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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 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:
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.
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Can we talk about structure? When CLASS® entered my life, I was 20 years into my career in the field of early childhood education. What I remember most about that initial training, besides the nervousness about an impending reliability test, was a sense of relief. Structure, including state and program standards, curriculum, materials in the classroom, and approaches to childcare and pedagogy, had dominated my working hours. CLASS was a lot to learn, but for me, it was a breath of fresh air. Observing with CLASS meant I could set aside my obsession with all things structural, which encompassed my thoughts every time I walked into an early childhood classroom.
State policymakers have an exciting opportunity to level the playing field for early childhood education with thoughtful system design using the newly released Preschool Development Grant Birth to Five, also known as PDG B-5. This grant provides funding to State early childhood agencies’ to strengthen early childhood systems. In particular, a portion of PDG B-5 funding is targeted for Renewal Grants—24 out of 25 eligible states are expected to be awarded funding for PDG B-5 Renewal Grants. These Renewal Grants will provide three consecutive years of funding to support activities and implementation in each state.
Originally published Jan 23, 2020 by Allie Kallmann
A few years into teaching early childhood, I applied to work at a school that does incredible work in the local community. I was thrilled to get an interview but realized very quickly that, even though the environment was supportive and the students were wonderful young people, I was much too intimidated to work there.
Moving towards a post-pandemic world, early childhood education is still in a fractured state of recovery. Numerous headlines define the inequitable foundation early childhood system is built on that limits educators’ capacity to thrive and impact children’s lives. Yet demand for early learning remains steadfast as families get back to routines in communities everywhere. How do policymakers start to level the playing field for early childhood programs with equitable policies while increasing access for families in need of high-quality care?