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Reasons to Celebrate Back-to-School in 2021

30 Aug 2021 by Allie Kallmann

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.

Teachers should be incredibly proud of their work.

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.

But the biggest, most important thing that you did, teachers, was show up! You continue to show up for students.

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.”

With intentionality, small moments can make a big difference.

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.

This year, take opportunities to interact and build relationships.

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:

        • During peer conflict, discuss children’s behavior with peers and work through conflict with the children instead of solving the problem for the children (Toddler, Pre-K). This can bring in opportunities for problem solving, self- and parallel-talk, building peer relationships, and reflecting on solutions.
        • During group work, allow students flexibility to move around the classroom, gather supplies and materials needed and rearrange desks (Upper Elementary, Secondary). With practice and strong routines, this does not result in chaos but rather gives students more opportunity for autonomy in their learning and environment.
        • During COVID-19 related routines, such as sanitizing or mask-wearing, give students age-appropriate responsibilities (All age groups). For infants and young toddlers, communicate about health and safety routines. Preschoolers and elementary students may be better able to take on jobs that keep their peers healthy and the environment sanitary. Even in routines, there are often opportunities to have one-on-one or small group conversations while the work happens. Also, consider ways to build relationships. Smiles behind masks still show in your eyes, and your verbal communication can show warmth in both your tone of voice and your words.

Download 7 Tips to Make the Most of Interactions in Your ClassroomThe 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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