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Don’t Fear the CLASS: Why You Should Want a CLASS Evaluation

31 Aug 2017 by Guest Blogger

CLASS is a research based tool that measures teacher-child interactions in Pre-K-12 classrooms and in settings that serve infants and toddlers. I'm one of the biggest cheerleaders of this tool. I believe if I had had this professional development tool while I was a teacher it would have impacted my teaching implementations and positively affected my students’ learning outcomes.

I taught kindergarten for eight years. I received at least one observation per year by an administrator. Basically, my principal or vice principal would walk into my classroom with a checklist or rubric developed by the district. We would then (sometimes) discuss the rubric and I would shove it in a file folder and never think about it again. They provided minimal feedback and ways to grow as an educator. 

CLASS would have changed me as a teacher and it would have been much more effective than a rubric because it measures the interactions teachers have with students. I love that the CLASS allows for student autonomy of learning, fosters a positive and responsive classroom environment, encourages and promotes high levels of language stimulation, and intentionally promotes higher-order thinking skills. I was never observed on the types of interactions I was having with my kids. That would have been game changing.

In fact, I’m so jazzed about the CLASS that I am now a Pre-K CLASS trainer. I get a lot of joy out of spreading the CLASS message to educators across my state. While training other teachers on this tool, I find that they are afraid of the CLASS or angry that they have one more assessment or “thing” they have to deal with as a teacher. I hope I can alleviate some of those fears, encourage educators to embrace what the CLASS is, and help them understand what the CLASS is not.

The observer is here to judge me. What if they don’t like my teaching style?

The CLASS is not an opinion of what type of teacher you are. As a CLASS observer, I must use the lens of the tool. In Pre-K and K-3, there are 10 dimensions with indicators and behavioral markers that help observers make standardized assessments based on the CLASS. I do not come into your room and score based on what I think you are doing right or wrong. I measure you based on the tool.

I already have observations done in my classroom every year. Why do I need CLASS?

Classrooms are complex places! CLASS gives educators a snapshot picture of one part of one day in their classroom. This snapshot can provide you with a lot of information about what areas you are doing well in and what areas you have room for growth. Let me use my own classroom as an example. Hypothetically, if a CLASS observation was happening in my classroom during center time I would have typically scored high in Regard for Student Perspectives. My students would have had choice within centers, I would have been talking and eliciting their ideas, and they would have had opportunities for leadership.

During the same observation, if whole group or opening was observed, my scores for Regard for Student Perspectives would have been extremely low. During a whole group format I had little opportunity for students to have ownership or choice of their learning. This is the beauty of the CLASS. I may not have noticed this disparity as a classroom teacher on my own. But with a snapshot picture of my day I could see what I was doing well and what areas could use some improvement.

We don’t use the same curriculum as other districts or classrooms so my CLASS scores will be lower than other teachers’ scores

The CLASS does not measure or observe your curriculum. When I am observing a classroom, I don’t care what the teacher is using as a curriculum. Instead, the CLASS focuses on how the teacher is implementing curriculum, the quality of interactions happening between teacher-students, and the types of interactions between students and their peers.

I have a really hard group this year. Five of my students receive services for Behavioral Disorders. I am sure my CLASS will be lower because I have difficult children to teach

The CLASS measures your interactions with your students. Before a CLASS observation I do not ask the teacher how many of her students are on IEPs or receive special education services. I am watching how you proactively state your behavioral expectations and how you respond to active misbehavior. The tool also takes into account the average experience of the average child in a classroom. This means if you have one student who is having a hard day and is throwing objects or hitting others, the CLASS observer will not automatically drop your score for Behavior Management. What the certified observer will watch for is how you respond to the situation and if things continue to escalate. Frequency, depth, and duration are important elements that are considered for every indicator of the tool.

I am worried that if I score low on the CLASS my director/principal will be mad at me. What if we lose our funding because of me?

Like I mentioned above, this tool is designed to be used as professional development. The tool is not meant to breed a competitive atmosphere between teachers or schools. Please don’t compare your scores to the scores of the teacher next door. It is for you to use as a means of seeing your strengths and realizing ways you can improve. Hopefully your director, principal, or funders can see this tool for what it is—professional development for the teacher or for a team of teachers.

The main reason I fell in love with the CLASS is because of its focus on relationships and interactions. That is really what it all boils down to. I'll continue to spread this CLASSy message to as many educators as possible because I am an advocate for kids and teachers. The CLASS serves both.

Head Shot-1.jpgColleen Schmit is a bilingual program evaluator at Munroe-Meyer Institute through the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She loves providing professional development opportunities that help teachers reflect on their teaching practices, recharge their batteries, and rekindle their joy for teaching. She enjoys spreading the message of the CLASS tool as a Pre-K affiliate CLASS trainer with Teachstone.

This post originally appeared on Criss Cross Applesauce

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