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.
How have children’s social and emotional needs changed this year?
That’s one of the major concerns Teachstone has been hearing from leaders and educators across the country. Even before the pandemic, teachers in early childhood settings, elementary school, and beyond had increasingly been paying attention to children’s self-regulation, social skills, and other emotional needs. With so much turmoil and loss, what has shifted? How can educators prepare to support children? And...how can leaders prepare to support their teaching staff?
To tackle these questions, we brought together Amanda Alexander, VP of Policy and Partnership Development at Teachstone; Bridget Hamre, Co-Founder and CEO at Teachstone; Gene Pinkard, Aspen Institute Director of Practice and Leadership; and Bloodine Barthelus, Director of Practice Innovations at CASEL. Our experts shared the principles they think are most important for social-emotional learning, the challenges they’re anticipating, and how thoughtful instructional leaders are rolling out new social-emotional initiatives.
Knowing that approximately 25% of children under 5 come from homes where Spanish is the predominant language spoken, we were pleased that Lisa White, a researcher at American Institutes for Research, was willing to speak with us about her study that compared the CLASS with the CASEBA, a tool designed to assess quality in classrooms serving dual language learners. To learn more, read on!
The time has come for hard conversations.
That’s the feedback we have been receiving from educators across the country. There are plenty of tough conversations educators are trained, taught, or feel equipped to handle with children and families - gently bringing up a developmental concern, facilitating a disagreement between students, or explaining what happened with the classroom goldfish are all part of a day in the life. But in the last year, since the killing of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police, educators are increasingly asking for help in communicating more comfortably with young children about diversity and difference.
We’re still soaking up the wisdom shared by our many, many excellent speakers at the spring 2021 InterAct Summit. From its inception, Teachstone has been an organization based in research. Because the CLASS is reliable and valid, teachers and programs trust it to give meaningful, accurate, and actionable information. To learn more about the current work being done in the field, we invited co-founder Bob Pianta to give an update on new research findings.