Can a classroom truly have a positive climate when the relationship between the teachers in that room is strained?
Emotional Support domain scores for CLASS tend to be higher on average, and it is often noted that emotion is a large part of how many of us chose to work in early education: We love children! Nurturing young minds is our passion! We teach because we care!
In practice, I have observed that while much is said about how teachers *feel* about children, less attention is paid to how teaching teams *behave* toward each other. I have yet to hear a teacher say they pursued a career in teaching because they love working with other adults in classrooms, or that they are passionate about collaborative co-teaching.
Truthfully, many classrooms feature significant adult-to-adult tension, which has a variety of sources (including, cultural differences, generational misunderstandings, resentments about credentials and promotion, etc.). When tension goes unaddressed, it detracts from positive classroom experiences. What do students learn from teachers that have trouble interacting with each other? We know that learning happens in the context of interactions, so when teachers model dysfunction, children are learning something from that, too.
I first paid attention to the phenomenon of low positive climate (sometimes partial negative climate) between teachers when doing CLASS-based coaching in a room where both teachers were highly skilled, but would not communicate with each other beyond what was absolutely required. Each week I saw how both teachers showed strengths across all domains, but could barely be seen to make eye contact between the students’ arrival and lunch time. They spoke to each other rarely, sometimes addressing each other through the students. It was not unusual to see either of them roll their eyes and mumble to themselves as the other walked away from one of their stilted conversations. As an observer, I wondered, ‘How do they behave when I’m *not* here watching?’ and more importantly ‘How is this impacting the students?’
It became clear that this was happening in many classrooms around the city; teachers were teaching alongside each other, not together. They would spend the day ignoring each other until contact could no longer be avoided. As a coach, I could see that this reduced the teams’ abilities to communicate effectively and allowed students to slip through the cracks left by their silences: they didn’t check in with each other; didn’t verify information; didn’t remind or inquire. This led to confusion and many missed opportunities for communication and positive role-modeling.
Other negative impacts of these behaviors: they disrupt the unity of the classroom environment by limiting the teaching team’s ability to support each other and send a mixed message to students—do as we say, not as we do. How effective are positive climate strategies if teachers do not model them in real-time? Turning our attention to this important issue may be key to creating learning environments that provide a more consistently positive, secure base for learning.
We often ask students to be braver than we are and take risks we are unwilling to take. Without role models for behaviors that build emotional connections, how can students trust us to care for them in these vulnerable places? Can we really expect them to take us seriously when we say, “Tell them how you feel about that,” if they see us avoiding direct conversation with each other on a daily basis? Strong skills require regular practice, and teachers have to practice if they are to build a strong framework for positive interactions and communications.
Let’s consider the Positive Climate indicators, and think about ways to encourage these behaviors among adults. This can be a useful practice for supervisors and teachers alike. Ask these questions to reflect on teacher-to-teacher positive climate in your setting:
Key role models in the classroom must demonstrate relationship building, positive communication, positive affect, and respect between them. This is what it means to be a role model—demonstrated behaviors are a part of a teaching team’s toolkit.
Early education is a tough business. It is fast-paced, physically demanding, and emotionally taxing. It is easy to accumulate misunderstandings and hurt feelings in this kind of environment. It can be challenging to dig out of those situations by having honest-yet-potentially-awkward conversations. However, as we have come to understand the value of setting aside time for lesson planning and observation, we must also understand the value of cultivating Positive Climate among teaching teams.
When classrooms are observed, scoring decisions are not based on what teachers feel or intend, but rather what is seen. Looking for and expecting behaviors that support positive interactions among teachers will support the success of teachers and students.
Atena Danner is an early childhood education coach and trainer who works primarily with Head Start teachers in Chicago, IL. She is a parent, artist, writer and seeker of justice. She is a Teachstone Guest Blogger.
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.
This past year of hybrid and virtual learning due to the pandemic highlighted the gaps in learning and the inequities that we already knew existed. It is apparent, now more than ever, that there needs to be a narrow focus on bridging the divides (e.g., digital) that exist and meeting students where they are in order to promote growth and put less emphasis on standardized testing. This would allow teachers to concentrate on curriculum with greater impact, differentiate their instruction, and utilize effective strategies that they know make a difference for children’s outcomes.
Many teachers and leaders associate CLASS® with preschool. And we get it! It’s used in early childhood classrooms across the country, including Head Start programs, and it’s been more important than ever for young children as they begin to return to in-person learning.
But the principles of CLASS - Emotional Support, Classroom Organization, Instructional Support - are important for children well beyond Pre-K. The ever-increasing research base shows that interactions matter for children’s social-emotional and academic development. That’s why CLASS is organized to support children from infancy to high school with the developmentally appropriate interactions that drive learning - and why K-12 leaders are embracing CLASS in their schools.