On July 12, 2023, the Office of Head Start announced they will resume the use of CLASS® as a part of their monitoring system after a three-year hiatus due to COVID and resulting workforce shortages. As we’ve talked with our Head Start partners, we’ve heard mixed emotions about this, with many worrying about “one more thing” they need to fit into their busy schedules. We get this—running a Head Start program is one of the hardest jobs. And, many of the stressors from the pandemic remain — especially high turnover and workforce shortages.
Over the past 15 years, we’ve worked hard to support Head Start leaders, making their CLASS journey as easy and impactful as possible. And we’ve learned a lot from our Head Start partners over the years.
Here are some of the key lessons from programs that have led with a mindset that “We do CLASS” rather than “CLASS is done to us.” These programs tell us they don’t really worry when it comes time for CLASS monitoring. Why? They know their staff are all well prepared and they understand the value of quality interactions. Through these conversations, we’ve learned how best to support programs in fostering a culture of CLASS. And, our tools, trainings, and services are designed to help you in the work you do each day.
As you read, take a moment to consider your own program among these elements. How might you use this opportunity to change how you use CLASS to support educators and children?
6 Lessons from Head Start Leaders
1. There is a clear and consistent focus on the power of interactions, not CLASS.Align around the idea that all children in your program deserve to experience life-changing interactions. CLASS is a tool that helps you achieve that goal. Ultimately it isn’t about “raising CLASS scores,” but about supporting educators and children. This reframe helps create buy-in and can motivate educators who often tell us they came to the work because they know what a difference they can make in their daily interactions with children. If you need inspiration check out this great podcast episode where Dr. Jacobs from AppleTree Learning in Washington D.C. talks about building a culture of CLASS centered on interactions.
2. Leaders model effective interactions in their daily work with staff.
We can’t expect our classroom educators to demonstrate strong interactions if they don’t have a workplace culture that fosters positive relationships and supports ongoing learning and development. As you re-introduce CLASS to your Head Start community, think about the “how” of your interactions and inspire your team by how you model CLASS in your daily work. Consider sharing this Teaching with CLASS podcast episode, Classroom Teams: Handling Sticky Situations with CLASS in which Kate Cline and Deidre Harris explore ways to foster meaningful adult-adult interactions.
3. Every educator has foundational knowledge about CLASS and how it fits into their daily work.
When CLASS was first rolled out in Head Start there were many opportunities for leaders, coaches, and teachers to get trained on CLASS. Now is a great time to re-boot that knowledge since many teachers will be new to CLASS. Even experienced teachers may benefit from some new learning opportunities to increase their knowledge and confidence. CLASS Primer for Teachers, gives an effective overview of the CLASS tool and the power of interactions through a flexible, on-demand learning experience. And, when paired with CLASS Interactions Dimension Guides, educators will have a foundational knowledge and practical strategies to begin using in their practice right-away.
Even bite-sized professional development can go a long way with helping build this foundational knowledge. For example, one of our Custom Event offerings, Getting Started with CLASS is only 45-minutes and is a great way to kick off a learning series that your team can attend over a week, month, or year. For a more in-depth exploration of Custom Events, you can check out this full demo.
4. Educators understand how CLASS aligns with other program elements and isn’t just “another thing” to do.
Too often, CLASS is seen as something different and new, but there are opportunities to help everyone understand the ways CLASS aligns with and supports other work. We’ve partnered to develop crosswalks to support these efforts. Check out the alignment with the Head Start Early Learning Outcome Framework, curricula such as Creative Curriculum, HighScope, Conscious Discipline, and Connect4Learning. Interactions are the key to effective teaching and learning—once educators have that foundational knowledge, the connections to CLASS become endless.
5. Educators get frequent and supportive feedback on CLASS.
Many programs conduct formal CLASS observations twice a year, providing meaningful feedback in a timely manner. This helps ensure CLASS isn’t just something that comes around once every five years but a core practice integral to Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) initiatives. Our myTeachstone platform provides everything leaders and observers need to conduct CLASS observations. And, you can deliver actionable reports to educators and site leaders from one centralized place.
Need people to conduct CLASS observations? There are many opportunities to get new staff trained to conduct CLASS observations and a great new Observer Support Series that is free to all certified observers that helps support observers to reduce bias and use CLASS in settings with Dual Language Learners and Children with Disabilities.
6. CLASS is embedded systematically into Practice-Based Coaching.
Support coaches to use CLASS through the delivery of one of our evidence-based practice-based coaching models. These coaching programs are proven to support more effective interactions in Head Start programs. After all, educators with this support layer feel more rewarded in their daily work. One teacher who recently participated in 1:1 Video Coaching shared, “I see my confidence increase and I have improved a lot with my communication with children. My supervisor noticed this change and commented on how easy I am now communicating...She also told me that I am now consistently using many open-ended questions ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions.”
Are you a program that has already done these things and wants to try something new? Here are a few ideas:
- Check out our new CLASS Environment tool. It is designed to work with CLASS seamlessly. You’ll be able to provide educators with actionable feedback about how to modify their classroom environment in ways that best support effective interactions and learning.
- Support assistant teachers and other staff in their career advancement while also introducing the importance of interactions through our CDA with CLASS program.
A single interaction can change the course of a child’s day. But, continuously supporting a child with meaningful interactions can change the child’s life. Let us help you foster the culture of CLASS within your program. Check out our Head Start page for more information.