At the InterAct Summit 2016, Bridget Hamre delivered a powerful message during the opening keynote. We pulled out some of her key points into a two-part blog series, Interactions Are Our Core.
When Bob and I developed the CLASS tool and then founded Teachstone, it all began with the seed of an idea that the interactions that children have with adults are one of the most important ingredients to children’s healthy development and learning.
We always knew that interactions among teachers and children mattered, but prior to the CLASS, we didn’t have a way to quantify them, or a common language to discuss them, or data to make the case to legislators that they mattered. We certainly didn’t invent teacher sensitivity, or quality of feedback, but just helped bring them into focus in new ways that have really had an impact on the field.
I often ask people to think about a teacher who really made a difference in their lives. Why was it that this person was so phenomenal? I usually get similar answers—and that is one of the coolest parts of doing this work. Let me tell you about two teachers who made a difference in my life.
In 2007, I was interviewed for an article in the New Yorker. About a month after the article came out, I received an email from my kindergarten teacher. She had seen the article and thought about me. We’ve kept in touch on and off since then. Last year, she sent me another email. She had been cleaning out her house and found some photographs of the two of us working together in the classroom from so many years ago. It was amazing that she still had these, and that she had kept them. The quality of the relationships that are formed between teachers and students—like the one between me and my kindergarten teacher—are the things that kids remember. They are the things that teachers remember, too.
When we first started doing MyTeachingPartner™ (MTP™) Coaching, I was working with another teacher, Bonita. Like so many of my coaching relationships, Bonita didn’t need a coach. She was coaching me about what it means to be a good teacher. What I loved about her was that she spoke to her preschoolers in a way that made them feel important. They weren’t just little kids. She didn’t talk down to them. Every single interaction conveyed to these children that they were important people and had interesting things to say. She was funny and impactful in so many ways, but this respect she had for each child in the classroom really stood out to me.
We all have these teachers that we hold in our mind. I wish that all children were so lucky to have teachers like my kindergarten teacher or Bonita who nurture relationships and interactions in the classroom.
Sometimes, at least for me, it seems so obvious that interactions matter. It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t that long ago that when you said the word “quality” almost no one thought of the daily interactions between teachers and children. There were (and still are) a lot of different definitions for quality— teachers qualifications, the materials in the room, the ratio. But we weren’t paying enough attention to the interactions that were happening in the classroom.
We’ve made a lot of progress. Head Start, QRIS across the country, organizations like First 5 California and Georgia DECAL, and many others are finding ways to focus on interactions and supporting improvement efforts in the classroom. Partners like The Ounce for Prevention help us leverage some of these changes across the landscape. If you mention the word quality today, you’re much more likely to have someone think about interactions and what’s happening in the classroom than in the past.
I was reminded of this when I recently taught an online course. What was fascinating was reading through the conversations people were having. In some of the opening materials, we shared some basic data about how often children are interacting with adults, how much time they spend in transitions and routines, and the quality of their interactions.
Here’s an example of what one teacher said:
“As a teacher, I always felt that children learn best from other children and they learn through play.”
This is true. Children learn from each other and through play, but the interesting part of this comment was that this teacher didn’t realize that what she did in the classroom mattered to child learning.
Here’s another quote:
“I did not stop to think about how important the verbal interactions between the teacher student are throughout the day.”
While the importance of verbal interactions may be obvious to us, it might not be as obvious to all teachers. We have to do a better job of supporting and communicating to our teachers that what they do matters and has an impact on the children.
“...Children can learn and not know that they are actually learning. When engaging with children playing games, counting, stacking blocks, etc. children are in fact learning, however it is done in a fun, fulfilling way that children are unaware of this is indeed a golden opportunity that is overlooked.”
Children do learn through play and we don’t want to counteract that. But so many teachers have been taught that interacting actually interferes with children’s learning. Teachers haven’t been taught how to interact, and furthermore, they have been taught that if they do interact they will interfere with what is a natural learning process. This is a great challenge right now. How do we convey the importance of interactions in all of their complexities?
All of these teachers are right. Children learn through their peers and through play. Beyond letting people know that interactions matter, the challenge is this: how do you put play and instruction together in a way that is developmentally appropriate?
We have a lot to do to move the field in this direction. We have to find the right balance. The seed that started CLASS and Teachstone—that interactions matter—continues to grow.
There are three things that still form the core of what we are doing:
Today, I invite you to join us. Help us grow the seed that interactions matter. We need to continue focusing on what teachers are doing, measuring it, and then supporting teachers in a way that helps them improve their interactions.
I’m excited to see how this seed will continue to grow.
I recognize and admit to having a chip on my shoulder about the field of early childhood education - and, at times, disbelief that others may not see that period of time as the power-packed years in our developmental timeline which can lay the groundwork and set the course for much of the rest of our lives.
Since the coronavirus has disrupted many of our in-person plans, you might be trying to figure out how you can transition in-person coaching to online coaching. Online coaching can open a number of doors for coaches and teachers that might not be an option in face-to-face work.