If you have ever been through a CLASS® observation training, you have heard a favorite phrase: “the behavioral markers are not a checklist.” The intention behind this phrase is to remind observers that these markers are common behaviors that we might see within an indicator, but not the only ways to demonstrate an indicator. This is especially crucial to remember considering the diversity of care and education contexts in which CLASS is used. 

I recently heard an affiliate trainer use a different phrase that I think can build on this important reminder: “Behavioral markers are like a Vegas buffet.” 

How exactly? Let’s dig in (pun intended). 

When you think about a buffet, you often have different types of food together. For instance, you might have proteins in one section, fruit in another, a section for side dishes, and one for grains. Within each of those sections, you have a wide variety of options - options that are often highly influenced by the particular context for that buffet. 

Let’s take breakfast as an example. In the protein section you might have beans, bacon, eggs, fish, cheese, or yogurt. Which of these you select would depend upon several factors such as your cultural practices around food, your individual preferences, what your day will be like, or who you are eating with. Someone who is from Japan might select fish, while a vegetarian might want beans. Someone who is gearing up for a big day might select bacon and eggs, while someone who is sharing a meal with an infant might choose yogurt so the child can eat it too. Regardless of what is chosen, it is still a breakfast protein. 

The same is true with CLASS observations. There may be several options for how an educator or child shows enjoyment, depending on their individual and community context. One educator may laugh boisterously while another smiles softly and nods. One child might sit calmly and observe while another child claps and shouts. These would each count as evidence of enjoyment, but not all of those are listed as behavioral markers. 

It is still true that the behavioral markers are not a checklist, but that phrase focuses on what “not” to do. (Which is important, and you should remember it.) But adding the buffet analogy helps us remember what to do—consider the category (the indicator) and be aware of the potential choices within that indicator (either the listed markers or additional behaviors you observe). 

But what do you do if you’re not sure. Do chicken, shrimp, or peanuts as breakfast proteins?  Does an adult bringing their hand to the heart count as enjoyment? Does an eyebrow raise? Does clapping? 

To decide this, you need to consider the definition of the indicator and its intent. 

Protein is defined as organic compounds made of amino acids. Under that definition we can say that chicken, shrimp, and peanuts do count. Would you personally eat those for breakfast? Maybe not, but they still count. 

Enjoyment in the CLASS is defined as “Educators and children demonstrate that they enjoy being in each other’s company and enjoy their time in the learning setting. Enjoyment is conveyed in a variety of ways, such as through body language, tone, facial expressions, or gestures; through smiles, laughter, and enthusiasm; or with more subtle indicators of enjoyment, such as contentment.” 

Under that definition, we can say an educator responding to a child sharing their work by bringing their hand to their heart, or an educator raising their eyebrows in delighted surprise when a child accomplishes a new task, or an educator clapping while a child dances all count as evidence of enjoyment. They are behaviors outside of the listed markers that demonstrate the educator and children are experiencing joy and contentment when interacting with each other. 

So, let’s wrap this up with four key takeaways. 

  1. Behavioral markers are (still) not a checklist. They are a guide for what you might see. 
  2. Behavioral markers are (also) a buffet. There are multiple behaviors that might count as evidence for an indicator. 
  3. Remember to consider the response from the child and the other parts of the interaction to see the whole picture. 
  4. Use the indicator and dimension definitions to help you decide how an observed behavior or interaction fits. 

Alright. Now, step away from your device and go get some breakfast.