This month we are going to shine our spotlight on Jill Christensen, the Preschool Specialist for the Office of Public Instruction in the state of Montana. Jill is not one of many preschool specialists in her state; she is THE specialist. If that sounds like a big job, that’s because it is! Montana is one of the 18 states selected to receive one of the federal Preschool Development Grants designed to improve preschool programs in the state. Jill’s main responsibility is to work on a team to oversee the implementation of this 4-year, $40,000,000 grant.
Jill works closely with the state’s assessment team. This team conducts CLASS, DIAL. The ECERS assessment is administered by the state’s STARS to Quality system. The assessments give a broad picture of what’s going on in both school distract and Head Start programs across the state. In addition, she supports a cadre of early childhood regional specialists who provide CLASS based professional development.
Montana is working on a vertical alignment of preschool and school aged programs and CLASS will be instrumental in this work. I recently had the opportunity to travel to Helena to train some members of the state team on the K-3 tool and learn more about how they are picturing this critical and exciting alignment work.
When I asked for advice for a new CLASS trainer, Jill stated that it’s important to remember that the focus should be on teachers’ practices and not on the score. She said, “The power (of the CLASS) comes from understanding dimensions and indicators.” She noted that the CLASS measures a lot of things that teachers already do and providing them with the lens and the language can go a long way towards increasing teachers’ intentionality in how they interact with children.
What were Jill’s parting words for me? “I’ve never been disappointed with the CLASS tool.”
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.
As a CLASS Group Coaching (MMCI) instructor, the sections of any given two-hour session may feel, at times, very goal driven. These sections titled "Know," "See," and "Do” are interconnected. In particular, it is possible to consider "Do" within "Know," and "See." When an instructor supports in-the-moment experiences that connect new knowledge to current practice, they make the CLASS dimensions more relevant to the educators' daily work. But how can we infuse more “Do” into “Know” and “See?” First, let's re-cap what happens in each section.
I have a confession to make. Recently, I used vacation time to stay home and watch Season 6 of The Walking Dead. I know, I know. How could I have let myself miss a whole season? Oh, and I feel a little bad about taking the time off from work too, but this was very nearly an emergency! I mean it was only weeks before Season 7 of the season premiere. I had to do something. Don’t judge.
While I was watching, I had the strangest feeling of deja vu. I felt like I had actually walked through a herd of zombies, but couldn’t quite place why it felt so familiar. Then it hit me—I had unknowingly created zombie-like participants during at least two of my previous CLASS trainings.