Norway has long been recognized for its progressive approach to early childhood education. The country places a significant emphasis on creating nurturing environments for its youngest citizens, offering a glimpse into a system where the well-being and development of children are of utmost importance. In this episode, we invite Ståle Gerhard of FUS Kindergartens to shed light on the pioneering strategies Norway employs in their kindergartens. 

In our conversation today, Ståle shares his expertise on CLASS and its remarkable impact on Norwegian kindergartens. We also examine the impact of CLASS on educator-student interactions, the cultivation of young minds, and the overall quality of early learning experiences that are shaping the future of education in Norway. 

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Marnetta: Hello, listeners. It's me, Marnetta Larrimer, host here at Impacting the Classroom. As always, we like to kick off our conversation by asking, what's impacting the classroom? This season, we are so excited to highlight people who are working to promote positive interactions at scale. There are countless programs across the US who are implementing CLASS successfully, but this wave of interactions doesn't stop here. Today we have Ståle Gerhard who will share what CLASS implementation and interactions look like at his program in Norway. Hello, Ståle.

Ståle: Hello, Marnetta. Thanks for having me.

Marnetta: I feel like I'm going to continue to mispronounce your name, and I apologize.

Ståle: No problem.

Marnetta: I introduced myself, the listeners know who I am. Let's talk a little bit about you. Introduce yourself to us, and tell us a little bit about the work that you do.

Ståle: For today, I'm representing the FUS Kindergartens in Norway. It's a big private group of kindergartens. For now, we are approximately 180 kindergartens across the country. Aside from being an advisor in FUS, I'm also a board member of NIMP, the National Implementation Research Network.

Marnetta: Wonderful. Thank you so much. Private group of kindergarten. Talk to me about that. What does that mean?

Ståle: In Norway, we have both state and private groups of kindergartens. For my part, my company is one of the largest groups of private kindergartens. We have a lot of children in kindergartens.

Marnetta: Our age group for kindergarten, I think, differs from yours. What is the age range for your kindergarten classes?

Ståle: In Norway, we have kindergartens from the age zero to six years.

Marnetta: Yes, very different. I can't wait to talk more about what those interactions look like in the classroom and the experiences with your educators. You shared a little bit. I'd like to know a little bit more about what makes your program special and the values that guide that work. Is that typical for what's happening in Norway?

Ståle: In Norway, I think I have a really big trust in our teachers and their competency. Most of our teachers are educated in the university with a bachelor degree. But I think from our part, we realized that the CLASS would add something more to our context in Norway because we don't have measures of any kind, just measures about parent satisfaction about the kindergartens from the head of the Department of Education in Norway. We needed to add something more to know about what quality really the children experience interactions with our staff.

Marnetta: Can you tell us a little bit more about that implementation of CLASS with your program?

Ståle: Yeah, definitely. I think implementation is really close to my heart. Especially in my organization, when we started with the use of CLASS in FUS in 2019, we were, I think, 12 in the leadership. We have also additional 180 managers for each kindergarten.

We don't have a regional leadership. We actually had two at the time in 2019 that were working with the kindergartens for increasing the quality. We had to start doing some choices about how we're going to implement CLASS and increase quality in all our classrooms.

We have great colleagues in FUS, and we have created 18 implementation teams across the country that me and my colleagues are cooperating with. I think the structure that we have used to base our work on is one of our key to success.

Marnetta: Can you tell us more about the structure?

Ståle: Yeah. Me and my colleagues, Charlotte and Marianne, are the state level implementation team, if I could call that. We have the 18 regional implementation teams that are actually supporting the kindergartens. You could call us policy makers, strategic workers. A lot of our work is regarding facilitating, making it possible to observe every classroom with CLASS.

Marnetta: Was it challenging to get the buy-in to add class to your programs?

Ståle: I think we started in 2019 with a study, research of using CLASS as a tool to measure the quality. That started in 2019 with a smaller group of our kindergartens. Based on those findings with the researchers, we found that actually, just in one year ,we could increase the quality quite a bit. It was about starting to make structure to scale, actually, the use of CLASS in FUS.

Marnetta: Wonderful. Thank you for that. Who's responsible for planning how you collect the CLASS data?

Ståle: I think we could say that my team is responsible for making the structure or the creative framework for conducting the observations and organizing it. We couldn't do it without the help of the 18 implementation teams that have the experience and the knowledge about the local conditions.

We have a close cooperation with the teams just to make sure that they have the tools that they need and the support they need to actually facilitate the observations. Actually in FUS, I don't know how it's mostly in the US, but in FUS, we have, already in 2019, built the capacity to train our own observers. I facilitate observation training for the pre-Ks and my colleague for the toddlers.

Marnetta: Nice. Tag team it so you don't have to do all the stuff.

Ståle: Yeah. We actually have, I think, approximately 350 observers at this point.

Marnetta: You keep talking about these 18 implementation teams. How did they get formed? How did you determine who was going to make those teams?

Ståle: Based on the structure in FUS, we have 18 networks which are for the managers in that region. They actually got to form their own team, not regulated by us, but choosing some members of their choosing.

Marnetta: Nice.

Ståle: Yeah, and then we just actually started to have a lot of discussion with them about what should be our work, what should be your work, what's the main goal. I think based on their competence and our competence, we have created something dynamically. I think we are dependent of each other, really, in the everyday work.

Marnetta: Very collaborative work.

Ståle: Definitely. We have to balance about how much we decide and how much autonomy they should have to create their own framework and also how they should approach using CLASS.

Marnetta: Wonderful. You've set up a system to where you can do your own CLASS observations. How do you communicate with educators in the weeks leading up to those observations?

Ståle: We usually have collaborating meetings with the implementation teams, and they have additional meetings with the observers, the managers, and really start informing both the parents and their colleagues about how we're going to conduct the observations. I think from our experience for now, we're starting to work really great. I think it's no longer misunderstandings about who should do what when the observation is going to go ahead.

Marnetta: Wonderful. What happens after the observation? What is your process? How do you mine that data, and what do you do with the data after that?

Ståle: To support the observers and implementation teams, we have a great IT department in my organization. They quickly start developing an application that we could use to collect those data efficiently. We used the data in my team to assess how is the work going. Could we see some differences in the quality?

Really, not assessing the kindergarten reality, but also assessing how we support our colleagues out in the kindergartens. The implementation teams in the networks also see the data for their region, they could pinpoint more exactly what we should do in the next phase about strategy measures, and really start using the data to make a difference.

Marnetta: I think my next question would be around the educators. Once you've gotten the data and it tells its story, what kind of coaching is available for the educators?

Ståle: I think in Norway, we have a system called kindergarten based quality development. It's really up to each kindergarten, how they use the data after being observed. Usually they get a report and a meeting with the observer, getting the possibility to ask questions about what has been observed. The staff for each department or classroom, as you mostly call it, go ahead and developing a plan to increase the quality.

Marnetta: Wonderful. Are there any ongoing supports that are offered for them?

Ståle: I think every day. We have a basic structure on we should have at least two or four teachers in each kindergarten that should be certified CLASS observer at the minimum. Some kindergartens have all the teachers being a CLASS observer, and that especially is based on they shouldn't be depending on an expert from the outside of their own kindergarten. They should have the competence in each kindergarten, so it's available everyday.

Marnetta: Because they are observers, do they ever practice their skills and do peer mentoring by observing other classrooms?

Ståle: Yeah. Especially in the autumn, from first of September to end of November, every classroom in FUS is being observed. From our part, it's approximately 800 classrooms observed in a three-month period. Actually, the support is being there every day because we have the staff available with the competence in the CLASS. They have a good access to cooperate with the implementation team in their region. Additionally, my team is, I think, pretty much available every day because this is what we do in our work.

Marnetta: Off the record, but not really off the record because we're recording, how did the educators feel about CLASS? What have you heard from them about CLASS?

Ståle: I think when we started using CLASS, it was different from what we do in the Norwegian kindergartens, because mostly our university that are educating the teachers actually is making sure that each teacher know they should use their own competence. From our point of view, that's definitely important. We have, I think, 1500 teachers educated in FUS. And we need to have some common ground about what is quality for the children.

The Department of Education don't have any measures how to measure the quality. We had to find ourselves. We had to go outside Norway to get a tool that is used a lot in research and definitely shows quality, then we end up using CLASS. You asked me about what do the teachers say. I think the first thing they will say is that the CLASS manual is in English, and that's definitely a barrier for some of them.

Getting to know CLASS, what CLASS really is about, I think most of the staff or my colleagues would say that they're really proud of the work we're doing now, because now we could say that we definitely are making sure that we focus on the thing that matters.

Marnetta: You sound like a commercial for us because those are the things that we say every day. I don't even have to follow up with all the things. How are your parents impacted by this? Have they noticed the change? What are they saying about what you've added in the classroom?

Ståle: I think they're really excited about making sure that their child has a good day in kindergarten. In the Norwegian context, I think in 2023, 93 % of the children in Norway attend kindergarten. It's a pretty high number. It's mostly common to attend kindergarten from an early age. Most of the children are actually in the kindergarten up to 40 hours each week, so it's a lot of their wake time in actually attending kindergarten. From our part, the feedback from the parents are actually that they know that we have a big focus on the quality that their children experience each day.

Marnetta: Wonderful. It's always great to know that what you're doing is exact and impactful, but for the parents to really embrace that and see that makes it even more rewarding.

Ståle: Yeah. We have parents satisfaction surveys each year. We could see that the questions regarding how they actually think their children experience stuff that, I think, want to make sure that they experience high quality each day is high is according to the scale. I think that's the most important thing for us to make sure that the children has a good day in the kindergarten, experience a good day interaction with the staff, but also really for a parent to know that if you want to work, you know that your child is being well taken care of.

Marnetta: In your kindergarten classrooms, you said that it was birth through six. What's the ratio? How many infants? Is there a set number of each age group? What does that look like typically?

Ståle: Typically, it really depends on the kindergarten. They could organize it as ever they want. They could have classrooms that are from the age of one to three, but they also could have a mix that are from zero to six. It's really depending on the general managers, the staff, and teachers point of view. How could we make sure giving the children the best quality? We actually allow them to take that responsibility. Usually, it works out great.

Marnetta: I love that. You talked some about the barrier of the manual being in English. Are there other things that were a challenge or a barrier to the implementation of CLASS? Were there cultural differences that made adoption a challenge?

Ståle: Not really cultural barriers, I think. Especially, one thing each employee or my colleague is going to be observed, what they do and what they say in their interaction with the children. For a lot of my colleagues, that was a big barrier. I think now we're starting in the 5th year of using CLASS, and it's much more natural now. They're not so aware of the observer sitting in the corner of the classroom.

Marnetta: The behaviors that we identify in CLASS reflect what is happening in Norway.

Ståle: Definitely. I don't know if I'm a little bit of a nerd, but if I go to the sources of the CLASS manual, we actually have some of the same references in our education as teachers in Norway. It's not really that big of cultural differences.

Marnetta: I love that. I'm glad that I asked that. We talked some about the values of FUS like high quality meals and everyday magic. Can you talk more about some of those values and how CLASS helps to support them?

Ståle: Yeah. Our main values are having the employees or my colleagues to be fully attending to the children, not just being physical in the room, but really, actually seeing each child. I think that's our main goal. That's why we call our program Child First. That should reflect all our decisions, not just in the classroom or in each kindergarten, but also should reflect my strategic choices about how we should cooperate with the kindergartens. It's actually based all through the organization up to the stakeholders and owners of our organization.

If I compare those value in CLASS, I think they go so well together because it's not any differences. We have a saying in in FUS that we want to set the bar about how the Norwegian kindergarten should make sure that we have a kindergarten high quality. We could talk about it, but we actually want to know how the quality is.

Marnetta: I love that, setting the bar. So many things you said in that statement. The bar, but also just simply leading with children first. It makes all the difference in how we attend to the work that we do.

Ståle: Yeah. I think because we are balancing what we decide and the leadership in our organization, we want to make sure that we have colleagues that take the wise choices out in the kindergartens. Especially, I remember one sentence that CLASS focused on what matters. From our part, we do make a framework of using the CLASS for the kindergartens about what should they focus on in which activities they choose to do.

We have differences in profiles of the kindergartens. We have some kindergartens that have, I don't know what you call it in English, but Navy profile. We go out with children in boats. They have many different profiles, but that's the choosing for the kindergartens and the staff in each kindergarten. We just want to make sure we have a framework for assessing the quality of interactions.

Marnetta: You provide a lot of autonomy to the stakeholders in your space that's empowering. That's exciting.

Ståle: Definitely, because we have to do this together. From our part, it would be undermining our colleagues. If we make all the decisions, I think we could have some experiences and competence about how to do it. I think in Norway, it's really based on doing things together and really making the impact together.

Marnetta: That leads me to my next question because I'm just curious, because I know how it is over here in the US. What are some challenges, if any, that your workforce is facing? Is there a lot of turnover?

Ståle: I think our main concern now, I don't know what you have for each state in the US, but in Norway, we have a law that says how many staff you have to have for children. From the age of zero to three years of age, you have to have one staff member. From the age of three to six, you have to have one for each six children.

I think our main goal not just in FUS but also for all the kindergartens in Norway, we try to impact on the government to really make sure that we have more staff because we see that in the smaller groups, the better staff members are going to have good interactions with the children. We think that they should really invest in making a difference in the kindergarten, not just wait to the starting in the school or the university and so on. They should make really an investment in the kindergartens.

Marnetta: Are they making those investments with the pay? How are they meeting your goal of having more staff so that your ratios reflect what the children need in the classroom?

Ståle: Actually in Norway, most of the government substances, the government pays a lot of money to each kindergarten for each child, and then the parents just pay a small amount each month. They're really actually doing great work about making sure that most children attend kindergartens. I think that maybe reflects the high percentage of children that actually attend kindergarten.

I think really, when we start using CLASS and maybe for that, we know how much impact the interactions matter for each children. If we have a higher number of staff for each children, we could increase and make sure that the quality is what we want it to be.

Marnetta: You don't have any problem retaining staff.

Ståle: I think for now, we have maybe some barriers about educating enough teachers. I think that's also one concern in my organization that we should make sure that we have competent teachers that could provide the quality that we want to deliver to both the children and the parents. Also, we experience some after the Corona. We saw that. In Covid-19, we saw that it does make an impact on our staff maybe according to stress and some other things. Overall, I think we have a good competence in our staff to make sure that we make the right choices for children. I think it's a innovative work.

Marnetta: Yeah, I agree. We talked earlier about ongoing support for your educators. Do you have ongoing supports that address the stress and burnout they might be feeling because of Covid?

Ståle: Yeah. The structure we made for early implementation of CLASS and the Child First, we have many supports. Each CLASS observer attends regularly a network for CLASS observers in that region just to make sure that they have a network of other observers. Share experiences when they attend observations outside their own kindergarten, but also how they could work internally.

We actually cooperated a little bit with Dean Fixsen and the National Implementation Research Network in the US. That's really the structure we have based our work on using the framework for active implementation. It's a multi-level support for my colleagues. If they're in need of additional support, either my team, or we have a team of mentors or other systems to like really back them and give them the support they need. It's maybe not perfect, but we try to make sure that we are open for feedback. Really, often the feedback from the staff changes some of the structure.

Marnetta: I love that because it's the same with doing observations. You receive this data, this feedback, and you make iterative changes to support that. Can you give us an example of how some CLASS-informed data influenced some specific decisions in Norway?

Ståle: When I mentioned it, I have to also take it back to the balance my team tried to have at every decision we make about not taking that autonomy away from each kindergarten. I have actually never called a kindergarten asking what happened. What happened with the results from the observation? Because I think we have the competence, and if we have the structure and the support, they're going to make the right choices.

If we see the results for the whole organization back to 2021, actually the results have gone up in every dimension and domain. We had a celebration. We have a lot of celebrations, because I think we're especially proud of the work that's going on in the kindergartens now, because not once have we called the general manager and told what's happening in your kindergarten now. But we have used the data for my team to make sure that they have the support they need and what they are asking for.

I think it's really about balance from our part. I could start calling the general manager and ask, what do you do now to make sure that you have a higher quality, but I think in three years time we haven't had to do it once. Still, the results after observations are going up. I think really it’s trusting our colleagues. We could have a discussion, and they know where to get the support if needed. But now it’s all about, from our part, it's about balance.

We know that implementation in the regions also makes sure that every general manager are doing the work together. How should we solve it, not just in each kindergarten, but do we need to make some adjustments in our region about implementing CLASS? I think that's my best answer to that question. It's about the balance and trusting our colleagues no matter what level you are on.

Marnetta: And it seems to be working?

Ståle: Definitely. I think you may have a desire in my position. My team, we could have decided to call the general manager and ask, what's happening now? When you have stepped a little bit back just to make sure to create a good enough support system for them, I think it really seems to work. They are eager to make the CLASS observations. I think in autumn 2023, the main concern for the general managers was that we need to be observed. From our part, that's an indication of having come a long way from 2019.

Marnetta: Absolutely. Do you have any final thoughts for our listeners? Give them something to take away from your work using CLASS at FUS.

Ståle: Make sure that you have a good structure and strategy for implementing CLASS. Talk to your colleagues on each level about what you need to make a real impact in the interaction with the children rather if you are a teacher, if you are a manager, or any other position, because I think everyone of us needs some kind of support. I could give a shout out to Molly, our contact person in Teachstone, because she actually supports my team again.

I think if you're open to great discussions and really being interested in what I could do to support you, it would make a big difference. You need a structure and you need a system to make it work.

Marnetta: I love that. Thank you so much, Ståle.

Ståle: Thank you for having me. It was a great honor to be invited to this podcast and a little bit exciting because English is not my main language. Thank you.

Marnetta: You did well. It was great. Lots of wonderful information for our listeners. Thank you again.

Ståle: Thank you.

Marnetta: You're welcome. Listeners, we hope you enjoyed today's conversation and continue to follow along for another great season. You can find today's episode and transcript on our website, We'd love to know what you think. Please let us know by dropping us a like and a comment on Apple Podcasts or whatever other streaming service that you may be using. Remember that your feedback supports our goal to make content that is for you.

Want to send a hey girl hey to me or share thoughts via email? You can do that at As always, behind great leading and teaching are powerful interactions. Let's build that culture together.