There’s no sugar coating it - the 2020-21 school year was tough. Teachers, schools, and child care workers shouldered a massive burden, taking work that was already challenging and turning the difficulty up to 11. Well, maybe 12 or 13. Or 15. Who’s counting?
So, as you, educators, prepare for the upcoming school year, Teachstone wanted to recognize all the creativity, flexibility, and impact that teachers have demonstrated. We brought together Teachstone’s Kristin Valdes, Senior Instructional Designer, and Colleen Schmit, CDA Facilitator, in a recent webinar to celebrate the great and important work of teachers and to explore how the smallest moments make big impacts.
Here’s what our hosts shared with and heard from participants.
There are countless reasons to be proud of your work as an educator last year. Some teachers shared that they’re proud of their ability to respond to trauma, both their own and their students’. Others were proud of their ability to pivot. After all, there’s nothing more unchanging in education than change. Some teachers and school leaders created new communities of practice, reflecting on teaching in person and online.
And, as Kristin pointed out, some teachers aren’t feeling proud right now. They’re feeling the stress and burnout of a chaotic year. “But don’t judge how you are doing by how you are feeling,” she advised, “You might be feeling pulled in many directions, exhausted, but you are still showing up and doing the best you can by those kids.”
Colleen is a substitute teacher in addition to her work with Teachstone. She commiserated with participants who discussed the challenges of remote and hybrid teaching. Physical distance is all the more reason to intentionally build relationships and focus on meaningful interactions.
Strategies to improve these crucial classroom practices are what Colleen found in the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, or CLASS®, which looks at the quality of interactions and how they affect the experience of children in your classroom. “As a teacher...the CLASS tool changed my life,” Colleen shared. “How dramatic is that?”
A perspective shift like Colleen’s can have real impacts for children’s learning, growth, and development. High-quality classrooms, as measured by CLASS, are linked to positive academic and social-emotional outcomes. These environments are incredibly important for children, particularly young children. The elements at the heart of great teaching are being intentional about building relationships, creating organized systems for children, and promoting students’ higher-order thinking and metacognition.
Kristin and Colleen used video clips to show some of the small ways teachers can build on their daily activities and actions. In one example demonstrating strong Emotional Support, teachers greeted two of their virtual students with smiles, eye contact, and a welcoming message to their young students: “I’m so excited that you guys get to be part of my classroom family!” Even in online settings, those little interactions can make a big difference in helping children feel safe and welcome.
In another, demonstrating Classroom Organization, a teacher helps her students transition to center time, asking them about their plans for the activity and showing genuine interest and enthusiasm. Instead of simply sending students out, she helped them plan and strategize ways to make their play more engaging and exciting, deepening their learning and relationships in the process.
And in a third clip, showing Instructional Support, a teacher followed a child’s lead in organizing his tiles by number, prompting him to think about and explain why there wasn’t a zero tile. These moments showed why “being an educator is tricky sometimes,” as Colleen put it - but the combination of knowing students, intentional planning, and brilliant improvisation make the hard work of teaching seem magical.
Whether you’re working one-on-one or with your full group, there are opportunities throughout the day to focus on the kinds of interactions measured by CLASS. This is true across age levels, too! While the presenters and video examples focused on pre-K, there are also age-appropriate versions of the CLASS for Infants, Toddlers, K-3, Upper Elementary, and Secondary classrooms. No matter the age or setting, students benefit from intentional teaching.
Some CLASS-y strategies and activities from our presenters included:
The challenges posed by the pandemic have pushed educators to new ways of teaching and learning, but the core of great teaching is still the meaningful, daily interactions with students. We celebrate you. We applaud you. And we can’t wait to see the incredible things you do this year.
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When I was a teacher, I can remember taking care to intentionally plan differentiated, or individualized, instruction. And, when I was teaching pre-K I added the same level of intentionality to which materials were available in interest areas, and how I approached transitions throughout the day.
While any level of intentionally, specifically in relation to planning, is important -- I missed a critical opportunity in being more intentional in my interactions with the children in my class.
There is always an opportunity for interaction. Some opportunities are easily recognizable: times of play, free choice, centers, small group. We often see teachers engaged in activities alongside children during these times or hear questions being asked. Other opportunities might be a little less obvious. These are the times of your day that you might see as mundane moments that merely require your supervision or monitoring. The times where you’re going through the motions. “I’m doing this thing so I can move on to the next thing.”
In a previous blog, colleague and early childhood environment extraordinaire, Heather Sason, discussed how your classroom environment can help promote effective teacher-child interactions. In this blog, I propose we explore some of the often overlooked times in your day that are ripe for interactions with children and that do promote exploration, learning, and development!
It's not uncommon for teachers in early education to need to strike a balance between following children's leads and sticking to the classroom schedule. We know that intentional teachers are aware of their responsibility to assess student progress, understand skill mastery, and plan accordingly to provide opportunities for children to grow. However, many times, as teachers begin a specific teacher-directed activity, it is unsettling when students begin to veer from the step-by-step plans the teacher has worked hard to implement.
Teacher and coach, Colleen Schmit, will share how teachers can strike the balance between following the lesson plans and giving children freedom of choice and flexibility in the classroom.
We’re more than a month into the school year, and many educators and school leaders are feeling tired or burnt out already. That’s normal in any school year, as the newness of back-to-school wanes and the reality of a long year ahead kicks in. But, this year, that tiredness may feel like it has never felt before. Chalkbeat has reported that teacher vacancies are up in 18 of 20 large school districts, and it’s not surprising. Many are exhausted after a difficult year and a half (to put it mildly!). Many are also leaving the profession in droves to find work in competitive environments that provide a substantially larger salary.