Twenty-five years ago, quality teaching in early childhood classrooms meant providing a safe place for children to play, with stimulating materials and books to read. Today, we have provided those basics in most early childhood classrooms, and our focus has shifted to the hows of quality—how teachers interact with children, how they use time and materials to get the most out of every moment, and how they ensure that children are engaged and stimulated.
Imagine two classrooms down the hall from each other, both with high-quality resources and materials. In the classroom with more effective interactions, the teachers are actively engaged with the children—being a "challenging customer" in the children’s pretend restaurant, encouraging children in the paint area to experiment with mixing colors, and helping a child brainstorm what to do while waiting for his turn on the computer. The children respond with deep engagement and eagerness to contribute their own ideas, and these everyday activities challenge them to engage in social problem solving, create and test hypotheses about the physical world, and learn to regulate their behavior.
In the less effective classroom, the teachers sit close to the children but take a less active role. Children are comfortable involving them in play, but the teachers miss opportunities to take interactions deeper. Some children pull basket after basket off the shelves, playing with each activity for a minute or two before moving on to the next. Others hover at the edges, not sure what to do. In between brief conversations with children, the teachers discuss their plans for the rest of the school day. The children are safe and comfortable but do not stay engaged with activities for long and seem to wander from one thing to the next.
Teachers face enormous distractions with paperwork, routine care, and packed schedules. But some teachers manage to cut through these distractions to truly connect with children, and research shows that these teachers have significant and lasting effects on outcomes. The Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) observation measures were developed to make effective teacher-child interactions objective and measurable. The CLASS framework also serves as a roadmap for improving interactions by defining in detail interactions that matter most for children.
For more on the research about effective teaching, check out our new Research Summary. And be sure to share your thoughts about effective teaching in the comments!
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.
I was supposed to be an architect, instead I was a teacher of young children; it felt like my calling.
When I started my coursework, they tasked me with visiting multiple classrooms. It overwhelmed me when in some classrooms, children were crying, teachers were frustrated, and no one seemed to enjoy the day. I thought I had made a mistake. Thankfully, I had a professor who inspired me to continue. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the behaviors I observed in both children and teachers, the professor charged me to uncover the root of those behaviors.
And so, my journey to support social-emotional development began.
Every state, every district, every school, every teacher faced decisions that they had never anticipated in the last academic year. As the end of the 2020-2021 school year approaches, it’s time to reflect on those decisions, learn from others, and prepare for the fall ahead.
To those in the education world, it’s not news that our schools, our systems, and our students are struggling. For nearly 40 years, since the publication of A Nation At Risk, we’ve recognized as a country that something isn’t working.
For more than a century after the United States’ colonization, school was intended for children who were overwhelmingly wealthy, white, male, and English-speaking - those demographics are no longer the case. Students today are representative of all our nation’s families, but our history means there’s a mismatch between what education has done up to this point and what children really need. What’s more, advances in science - psychology, medicine,
neuroscience, economics, and more - have shown us that to give children the greatest opportunity we must change what we’re doing. We can’t let another 40 years pass while we figure it out.