The CLASS measure allows us to quantify the quality of teacher-child interactions—and that is a powerful thing. But collecting observation data, alone, does nothing to impact students. Improving child outcomes takes more than just data collection; it’s what you do with the data that really matters.
During my time at Teachstone, I’ve seen too many programs use CLASS observation data solely to provide summative feedback. Although this is certainly a valid use of data, the most successful coaches I’ve spoken with use CLASS data to provide individualized, formative feedback to teachers—and they also use that data to determine what sorts of professional development will be most relevant and impactful to individual teachers. Of course, scheduling regular CLASS observations at the individual teacher level can be both time and cost prohibitive, which leads me to my next point ...
It is critical to establish a systematic cycle for teacher improvement throughout the year in order to achieve incremental gains—Teachstone recommends conducting regular observations that will inform coaching and professional development. Generally, the more formal observations a program conducts, the better; but less formal, anecdotal observations are important, too! Coaches collect anecdotal observation notes in many ways; for example, a coach might offer to watch a particular lesson for the teacher’s use of Language Modeling. For the teacher, this provides an objective, specific, and detailed account of her interactions in this dimension (without the added stress of being assigned a score). This also allows the coach to better provide individualized support.
Let’s be honest—if you’re trying to establish a supportive, coaching relationship with a teacher, that’s going to be really difficult if you’re also planning to use their observation data as a “gotcha” measure or to call out their “problem areas.” When using CLASS data in a formative way—to differentiate support, goals, and professional development plans—it must be associated with achievement, rather than punishment.
The best data tells a story—and when it comes to CLASS data—that is the story of improving interactions, and ultimately, outcomes for children. While data can be used at the individual teacher level to differentiate coaching and professional development, administrators also have stories to tell. For example: How has our new coaching initiative impacted CLASS scores over time? Who are the standout teachers in my organization? How well are we achieving our goals this year? Data is a critical tool from the individual teacher level all the way to highest levels of our educational leadership.
Can we talk about structure? When CLASS entered my life, I was 20 years into my career in the field of early childhood education. What I remember most about that initial training, besides the nervousness about an impending reliability test, was a sense of relief. Structure, including State and program standards, curriculum, materials in the classroom, and approaches to childcare and pedagogy, had dominated my working hours. CLASS was a lot to learn, but for me, it was a breath of fresh air. Observing with CLASS meant I could set aside my obsession with all things structural – which encompassed my thoughts every time I walked into an early childhood classroom.
Decades of evidence indicate that high-quality early childhood education positively affects children. Yet studies reveal that too few programs implement high-quality programming. To date, improvement efforts have primarily focused on what occurs within the classroom. The Ounce of Prevention Fund (Ounce), in partnership with the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (UChicago Consortium), strives to broaden the focus of improvement efforts beyond the classroom to organizational conditions that support teachers and the relationships among staff, children, and families.