Many teachers and leaders associate CLASS® with preschool. And we get it! It’s used in early childhood classrooms across the country, including Head Start programs, and it’s been more important than ever for young children as they begin to return to in-person learning.
But the principles of CLASS - Emotional Support, Classroom Organization, Instructional Support - are important for children well beyond Pre-K. The ever-increasing research base shows that interactions matter for children’s social-emotional and academic development. That’s why CLASS is organized to support children from infancy to high school with the developmentally appropriate interactions that drive learning - and why K-12 leaders are embracing CLASS in their schools.
We spoke with David Adams, CEO of The Urban Assembly, and Dr. Elena Hill, Assistant Superintendent for Early Childhood in Dallas ISD, to share their successes from their diverging contexts. At The Urban Academy, David uses CLASS to support his secondary teachers in their “advisory,” a time of day set aside to promote social-emotional learning (SEL) and build relationships with students. In Dallas ISD, Elena has aligned her K-2 teachers with their Pre-K peers by embedding CLASS into ongoing coaching cycles that all of the early grades use.
So, what advice do they have for those just dipping their toes into the K-12 CLASS waters?
All learning is social-emotional learning. With older students, the focus on SEL can slip away in favor of academic learning. But as David emphasized, all of the academics are predicated on the relationships and emotional safety created by teachers and students. These ideas can feel abstract, more of a “what” to do than a “how” to do it. CLASS gave David’s and Elena’s teachers the tools to target and improve on specific behaviors that make a big impact on students.
Buy-in is essential. A barrier that both leaders identified quickly was the potential for this to feel like an add-on for teachers who are already stretched thin. For Elena, this meant up-front training in using the tool for instructional specialists and professional development for teachers. Dallas ISD also embedded CLASS language and principles directly into their existing coaching tools. This meant that everyone was able to start with a shared understanding of the kinds of interactions that were most important, and, critically, why they matter, then build systematically around these topics across the year. That takes the stress off of a given score and makes it actionable.
David and The Urban Assembly also stressed leading with why and making a quick bridge to how with ongoing feedback. All of this comes together to make teachers feel supported and like this isn’t just the “flavor of the week” - as he put it, “I can get better, I’m cared about, and I can care about my kids.”
A unified lens empowers teachers. Even though most teachers agreed that relationships are important, they lacked a shared language around what “right” looks like and how to get there. CLASS gave them a shared vocabulary and created a “shared orientation.” David explains, “The specifics give teachers the power to do this. That helps them grow. When we’re clear with our feedback, that empowers our teachers to do the things they’re already doing more intentionally...here’s what it looks like, here’s some standard naming, and here’s time to practice.” It also brings instructional leaders into alignment with teachers and allows for a clearer focus. For example, at The Urban Assembly, they spent a long time on a cycle of learning focused on peer-to-peer interactions in their advisory. This narrow focus allowed teachers to become meaningfully better, with those results reflected in their students as well.
When you stick with it, it works. Both Dallas ISD and The Urban Assembly stressed seeing this as both a short- and long-term plan. In the short term, teachers can see week-to-week incremental progress with coaching guidance from instructional specialists or leaders. In this context, CLASS is a formative tool that gives ongoing information, not just something that rolls out around the beginning and end of the year. As Elena put it, “As a leader, if I’m only looking at the end-of-year data or comparing from year to year, I’m missing the things that help teachers build capacity.”
But the longer-term is where the magic happens. David explained, “It takes time to get better. If we’re all over the place, we don’t give teachers a chance to improve.” His overall message: “Get something, stick with it, and invest in what works.” And his schools’ evaluation data shows that it works. Since using CLASS, The Urban Assembly has increased teachers’ social-emotional competence, school climate, perceptions of trust, and perceptions of a supportive learning environment. Credit accumulation - needed to stay on track for graduation - improved by 15%. Suspensions are down 42%. They also found that substantial shares of academic learning were due to social-emotional competence (40% in middle school, 33% in high school).
All of these successes are enabled by CLASS: giving organizations a shared language, providing teachers with meaningful feedback and steps for change, and bridging the social-emotional and academic content in ways that allow for continuous quality improvement.
InterAct is Teachstone’s practitioner-focused summit. We’ll be highlighting key sessions from Spring 2021 in the coming weeks. Need more CLASS discussion? Another CLASS Summit is coming in Fall 2021 - sign up for updates! And if you want to learn more about bringing CLASS to your K-12 learning space, we’d love to get in touch.
Given the context of today’s educational landscape, the global pandemic we are still fighting, and the divides our country is facing, strong leadership is essential. There is a clear need to restabilize and improve education for every child, and every educator. But, what does that mean exactly for educational leaders who are leading the way?
Nearly two years ago I joined Teachstone with a deep desire and commitment to support leaders and teachers with real-time, practical, and evidence-based strategies and solutions to address the current needs of children, families, and educators. For the 20 years prior, I led organizations working at the national, state, and local levels focused on addressing the needs of children and families, especially those living in marginalized communities. As a practitioner at heart, my passion has been translating research to practice to drive impact and positive outcomes for children. This passion brought me to Teachstone.
We’re closing out our celebration of NAEYC’s Week of the Young Child with Family Friday. We have revamped this post from spring 2020 a little to reflect the changes that have happened since last April, but as many families have learned this year, classic activities are classics for a reason. Please enjoy these ones with your young child, and remember - the love, support, and work you’re putting into them will change the world.