to know what to pay attention to. The CLASS lens brings some order to a chaotic system, but we know that the it doesn’t measure everything that matters. We have had to simplify the picture from something complicated in order to measure it and assess it well. There are many things we aren’t measuring. For example, how do you measure curriculum or exposure to content? We’re measuring interactions but it’s important to remember that there is a lot more we should be measuring over time.

Over 170 peer reviewed articles have used the CLASS, from Chile to China. We’ve done some of this research, but we’ve provided a tool for people to study what’s happening in classrooms. Here are some of the key pieces that have stuck out to me.

Stress in Child Care

There is a lot of talk about toxic stress. Being in child care is stressful. Environments are stressful. In observational studies measuring cortisol patterns (the primary stress hormone) in children, the normal cortisol pattern shows the highest levels at the beginning of the day and then levels go down as the day progresses. But for 70-80% of children in child care, cortisol levels actually increase over time. This shows at a physiological level that being in child care is stressful.

Bridget Hatfield, a former postdoc who worked with me and Bob and now is a professor at Oregon State, did a study that showed that in classrooms that scored higher in Emotional Support, children were less likely to show increasing cortisol levels throughout the day. They were less stressed.

What’s amazing to me is that we have created a tool, a manual that can measure something so essential that we can pick it up in the spit of 4-year-olds! This so clearly demonstrates the way that interactions matter.

Here’s a pretty typical classroom. Imagine if situations like this happen repeatedly over time without the adults there to support the child’s regulation and help her move from something she felt so deeply to being ready to move on to the next activity. This is why we do what we do.

Access to High-Quality Learning Environments

We have a lot of data that helping us understand what kids are actually experiencing in the real world. In this study, Daphna Bassok and Eva Galdo used data from large state observations to look at the relationship between community characteristics and the availability of high-quality child care. They looked at the percentage of children who had access to high-quality child care (based on CLASS domains) in high poverty and low poverty areas and found a clear, unequal distribution.

If you’re a poor child, you’re much less likely to have access to high-quality interactions. Also in high poverty areas, children are more likely to be getting a bad Instructional Support experience where there is little happening that is cognitively stimulating for the children.

This is our action call. There’s much more work to be done and this example proves why we’re here. We have to increase quality for all children and we know how to measure improvements that make a real difference child outcomes.

CLASS is CLASS is CLASS. By using this tool, we can see and compare quality in ways that have been helpful to the field.    

What we’re trying to do is complicated. If it’s too easy, it can’t be any good.  

The CLASS tool—the concepts, learning how to code reliably, maintaining reliability, coaching—is hard. In 2004, when we first started using the tool for our teacher education program, it was difficult. Training our teacher supervisors was challenging, but fast forward 12 years, and what continues to be amazing to me is that people from anywhere in the world can watch a video and see the same things. Over 35,000 people have been CLASS certified.

Change is ahead and it’s hard. Asking teachers to change is hard and stressful.

You need a little bit of stress as a motivator. If you’re not stressed at all, you’re not going to change. But it’s important to remember that people can’t be totally emotionally exhausted and stressed out. We did an online course for early childhood teachers and learned that, through the course, we were stressing people out.  

Here’s a comment from one of the discussion boards:

“I’m sorry, but I have students who will literally take someone out if they are not given restrictions about where to sit or how to act...a few of them are completely clueless about how to act towards others or how to treat others...I feel like an awful teacher now, and fear that my class would self destruct if I didn’t keep some control.  You guys don’t know my students!!!”

Let me give you a little context. In this course, we provided some teachers with access to the online course and assigned homework. The homework entailed the teachers videotaping themselves, analyzing the video, and then receiving written feedback on the tape from the instructor.

The other half of the teachers also received coaching sessions six times a semester. And these teachers who received coaching sessions were less stressed than the half that didn’t receive coaching sessions. Interactions matter at every level.

We can’t just buy teachers something that will make them change. We have to invest with them and figure out how we’re going to support them.

Here’s another quote from the course from a teacher who received coaching support.

“I find myself finding more bad moments than good, I was like, I should not have done that or I should not have said that. What could I have said different? It’s pretty good. It’s making me think and how to talk to the children and make them think. It’s good. But I could not spot the good things I did as easy as the bad things.”

The instructor encouraged the teacher to keep looking for the good things. “It’s less about stopping yourself from doing the bad things, but more about finding the good things and doing them more.”

This isn’t to say we have to only point out the good things when working with teachers. In fact, I think there's a danger in doing that. But on the emotional side, recognizing the good things so you can build on them is a really powerful motivator for change.

We’ve studied different coaching programs and courses and why they change interactions and the common thread is the idea that seeing teaching can transform teaching. But we can’t forget the interpersonal part of it. The Video Library alone won’t change practice. How do we combine watching practice with a supportive environment of peers, coaches, etc.? How can we design systems to help teachers see what’s good and not so good in what their doing in the context of a supportive relationship?   

Stake a Claim and Let the Data Decide

We care about data. It is foundational to who we are. Our company name even speaks to this.  Teachstone reference a touchstone which was formerly used to test the purity of gold and silver, and it also refers to a test or criterion for determining the quality or genuineness of a thing.

That’s what Teachstone is about. You have to trust that what we do is real and that we aren’t just here to sell products. We are partners with you in this process. If the data is telling us that something’s not working then we have a problem to solve.

I talked about the seed of an idea that was planted when we started Teachstone. Here’s my goal moving forward.

Be bold! Go beyond current expectations. It’s not just about compliance but about achieving something meaningful. Every young child will have teachers that provide responsive and cognitively stimulating interactions throughout the day, year after year after year.

We have a long way to go, but with the power of you all, we have an opportunity to achieve that.

 

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