Building positive relationships through community and student engagement is one of the core values for the education department at Blue Ridge Community College, a community college located in Flat Rock, NC, with NAEYC-accredited education programs. Faculty in the early childhood and school-age education programs support their students’ success by modeling professionalism, ethical standards, collaboration, and community involvement. Since building positive relationships has been a core value of the program, faculty encourage students to develop positive interactions with children in classroom observations, volunteer work with children, as well as in their practicum experiences.
To assist students with understanding the importance of the teacher-child relationship and interactions, the faculty use the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS). All of the full-time education faculty were trained in the CLASS and began implementing it with students in 2012. The CLASS is first introduced to students through teaching the importance of the teacher-child interactions and introducing the different domains and dimensions of the CLASS tool.
For the student’s practicum course, the students purchase the CLASS Dimension Guide and the CLASS Video Library. During the course the students are required to read and discuss the Dimensions Guide as well as view, discuss, and complete assignments for the Video Library. When the faculty coordinator visits the students in the practicum classroom, the CLASS tool is used as one way to evaluate the student’s performance in their relationships and interactions with the children in the classroom. The real-life examples in the videos have helped our students understand the different domains, dimensions, indicators, and behavior markers in CLASS, and discuss them with the faculty coordinator and fellow classmates.
Using this whole system for the CLASS has improved the students' interactions and relationships with children in the classroom, which has improved children’s behavior, interactions with other children, and their growth and development.
Brenda Blackburn, MS, is an Early Childhood and School-age Education Instructor at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock, North Carolina. Before getting her MS in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of Alabama, Brenda spent much of her time teaching in Indiana and Mississippi.
When I first learned about CLASS Group Coaching—a training for early childhood professionals about building relationships with children—I was more than a little interested. This, I thought. This is what teaching is all about. It seems to be an obvious concept, but once we dig deeper, we are able to identify the whys and hows of our interactions. CLASS Group Coaching allows us to identify the benefits of our classroom relationships with our students and helps us be intentional in our daily practices. It allows us to utilize each moment we have with our students to deepen our understanding of their perspectives and genuinely connect with them as people. It helps us see the world from their view and guide their learning in a way that is relevant to them.
Many teachers will agree that their first year of teaching can be one of the most grueling, challenging, and stressful experiences for them as they take on the task of educating our youth. In my first year of teaching, I was not familiar with the CLASS tool and its impact in the classroom. I was not aware of the dimensions, indicators, and the tremendous power of interactions. Looking back, I recognize the many ways the CLASS tool was reflected in my classroom, but I also see the value in how familiarity with the CLASS tool could have benefitted my classroom. Although many external forces impacted my role as a high school Spanish teacher, the CLASS tool’s invaluable purpose could have made a profound impact on my first year teaching.
When I first heard that I was going to have to be observed and coached for my job, I was not thrilled by any means. I immediately thought, Great, someone is going to watch me and tell me how terrible I am. I sincerely thought it was going to be nothing but a negative experience.
I’ve been in the field of early childhood education for over 35 years and absolutely LOVE the CLASS tool. I wish I had CLASS during my years as a teacher and director of ECE programs. I am grateful to have the CLASS tool now to express my continual love for ECE and the importance of great teaching in the early years of children's lives.