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Classroom Teams: Handling Sticky Situations with CLASS

29 Sep 2022 by Allison Bloomfield

To be an effective teacher and classroom presence, the adults have to work together as much as or more than the students do. Classrooms work best when co-teachers understand each other and work together. How can teachers ensure that they’re in sync with each other, and how can CLASS help?

In today’s episode, you’ll hear a fun conversation between Kate Cline and return guest Deirdre Harris. Learn about parallel processes for adult behavior, making a lesson plan with other team members, and how team agreements can be made to improve the way the classroom runs and ensure a shared vision.

Listen now or read the transcript below. 

 

Deidre: You know what, when I was looking at it, this really supported her learning how to tie her shoes on her own and be independent. Yes, way to go.

Kate: Right. Not just regular affirmation, but specific, right?

Deidre: Yes. The positive descriptive acknowledgment. You're going to hear us say this again and again and again. What's good for children is good for adults.

Kate: Hi, everyone. I'm Kate Cline from Teachstone. Welcome to the Teaching with CLASS podcast. In this episode, Deidre Harris is back. It's so awesome to talk with her again as we dig a little deeper into the ways the CLASS tool can help us get on the same page with our colleagues and teaching team in creating a team vision and agreeing about how we want to work together in our classrooms and sites.

We also use the CLASS to help us think about how to manage sticky situations because as Deidre reminds us, it's not an if, it's a when. What sticky situations have you been in recently in your classroom? What resources did you use or what actions did you take to resolve them? Let's keep those in mind as we listen in.

Let's dive into thinking more about this parallel process and adult-adult interactions. We think about things as, from the educator point of view, you already know probably about how CLASS focuses on this framework supporting meaningful interactions, especially those interactions that drive better outcomes for children. But have you spent time thinking about how we can look to the CLASS to guide our interactions with the adults we support? That's where we're going with this today.

Let's look at a deeper example about looking at the hows and whys. This is an example here that's related to positive climate. We know when teachers build relationships with children, for example, by engaging in social conversation, they're building a really strong bond with their students. The same is true for educators and leaders that work together in programs.

When you're making efforts to build relationships with each other by having social conversation together, you're building a stronger bond and that sense of community among the adults in your program. We know that in classrooms, the relationship-building efforts, which are the how, are important because of the impact they have on children, which is the why.

In terms of classrooms, when we look at the impact, we see increased feelings of comfort and connectedness, which increases children's motivation to learn. The parallel with that with adults is that when adults and programs are applying the same concept of parallel process in their interactions with each other, we see the same impact. We see adults increasing their sense of connectedness in community and motivation to learn and work together.

Just like we want to see teachers having these interactions in their classrooms as they're building relationships with children and families, learning about the needs of the families and children, and how to best support them, the parallel process tells us that the same approach is important for the adults in our program. Leaders are setting the tone for programs. Teachers are setting the tone for their classroom.

What we're suggesting here is a mindset where we see CLASS as the foundation for interaction at all levels and programs. It's important to walk the talk. As you're listening here today, we're going to invite you to keep that parallel process in mind. That's going to be the focus as we look at all of this and think about how you will apply parallel processes using CLASS-based interactions as an adult with the other adults in your program.

Even though this brief example was a focus on emotional support or positive climate, really, this holds true for all the CLASS domains, all the dimensions. Parallel process is impactful for the adult-adult interactions that you have that would focus on managing behavior, being productive, and solving problems in the program. Deidre is going to help us dive deeper into that.

Deidre: Yeah, Kate. I really appreciate that you set us up with the parallel process because here's what it is in a nutshell. High quality interactions are beneficial for everyone. They're beneficial for children, they're beneficial for adults. Here's where we want to go a little bit deeper because we get a lot of questions in terms of, okay, we know CLASS is for interactions between adults and children, but what can it look like between adults and adults?

We want to give you some examples. For today, we're actually going to use classroom teams. Let's just start off with the emotional support domain. While we could talk about every dimension, unfortunately, we only have a few minutes, so we figured let's just start with regard to the student perspective.

We all know that when it comes to RSP for children, it really helps them to develop that autonomy, that sense of buy-in or ownership. For adults, it does the exact same thing. It actually creates a sense of inclusiveness or belonging.

I love that word agency. We don't hear it or talk about that enough, but it really talks about this sense of control, empowerment. I actually belong, I'm included, I have influence. RSP between adults becomes critical. I wanted to give you even a more exact example. This is something we don't really think about.

When I was talking to Kate, I was like, wow, what about when we think about preparing the lesson plan? A lot of times, that tends to be the lead, or if there are two co-teachers, they're planning together. But what would it be like if we asked for feedback or the opinion of other teams' members?

For example, it can be something like, even if it was based on their observation, hey, I know you're talking about Jessica and Mark, and you saw them doing this with a puzzle. I wonder if it would be helpful if we did a one-on-one or a small group where we continue to work on this. What are your thoughts about that?

Even just asking those simple questions, it doesn't take a lot of time. But we know, the thing about interactions is that when they're repeated consistently, they build that positive climate. What we do for children, we do for adults. That's a great example.

Like Kate said earlier, we don't stop there. We're going to be like that infomercial. But wait, there's more. Let's look at the CLASS organization domain. Again, we pulled out instructional learning formats just to dig in there. We know for children, ILF, it prepares them to receive information to be open to skill building. Basically getting them not only hands-on, but also minds-on.

For adults, this can also be applied for us because it helps us to create clarity and better facilitation. Let me explain a little bit more or give an example. Again, we started off earlier about that lesson plan. We put all this work into it, we've developed it, we've put a lot of intention, and then sometimes what we forget to do is actually to make it visible. We talked about using visual support to actually help us facilitate our lessons.

We want to put that lesson plan where everyone can see it easily or at least have had some contact with it. We can consider the lesson plan an advanced organizer so that we know that's a behavior marker under the indicator of clarity of learning objectives. A lot of people don't think about that. But that lesson plan, what is the focus? It actually sets us up to be better facilitators because now when we're with the children, we know what that focus is, or if they go off tangent, we're able to bring them back and get them refocused on whatever the objective is for that lesson, that content, or that skill that we're building.

A lot of times, what people don't realize is that when we really understand and have an idea of what we're facilitating, this also shows up under the indicator of preparation within the dimension of productivity because we're prepared. We know when we're prepared, we're able to facilitate easily, and the outcomes are actually better. That's another way we can think about parallel processing. But wait, yes, there's more. A lot of times, we don't think even about the instructional support domain for interactions.

Kate: Oh, we're going to go there. Okay, let's go there.

Deidre: Right, because of the quality of feedback. Feedback is great for children, it's incredible for adults. We know that in all ways, shapes, and forms. Let's look at QOF. Again, for children, we know that it provides lots of opportunities for them to get deeper understanding. Guess what, it does the exact same thing for us adults.

We see this a lot of times in our coaching conversations. But yeah, what about with our colleagues for us as co-teachers, or people working within the same classroom and within the same team? Here's the thing, and that is we tend to be so busy being busy with all of the doing, we don't rarely get a chance to actually reflect.

One of the things we can think about, again, as a quick example, we can do a little simple unpacking of what's going on in the classroom just by providing really short statements that help all adults connect their actions to the outcomes.

For example, we can say something like, I noticed you helped Adrianne with tying her shoe by demonstrating each step for her. You know what, when I was looking at it, this really supported her learning how to tie her shoes on her own and be independent. Yes, way to go.

Kate: Right. Not just regular affirmation, but specific, right?

Deidre: Yes. The positive descriptive acknowledgment. You're going to hear us say this again and again and again. What's good for children is good for adults. High quality interactions are high quality interactions. Think about some other strategies.

Some of you have listened to the earlier podcast where we talked about creating that team vision. I wanted to expand on that a little bit more and talk about how that team vision can also be a part of a process I call team agreements. We know that high quality interactions between adults lead to high quality interactions with children. We've already established that. I want us to spend just a few minutes taking a quick look at a process that actually can support those adult interactions, and that's the team agreement process.

Kate: All right, we're ready.

Deidre: Okay.

Kate: Soon, we definitely wanted to dig into this some more. Tell us, how do we do this?

Deidre: All right. The team agreement process is actually a four-step process. It can look a little complicated, but I'm going to break it down for you. It's actually a really pretty simple thing for us to take through. But before we go there, Kate, I really wanted to spend a minute just talking about the word agreement because it's the foundation of the whole process.

There's a difference between an agreement and a rule. When we think about an agreement, it's usually between two or more people. It involves the ability for each one to be a part of that process, a part of the discussion, or a part of whatever that result or outcome is. People have the ability to chime in, choose, change, challenge, and tweak.

Because the agreement is coming within the team, it's not something that's dropped down on people. It's not a compliance, then you don't have these outside forces saying what you should do. You have the people within agreeing on what do we want to do. What is it that we want to create?

Automatically, because parallel process is the whole thing we're talking about, this drops us immediately into a positive climate. Don't forget about that buy-in regard for student perspectives. Already, just the word gets us into the frame of what we're talking about. This then is where we get to jump into that first step of creating a shared vision.

Again, we talked previously about this, but the keyword is shared. Shared means that it's about multiple people. As I mentioned before, it's actually about creating that buy-in, and it gives us a shared sense of purpose like where are we both going? There are a lot of ways to do this.

For example, think about, what would a perfect day for us look like. It doesn't matter if you're in the classroom or if you're an administrator, but whoever your team is, you get to think about that together. What would it look like? What would we see? What would we hear? What would we feel?

From there, we kind of back map into it. Okay, well, in order for this to happen, this outcome or result, what are some things that we want to put into place? But I want to stop for a second because there's a trick to the shared vision, and that is, we don't just get to talk about it. Kate and I know. We're really good at sharing our vision. We don't get to just talk about it. We actually get to document it in some way, shape, or form. We get to make it visible so everyone can see it.

For example, you can do a shared vision board. I have lots of teams who do that. It's fun. It's exciting. The visuals or the images help. The words are really important. Something that will help remind us of that shared vision, that shared goal, that shared outcome or result that we want. Or I know some people write their shared vision out and then they post it in the classroom, again, for adults can see.

If you're feeling super bold and you really want to connect with your families, some teams actually share their vision with their families and say, here's our vision for our classroom, and then they'll give examples. Here are some of the things that you'll see us do in creating that vision. It sets the climate.

Kate: Personal accountability, right? Accountability to yourself, to your team, co-teacher, to the families, to the program that we're all committed to doing this. It's not just words in the air. It's written down things we're communicating and talking about. Okay, awesome. I'm sorry to interrupt.

Deidre: No, you're perfectly right. What it does, a lot of people don't realize that, but it actually invites people into the vision. Another word we can think of is enrollment. You enroll people into your vision, so now you're not just carrying the climate alone. Whoever walks into your room actually gets to support you and everybody else in creating that shared vision or that climate itself.

Instead of pushing the car up the hill, we call it the why or putting the gas in the gas tank. It gives you that steam so that shared vision gets to be critical to the process. But again, a key point of that is to get it visual in some way, shape, or form.

The next part of the process is to think about, okay, what focus or what area do we want to look at for this agreement? I always encourage people to think about one or two things to focus so that we don't get overwhelmed. But when we think about maybe the routine or a time of the day that we want to get the most impact, once we have that topic or focus, then we go right into the third step. The third step is around adding expectations and considerations.

When we're talking about things like say positive climate, one of the best ways for teams to develop trust is to have agreements about how they're going to actually interact with each other. What are the expectations? We do for children, we do for adults. What are the expectations for each of us during a certain routine, time of day, or even an area outside or inside?

This is where some of us can get into a little bit of trouble because what tends to happen is that we base our expectations on personal preferences. I'm going to encourage us to go outside of ourselves and go to actual best practices. What I mean by that is we have all kinds of things. We have standards, we have ethics, we have NAEYC, if you're in Head Start, you have the Head Start standard, and you have your program expectations.

What happens is that when we go outside of ourselves, it says, look, we are using practices that we know will get us particular outcomes. That it's not just something that I like to do. Because we're basing it on those practices, it gives us something to fall back on. No one person is the bad guy. Based on that expectation, then I ask everyone, you know what, why don't you develop a set of criteria or questions to help you think about what your roles and responsibilities would be within that particular topic or area?

Kate: Okay. Who's doing what?

Deidre: Yes, absolutely. We call it the Five W's, the who, what, where, when, and how. Just by answering those questions as you're breaking down your particular topics or routines by rules and roles, you can start thinking about it. Okay, well, who's going to handle this? When are we going to do that? Then what comes next? Spelling that out, but it helps to have a bunch of questions to get us thinking about that.

The last part of the process, and you've heard me say this repeatedly, is that we get to document or visualize the agreement. This part is critical for shared accountability or mutual accountability. If we don't write it down or if we don't document it in some way, we don't have anything to refer back to.

That's the key because again, it's not going to be an if, it's going to be a when. There's going to be some type of breakdown. When you write it down, document it, and you refer back to it, it's like, oh, okay, well, this isn't working. Let's go back and tweak it. Or a lot of times, it's like, oh, okay, wait, what did I say I was going to do?

Kate: It's not a she said, she said, or he said.

Deidre: Yes.

Kate: No. That's not what I said, yes. That's what you said. Let's look at what we wrote down, that way, it's not confusing.

Deidre: Yes. This is the piece that's typically missing for people in their agreements. Write it down, make it visible, you have something to refer back to. Then one of the agreements I suggest or recommend is that everyone has an understanding that it's a working document. Meaning, when it's agreed upon, we can go back, share, and tweak it because we all know it's one thing to put it on paper, it's something else to actually do it. Some things will definitely need to be changed.

The last piece of that that I highly, highly encourage you, once it's written down in whatever way you do it, is for everyone to sign it. It's huge psychologically. And in terms of investment and buy-in, something happens when we sign our name on something. It adds that level of authority, saying, absolutely, I'm in agreement with this. That's the last key.

Kate: Are you ready? We're going to dive into some sticky situations.

Deidre: Yes, bring it on.

Kate: All right. We want to think about how we can use the parallel process and the shared team vision as a way to approach what do we do in these situations. Here's the first one.

I'm an assistant teacher, and the lead teacher in my room is really rough with the kids. She always has a short temper and often resorts to putting kids in timeouts. I don't agree with this approach. How do I handle this? What do I do? Help me, Deidre.

Deidre: I feel like, what is it, a Dear Anne? I'm dating myself now. First, what did I mention that you think this situation falls into?

Kate: Aha. Okay, we've got this thing happening where the teachers aren't necessarily seeing things in the same way, a mismatch in their view on things. And then this lead teacher is being maybe a little bit of negativity happening with the children or something like that. You've definitely got a negative climate going on here. The one teacher doesn't want that to happen. They see this happening, but they're not sure how to approach this situation.

Deidre: Sticking with the parallel process, here's the first thing, and it's why shared vision is always the first step because people like to get in there and change things around. My first question to everybody is, what is your shared vision? Because when you have that vision, you can roll everything underneath it or through it. It becomes our framework or guidelines. This is what we're going to achieve.

Often, here's the thing, when we're upset or frustrated, we know we're definitely not at the best. Again, I'm going to recommend that you discuss your shared vision when everybody's relaxed and have time to reflect. This is a great time to pick out certain routines or situations. For this team, it might be, hey, what is our shared vision around guidance or how to handle challenging behaviors?

Again, it allows us to think back and talk about, okay, if this is our shared vision, who do we as teachers get to be and drive what we do in that classroom? Once there's this agreement and we visualize it, we can post it so everyone can see it. We then can actually refer back to it.

The other thing that I'm going to say is, again, we want to take personal preference out of it because you notice with the situation, she says, I don't agree with this approach. When we go back to those expectations, what are the best practices for these particular situations? How do we handle children when they're doing things that are inappropriate? What's the tone of voice? What are some strategies we can use?

Once we start doing that, it doesn't have anything to do with us personally. We don't have to be the bad guys. Then you can actually talk about it. Oh, I noticed that this happened. If we think about our shared vision, what's the strategy we could go back and use that we both can use?

Kate: Yeah, definitely. It's that ability like I don't have to jump in and challenge this teacher right off to say, hey, I don't like the way you're doing that. We can take that step back when it's quiet, when we're calm, and talk about how do we want to handle situations in the classroom. And really think about, what are the reasons why this might be happening?

It could be there's something going on with our behavior management. Maybe we're not clear in our expectations. Maybe there's something going on with our productivity. Maybe we're making kids wait too long or they have nothing to do and it's causing problems. Or maybe it's a teacher sensitivity thing. Maybe we're missing some cues and it's causing those children to want their needs met. And if they're not doing it in a positive way, they're going to do it in an antisocial way.

We might be missing things for lots of different reasons that push us to that edge of negativity. Taking the time to talk about it will also then build our positive climate between us, our relationship between us as a team. And then that will make it a safer place for children to feel comfortable learning in our classroom. A domino effect in all of this.

Deidre: Yes.

Kate: Here's the next one. All right, brand new situation. I don't know much about my co-teacher. She's new to the school, and I won't get much of a chance to interact with her before school starts. It's so busy at the beginning of the year. What can I do to get on the same page with her as quickly as possible?

Deidre: We're talking about a positive climate. How do we establish that relationship with this person knowing that we don't necessarily have a lot of time or do what I call front loading? Front loading is actually upfront establishing that relationship before you actually step into the classroom.

Again, we do it for children. Just like we do for adults, just like we do for children. Some things you can think about is maybe even putting a little card in their school mailbox with a short get-to-know-you questionnaire. Hey, I know you're new, welcome. Just so I can get to know you a little better, I know, we haven't had a chance to chat, can you help me out by answering some of these questions? I always encourage just to add maybe a candy bar, maybe a little Starbucks gift certificate, or something that just says, welcome. I'm excited to be working with you.

Kate: Yeah. I would feel really welcomed. I know that's how I would feel. Because especially if I'm new to a center and I'm nervous too about who I'm going to be working with, I would definitely feel more relaxed, like, oh, I can work. Then if they came to me and said, let's form our team vision, then I would be like, okay, cool, let's do that, because they took an interest in me to get to know me.

Deidre: Yeah. When you talk about shared vision, it rolls right into that, right?

Kate: Yes.

Deidre: We're so glad you're here. Hey, what would a perfect day look like for you? Can we create one together?

Kate: The big takeaway from this conversation, not only is CLASS an excellent way to understand educator-child-classroom interactions. It also helps us approach adult-adult professional interactions in a caring, productive, and thought-provoking way. I always enjoy spending time with Deidre.

If you haven't listened to the episode from June where Deidre and I explored creating a team vision and building trust, I invite you to give it a listen. Deidre gave us so many great ideas in that conversation too. As always, thank you for listening. Until next time. Take care of yourself and your team because what you do matters.

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