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Promoting Quality Interactions in Early Childhood Settings

11 May 2022 by Meghan Cornwell

Teachstone recently hosted the What Is “Quality” Teaching Anyway? webinar with Laura Iannazzo, Professional Services Manager at Teachstone, and Gena Puckett, Education and Training Specialist from the University of Mississippi School of Education. Together, they talked about the significance of quality interactions between early childhood educators and infants or toddlers in their care.

Defining Quality Interactions

Quality interactions refer to how early childhood educators communicate and interact with the children in their care. How we instruct these children is often as important as the instruction itself.

What do you consider “good” teaching? You may think of qualities that teachers have like flexibility, passion, communication, and patience. These are all critical components of quality instruction. Also important is the need to understand the children in your care and build upon these relationships with consistent, meaningful interactions.

Every Child is Different

Effective interactions are valuable, with research showing their impact on cognitive, behavioral, and social outcomes. However, what one child needs often differs from another child’s needs.


In this classroom video example, Laura explained how this two-minute segment from a real classroom exemplified several components of quality interaction. The teacher uses self-talk, frequent conversation, open-ended questions, and repetition to connect with and engage her pre-K students. In addition, participants identified several quality interactions with the teacher, including her proximity to the children, the total autonomy she afforded them, and her obvious desire to interact.

How Children Learn

Studies on the efficacy of strong interactions between children and caregivers emphasize the value of quality interactions. In the 1980s and 1990s, attachment theory focused on the correlation between children’s relationships and their future development, including their development of emotional control and social skills. A study by the National Center for Early Development and Learning assessed children's academic and social development in publicly funded preschool programs.

In the 1990s and 2000s, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development compared parent-child interactions with children and their early childhood educators. Through their examination of social-academic outcomes on a large scale, researchers determined that the attributes of good parenting — sensitivity, stimulation, and motivation — also impacted children’s experiences in their educational settings. The study further showed that the benefits of quality interaction extended to children’s school readiness and led to more engagement in the classroom.

Tips for Teacher Sensitivity

Even the smallest interactions between educators and children in their care make a difference. One way to ensure that your actions demonstrate sensitivity is to use the CLASS® tool, which helps categorize different interactions and their subsequent impact on development.

Additional tips for demonstrating teacher sensitivity include:

  • Acknowledging children both physically and verbally. This could be with a pat on the back or holding their hand. This acknowledgment might even be non-verbal, such as when you take notice of a child standing quietly off to the side.
  • Noting when children are upset and helping them verbalize their emotions.
  • Acknowledging and accepting a child’s negative emotions, including anger, fright, and sadness. This lets children know you have heard them and are willing to help address their problems.
  • Recognizing the significance of your role as an early childhood educator. Children look to their teachers for support.

Behavior Management

The CLASS® tool sees behavior through a developmental lens. Toddlers, for example, need to feel supported and use their behavior as a means to communicate their needs. The teacher’s role is to help the children in their care understand classroom expectations and develop their ability to self-regulate. 

Elements of high-quality behavior management skills include clear communication of your expectations, being specific in your directions or subsequent redirection, proactively anticipating problem behavior, and maintaining a positive focus. This reinforcement motivates not only other children in the classroom but also provides concrete examples from which children learn and develop.

Language Development

Language development is another key component of early childhood development and quality teacher-child interactions. Educators can implement this principle into the early education setting with the following actions:

  • Give words to both children’s actions and your own.
  • Expand and extend the sounds infants make or the words and phrases toddlers use.
  • Ask open-ended questions and allow time for children to think and respond.
  • Label items, provide definitions, and use additional words or juicy vocabulary to expand children’s verbal skills.

Halos and Horns

In the webinar, Gena notes the importance of understanding how children see you as an early educator. Do they see someone who is helpful and encouraging (a “halo”)? Or is their experience one of a teacher who simply wants to go through the motions rather than seeking meaningful interactions (a “horn”)? 

At the same time, are you seeing just the halos in your classroom? You love the children who do what you want without any fuss, but are you providing enough support to them? Are you only reacting to the horns, the children who often tend to act out or seem not to listen? To see halos and horns could also mean the difference in equal vs. equitable teaching. Children all learn differently, need different levels of support, and come from different backgrounds that are impacting them each day.

By taking a step back and objectively evaluating the way you interact with the children in your care, you can bring quality and a sense of equity into the classroom setting.


Children look to their educators for support, from infancy all the up through later grades. By acknowledging their emotions — and helping them learn how to verbalize what they feel — early educators not only let children know they are heard but also that they can use this information to help address problems or be proactive in their approach.

The goal of the CLASS® tool is not for every teacher to always get perfect scores. As an early educator, you certainly aren’t expected to be perfect in your interactions with the children in your care. You can, however, be intentional in your efforts to integrate quality interactions into the educational environment. For more detailed information on how you can implement these interactions, watch the webinar recording here.


Watch the Webinar on Demand Now

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