Implementing CLASS can be a challenge, especially in special education and inclusive settings. Teachers may initially feel they don’t have the time to handle or have other struggles that get in the way. Today’s guests discuss the implementation of CLASS in a special education setting to show how it can work.
In today’s episode, you’ll hear from Early Childhood Special Education Coaches Jess Schuhart, Cindy Sigsbee, and Christie Johnson. Learn about the strategies they used for rolling out CLASS and supporting teachers and students throughout the rollout, their framework for dealing with bias, and how CLASS works in the special education setting.
Listen now or read the transcript below.
Marnetta: Hello and welcome to Impacting the Classroom. The podcast that talks about big topics that have an even bigger impact in early education. I'm your host, Marnetta Larrimer. The last time you heard from me, I was hosting a live recording at the InterAct CLASS Summit in Miami. I'm back and feeling super energized and reflecting on the atmosphere that is generated by all who attended.
I remember the first day walking into the room for lunch where there were table topics to choose from to help get conversations started. Of course, I was looking for my favorite topic, true crime, as those conversations are always very interesting to me. As I sat down though, I realized that they weren't talking about the table topic at all. I got to spend my lunch listening to the stories of the impact of the work being done in our field across the world, and cherry on top, how CLASS contributed to those desired organizational outcomes.
In fact, I even picked up a couple friends on the way. Our guests joined us at InterAct as well. After hearing from them, I had to get them on the podcast to dig a little deeper. So what's impacting the classroom? Today we're talking specifically about the challenges facing educators and children in special needs classrooms. We'll also hear about some strategies to better support them.
Joining us today is an amazing team from Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia. I'm really looking forward to digging into your strategies for addressing bias and improving interactions in your program. But first, I want to learn a little more about yourselves and your roles. Please help me welcome Jess Schuhart, Cindy Sigsbee, and Christie Johnson. Ladies, can you take turns and tell us a little bit about yourself and your roles?
Christie: Hi, my name is Christie Johnson and I'm from Fairfax County Public Schools in Northern Virginia and excited to be here. My role is to serve early childhood special education teachers and our early childhood program. That's children two to five years old and those are in self-contained special education classrooms as well as inclusion within our pre-K in our community settings. We work with those teachers and are excited to be here and we're currently working using CLASS and our classrooms with two-thirds of our staff, which is over 100 teachers.
Marnetta: Thank you.
Jess: Hi, I am Jess Schuhart and I'm also an early childhood special education coach along with Christie and Cindy. I serve the same teachers and students and we're really excited to be here to share about our teachers and how they're implementing CLASS. We look forward to working with them.
Cindy: Hi, I'm Cindy Sigsbee. I am also an early childhood special education coach. Just as Christie and Jess introduce themselves, I do the same thing that they do.
Marnetta: Short and sweet. Let's get into why we're here. I can't wait to talk about this topic more in depth because it is a discussion especially when you're using CLASS and how to successfully do that in these types of settings.
Before you tell us more about how you rolled out CLASS to your special education teachers, let's back up a little bit. What challenges were you anticipating with your team?
Cindy: That's a great question. Like we said, we serve children with all types of disabilities and ages from two to five and I think we had a lot of hesitation from our teachers and even some from the coaching side of things as well of what it would look like. And then as we thought more about whether in general ed or special ed, we have different levels of income, differing abilities, and different languages so there's always going to be questions and challenges that come up when we're rolling something new out.
Is this even going to stick around or we're just going to try this and then move on. But as we coaches learned more about the tool, some of the things that we were thinking about that the teachers might come back with is, is this appropriate for a special education setting? What is the tool? Is it appropriate? Do the observers understand our classrooms? Because we have a lot of different strategies that we use, students that present with various abilities or disabilities and would they understand if an external is coming in and what that classroom looks like?
What everyone thought was we don't have time for one more thing. We're asking our teachers to commit quite a bit between the observations and the feedback and the cohorts, which we'll get into a little bit later.
Those are some of the things that I think all of our coaches were thinking might come up. Christie and Jess, I know you guys heard some similar things. Was there anything that you wanted to add on to that?
Christie: I think anytime we roll something out with our staff, we're always trying to have the teacher's mindset and many of us were teachers before coaches. As adult learners, you don't want something happening to you, you want it happening with you. It's how we share this tool with the staff so it's something that they see, it's something that supports them versus extra work.
Also as an adult learner, you want to know why it is happening? What is it? And how is it going to be implemented? Those were the things that were forefront in our mind when we started sharing with the teachers. That involved teaching them about the tool itself through different opportunities, asynchronous and in person. Also thinking about how to let them know that it was a state initiative and then also how we were going to do it. As we got into that work, the teachers gave us more information about things that we needed to address that hadn't come to our minds yet.
Marnetta: Jess, did you have anything to add?
Jess: No, I think the coaches hit on that perfectly. Christie and Cindy, we were expecting pushback. There are things that are rolled out every year and sometimes they don't stick around, especially for our teachers that have been there a long time. And with every teacher, there's so much on their plate. When we talk about special ed, the paperwork that's involved in the IEP meetings and things like that, but general ed teachers too, there's a lot.
Looking at how we are going to fit in one more thing? What do we have to go to for training? We were definitely anticipating that and just kind of saying like, okay, let's start it. Let's figure it out and let's hear what they actually think instead of making those assumptions. Some of that was correct. Our assumptions were correct. Sometimes we were surprised.
Marnetta: I was just going to say I have some questions, but I think I want to wait because I think they'll be better fitted depending on how my next question goes. What did you want to add, Cindy?
Cindy: I was just going to say I was going to tag onto that as we anticipated a lot of these things, like Jess was saying, as we met with the teachers whether it was for feedback sessions or just in general coaching conversations, we were able to engage in some of that active listening to address those questions and concerns and that helped us continue to address those biases kind of throughout the year even as we're wrapping up the spring observations and feedback now. We now know how we can better support them moving forward and thinking about all of our new teachers coming into our program of what we want to put in place for them too to set them up for success.
Marnetta: That's a great segue to my next question. Can you tell us more about your framework for addressing bias?
Jess: There's a training on Teachstone actually and it's to support observers going into the special ed setting. We actually adopted that framework, that same framework, and we used it with our teachers. What that looks at is acknowledging bias. An inclination for or against a tool, a person, what have you. In this case it was the tool CLASS and then learning strategies and applying those strategies.
When we really looked at it with acknowledging a bias, as special educators know, behavior is communication so these teachers, the way they were feeling, there was a reason behind it, and we needed to get to the why to help them. In Virginia this is a mandate, it would've been easy when a teacher said I don't have time for this to say, well, it's a mandate. This is what it is, this is what we're going to do, but like Christie shared a minute ago, adult learners, you need to kind of step into their shoes and to see how they're feeling and to try to acknowledge the why behind it and to talk it through with them.
When we talked about a couple of things like is this appropriate for our setting or is this worth our time? The why behind that is really looking at is this appropriate for our setting? Meaning we need to know more about the tool. We need to know more about the tool and how to implement it and how it's used in our classrooms.
When we look at it, is it worth our time? Teachers are fantastic and they will do anything at any time or not. If it has a positive impact on their students, on their classrooms, and their teaching, they'll make time for it. We needed to look at that and then we needed to take strategies not only to support them, but for them to learn strategies that they can start applying to overcome those feelings and those whys behind the bias.
For instance, when we talk about is this worth my time? We needed to come up with some strategies and to help them learn some strategies to see the impact so that they could say hey, this is worth my time.
Us as coaches, the trainings that we were doing for them, we need to look at making it worth their time. Giving them time within those trainings to reflect and to plan with their peers and to leave those trainings with a strategy that they can apply that day rather than it being one more thing, it was embedded into we can use right now. This training was worth my time because it was applicable right away and it gave me a chance to learn how to apply these skills and to see the impact.
Marnetta: I love that. There's lots of things that I enjoyed about what you said, but I think the key thing was, yes, you could have said do this because it's a mandate, it's a requirement, but then that's the difference between performative action and intentional movement. Answering those questions for them and providing that space for them and that training to answer those questions for them made it more intentional and they were able to see the impact. It wasn't just a thing they were like checking if I'm doing what they told me to do. They really saw and leaned into that work in a different way.
Jessie: I said a lot so Cindy or Christie, if you want to tag on there, feel free.
Cindy: I think what Jess was sharing, when we were looking at how to address that bias and that framework of acknowledging, learning, and then applying those, we looked at that from many different ways. We did that on an individual basis when we were providing feedback to a teacher after an observation. It wasn't just to give them a score or to tell them what they did or didn't do or what to grow in.
It was for many of our staff, they were new to the tools. It was to ask me questions, ask me what that domain or dimension means. What is it looking for, what evidence did you see? Then what would that look like if you saw that same activity and I applied more of this dimension to it.
We did it at that individual level and our individual feedback meetings, which were followed up by setting goals but we also did in the larger group because as we came out of those, that helped us plan our group cohorts which is group coaching and we actually took some models from NCPMI, the Pyramid Model, the National Council. It talks about a lot of group coaching.
We use those resources to develop group coaching. That wasn't us as experts telling them what to do. We actually invited them into being class observers. We would look at a dimension very closely and then we would talk about what the indicators were. Then they would watch a video and be the observers themselves so that they had an opportunity to look for those markers and see what it looked like in action and then we would come back together and talk.
As we went through that process, we started with using the Teachstones videos, which were wonderful but sometimes the feedback we would get from teachers is that this doesn't look like our classrooms. We have more non-verbal students or different abilities in our room so teachers started volunteering and we asked for videos from their own classrooms. Then they were giving each other feedback and then problem solving like it doesn't work in my room and we would talk about ways.
We really looked at many different ways to address those biases and to make it, as Jess was sharing, something they could take back immediately and put into practice and be experts and learn from one another not versus it happening to them, but with them. As you said, when you want an intentional move, you have to involve the group.
Marnetta: What I heard you saying is an answer to one of the questions that they had before, do observers understand our classrooms? You really had them step into that to help them to understand from an observer's perspective what those behaviors are, what they look like in the classroom. That answered their question: yes, the observers do understand your classroom and what to look for and how to weigh those behaviors, and all of those wonderful things that come with a class observation. Cindy, I feel like I cut you off.
Cindy: No, I'm good.
Marnetta: You were talking a lot about strategies around addressing bias but what are some of those strategies? People who are listening would want to hear what some of those strategies were.
Jess: I know Christie mentioned the cohorts and I think we'll get a chance to share a little bit about that, but the strategies were directly related to what we are hearing from them. We're active listeners and that's the biggest piece is that it's really hard and it was hard for me as a coach not to give all the answers and to say this is what you need to do. This is what it looks for. But to take a step back saying how are you feeling about the observation? How are you feeling about your feedback report?
In that, we started to hear what biases and challenges were coming out. Based on that, we tried so many different methods. We had informal check-ins, like they selected a goal that they wanted to work on and we checked in on that.
We did training on things like the foundations of the dimensions and looking at that. We did the feedback sessions, which were a huge part of it. It wasn't just observation and leave. It was let's sit down for a feedback session where we really go through this together and you can say whatever you want. It doesn't have to be all positive. We will absorb that and we will help you see what's happening already in your room, and how we can enhance it, and what the tool looks for, and let's look at the manual, and what we're talking about with consistency or depth.
Then we surveyed the teachers and we said what out of all the methods that we tried and that we implemented with you worked best and three of them kind of rose to the top there. They were the highest ranked out of our survey and Christie hit on it a little bit. It was the feedback session, not just hey, here's your report, bye. But getting a chance to sit down with a coach and really talk that through.
Then it was also the cohorts and we can talk about that a little bit more in depth. In those cohorts it was the videos with their peers and those were a lot of the strategies that we did with them to help them overcome those biases and give them different strategies that they learn together as experts to start applying and to start seeing that impact.
Marnetta: Wonderful. I keep hearing cohort groups so I kind of want to get into that a little deeper. You've talked some throughout our time together about some of the ways that you created buy-in with your staff. Let's talk about some other activities that you did to foster a strong culture of improvement. I'm sure the cohort groups fall into that along with some other things. Let's talk about that.
Christie: I think to support that buy-in is as you're giving feedback in those sessions, you're highlighting the things they're doing really well. When you point out to a teacher exactly the moment in time in the classroom what was happening, and then during that one activity how many parts of the class tool when it looks at those teacher child interactions that it can hit on?
The idea of that when you use an open-ended question, it moves into so many places. You're getting regard for the student's perspective as you're getting them to express themselves. You're giving an opportunity also to possibly have some concept development if it involves comparisons or analysis. You also naturally get into a feedback loop just by asking that open-ended question.
Even if our students maybe don't have as many skills to have that back and forth exchange, just putting that into the space, got them excited and teachers said they were always surprised and that was another part of the buy-in when they would try a technique like I'm not sure my kids can do that. They'd ask an open-ended question and they would almost every time come back and be like so and so super surprised me today. I hadn't thought to ask that level of question and they showed me, even if they didn't have language our children are constantly communicating with us through gestures and sign language and the augmentative communication systems and verbally, even if they just won't use one or two words.
That's not unique to us in special education. That's also across our pre-K programs, any of our programs. We have so many languages. Fairfax County has many languages in our classroom. English is a second language for many children. I think some of the buy-in was as we met with them individually and they set goals and they started using some of those techniques, they weren't against them. They knew it was good teaching. They're aware of that. When they put it into the environment intentionally, the feedback they got from the students really sent the buy-in up so much higher.
For teachers who maybe weren't getting that same response or were expecting it to look like the more advanced students in the Teachstone videos when we met together, we'd say that is an example of a feedback loop with a nonverbal student. They got really excited.
Also, for some of our newest teachers, it was an opportunity to see what it looks like. We're in a time period right now in the state and across the country of so many new teachers coming into the field during the COVID pandemic and afterwards that have had not, maybe not as much experience with students as in the past for that pre-training. It just made a difference for them to see it in action and then try it out. I think that speaks to some of the buy-in, I think hearing each other as experts.
You asked what other strategies? Please know that we tried many. Even in our feedback sessions, we used a tool called know, see, do. We had taken that straight from one of the AEI resources. We're constantly looking at Teachstone and the State of Virginia for really great resources they have around coaching. With that, we set all kinds of goals and we'd spend a lot of time on those reports and put videos in for them to see, and articles for them to read and reflect the questions.
When we did our survey, it was really important because we put a lot of time into that and we found out that teachers were too busy to look at it. We had to figure out other ways to take those resources that we were putting on a document that people were not reading as much and incorporate them into our group sessions or into our informal sessions. It's so important to ask the teachers what's working for you as you try many things because you don't want to use your time effectively.
Cindy: I'll jump in there too. The schools that I am working with this year have a lot of new teachers, whether they're brand new, fresh out of college, whether they're teachers and residents, whether they are new to preschool special ed, maybe they have experienced K-12. One of the things that we talked about was how to help support our instructional assistants as well, because the timing of the schedules, they work their full day and so they don't get the same planning time with their teachers or the training times with their teachers.
Something I did with some of my teams was use some of those teacher work days to go through some of those Teachstone training sessions. The use of instructional support, the 10 or 15 minutes on repetition and extension, open-ended questions, and self and parallel talk. We use some of those just to guide those discussions and I would pull up pictures from my old classroom and say what's an open-ended question you could ask during this activity to try to make it a little bit more meaningful and applicable to them.
Again, we don't want it to be an evaluative thing in the classroom, but we want it to be that growth tool because that's what it is. One of the teachers I was with the other day, I've been working a lot with her, she's got a really hard kid in her classroom with a lot of social, emotional, behavioral needs.
When she was getting observed, I was next door observing the other teacher and I could hear this kid just having a really tough day and I felt for her because I've been in there so much working with her and she came in the room and asked for something and said I'm having a lovely observation.
I said the teacher's name and I said it's all about the interactions. Your sensitivity is going to show up in so many other areas. It's not how necessarily the kid is struggling that day, but are you being sensitive? Are you regarding her perspective? And she was.
When she got her scores, again, we tried not to focus on the numbers too much, but she was like oh my gosh, I thought I tanked it. I thought I bombed it. It was like no, good. Because the tool really does look at those quality interactions. When our teachers are being empathetic towards those learners that are having a tougher time, it's going to show and it's going to show their growth in that too. I was really encouraged by that as well.
Marnetta: That was inspiring. Oftentimes when you get an observation, there's this expectation of perfection and no, we expect that things are going to happen. It's about what you do in those moments and what you do with those moments that we're looking at. That's what's captured the class tool, not that we expect the children.
I think I would be unnerved if I went into a classroom, I think I'd be freaked out. Nothing's happening. There's nobody here? What's going on here? I would probably be more freaked out about that, but let somebody throw something or whatever they're comfortable with. That's a normal preschool classroom.
You talk some about this through our conversations about the cohorts and how you rolled out like the bias. Tell me about the teachers and how they felt through the entire rollout. We have this apprehension in the beginning. What did that look like as you moved forward?
Jess: Teachers are individuals so it looked a little differently for everyone. When we look at cohorts, I think that it really helped with the process because what it was was groups of peers that we brought together once a month from between the fall and the spring observation cycle and they got to learn together.
Our first cohort, it was a lot about what was the tool and the foundations of it and things like that. Two of our other coaches, Lady and Erin, are wonderful and they actually took the lead on creating these cohorts. What they did after that first session was they actually changed it a little bit to where the teachers were more of the experts in the seat to say hey, how are you already doing this in your room?
How could you enhance it? Let's watch videos of each other doing it and give each other supportive and constructive feedback. I think seeing someone else do these things that you weren't sure was possible and seeing them do it with similar populations and then getting a chance to talk about it and to say like hey, how did you even do that? Or how did she do this? Or what could you do in your room?
It jumpstarted just that reflection and that brainstorming and like what could we do in our room? I think that really helped with the process. Rather than someone who knows the tool like us standing up there and saying, this is what it is. They got a chance to talk together and to learn it together and to really do that reflection piece.
I'll let Cindy and Christie jump in. For me, has every teacher that I personally coach fully bought in? No. Like anything, it is not all puppies and rainbows. We still have challenges and a lot of those concerns are valid. It's learning more about it and working through it and meeting teachers kind of where they are.
I did have a teacher share—they know that we met for the spring feedback—she was really anxious about it and she said, I so appreciate that you didn't shove this tool down my throat, even though it was your job. Your job was to teach me this, but you didn't shove it down my throat and you kind of let me go at my own pace and you stopped the feedback session when I was overwhelmed. She's like I learned a lot in those cohort groups from the other teachers and I came back to the positive from our first observation and that helped her through the process.
It really is realizing that everyone's an individual, but that also hey, five teachers took this and ran with it and did amazing this year. Their kids are doing more than what they thought was possible, that's their words, and that's amazing. Is it 18 that I work with? No. But that's okay. We're seeing positive changes and I'll let Cindy and Christie jump in there as well.
Marnetta: Before they talk, I do want to just recognize this parallel process that you have going on. You are not only helping them understand CLASS and what those behaviors look like in the classroom. You're also being a sensitive coach as well. You're recognizing you're having a hard time here. Let's change what we're doing right now and abandon this thing and let's shift into something else.
That also helps to support buy-in because they see it and feel it. It's not something happening to them. It's something that's happening with them. Your interactions are reinforcing those things that you're hoping are happening in the classroom. I just wanted to point that out. That's all I heard and what you were talking about.
Jess: Thank you. We do say that sometimes the parallel lens is like regard for teacher perspective and teacher sensitivity. I always try to put myself in other people's shoes, especially our veteran teachers to say hey, I've been teaching a certain way for 20 years and in my heart of hearts, I know that I've helped students grow and I've helped students thrive.
Now someone's coming in and giving me a score and it's lower than what I believe to be. These are wonderful teachers so to take that perspective and say, you are a wonderful teacher, and let's work through learning this tool even though it's different from what you've ever known. That's a big challenge that doesn't happen in one year.
Cindy: I was going to jump in. This is my first year as a coach. I was just in the classroom last year and I'm grateful for that perspective because I think I can have a little bit of that empathy of I get it. I know what it's like day to day and it's very fresh on my mind. A lot of times when I think of concept development, I did this but I didn't do that every day. Let's be real, that doesn't happen every day, but how can we increase it?
One of the teachers I was working with, she was actually one of the teachers that we interviewed, Kristen. She's been a teacher for 24 years. She's a rock solid rockstar teacher. When I first introduced myself, I came to the school at the beginning of the year, I'm Cindy, I'm going to be your coach.
She's like I'm going to be honest. Are you just going to come in here and tell me all of the things that I'm doing wrong? Because I've been teaching for 24 years and it was that moment of like she's got way more experience than me almost as many years as I've been alive. I loved our feedback sessions because she was so reflective and in the video that we used at the InterAct conference, she said, I think it's crazy that after 24 years of teaching it's just bringing that why to the front of the room.
I don't remember her exact words, but the point of it was, I know that I'm doing a lot of this stuff, but why am I doing it? Then, okay, but then how do we do it? Then how do I increase the buy-in of the assistance in the room? She's got rockstar assistance. A lot of that is because of her strong leadership in the classroom too.
I was really encouraged by her because I'm walking in this young kid with not nearly as much experience as her and she's already kind of coming like are you going to tell me what to do? What am I doing wrong? That's why I think of the tool, because it is so strength-based, I can say look at all of these things that you are doing so well and what can we do to continue to tweak it, to enhance it, and to increase it.
I think a lot of it has to do with those teachers' ability to be reflective and if we can ask those questions. The spring feedback sessions as we wrap up this school year, one of the questions that we've been asking our teachers is if there was one thing that you wanted to continue to next year that you've learned this year, what would it be and when would you want to start it? What would that look like? Just to get them used to asking themselves those questions so that we can coach from a distance too, as we're coaching them side by side. I thought that was really cool with Kristen's story and her increasing buy-in throughout the year.
Christie: I think it was important what Cindy and Jess just shared, which is the idea you asked at the beginning, how did we move teachers? Or where did they start and where did we move them to? I would say they started with what is this tool? I'm not sure about it and I don't know if I have time for it.
Then by the time we finished those first set of observations and had feedback meanings, they were more interested. I'm starting to understand this tool looks at student and adult interactions and I can buy into that and I have something I'm working on. As we move through cohorts, it allowed them to apply what would that look like in my room and how can I adjust it in my room so that it hits more students? Also for the teachers who are more experienced, it wasn't a matter of, it was a new thought to them, but it may be something that as you are working through the day, you have to be intentional to do all those parts of CLASS throughout all the parts of your schedule.
It's opening up what other parts of my day could I incorporate more concept development type comparisons? How can I just have in the front of my brain it's great to do comparisons and ask why and ask a student, how did you know that? Even that in our classrooms, you're trying to get students to answer some simple WH questions. Sometimes you forget to ask them hey, how'd you know? And they can tell you. It tells you kind of where they are in their understanding.
I think that's another way that we move the teachers along. I think by the end of the year they were like hey, there's some parts of this tool that I really like and I agree with these behavioral markers and that they're important in our classrooms. As Cindy said, there's something that I've added this year that I want to take into next year. Just increasing the intentionality and the reflection on why we're doing what in our classrooms, I think is a huge movement that this tool has allowed us this year as we've gone through this process.
Marnetta: I don't even know what to say. There's been a lot of just great work happening and that has to be so fulfilling and rewarding, not just for the students and the teachers, but also for you as a group of coaches who really are trying to make this happen with all the challenges that get in the way of making and applying a new tool, another thing, for teachers to take on. I say that because I don't really believe CLASS in its existence is not another thing. It's what we are doing all the time. I'll say that loosely and not intentionally like I don't mean that.
With that being said in this journey being laid out for us, what are some of the biggest lessons that you learned, and what would you do differently if you had to do it again?
Cindy: I'll say we have already started brainstorming about what next year's support will look like knowing that the teachers all went through the four cohorts this year, but they're all in various comfort levels within those dimensions, so to speak. While we also want the experienced teachers in the room with some of those novice teachers, maybe the experienced teachers don't really want to sit in on another cohort about X, Y, or Z.
How do we then receive that feedback and then move forward in thinking about that? Maybe not something I would change, but like something that we're already starting to think about as we reflect ourselves on our practice and how to better support them again so that it is worth their time and they can take those concrete strategies while also sharing being that expert in the room as well.
Christie: We had the opportunity to come to the InterAct Conference and present and as you shared, having conversations with other school districts. This is our second of a three year rollout to a state mandate. We feel like we continue to grab resources and information from so many sides, but I think one thing that we picked up at the conference that I've definitely as a team talking about is we actually chose to do our brand new teachers last because there were so many demands on them going into the classroom first and all the other structures in our school system to support them as new teachers. We wanted to give them a chance to get comfortable in the room.
What we heard from another school district is they actually do those teachers first and start those cohorts sooner. We had some staffing obligations that if we were doing all those observations, it was hard to also be running cohorts at the same time. They were actually sandwiched between our fall and our spring, but we're looking at next year of how to have those cohorts from the first month on and how to support those new teachers first not so that they get a low score and say, whoop, you got a low score, but just get one under their belt and say now let's look at some intentional actions that you might want to bring into your classroom to support them.
The school system, maybe their more experienced teachers who maybe didn't score as high and then their last phase are their teachers that are doing really well with the intention of using this as a growth tool, we need to support where the growth needs to happen the most.
That was an amazing takeaway that I had from the conference and sharing ideas, and I think it's very important through your podcast and different opportunities and looking at Teachstone what's being brought out because as more school systems, just as we're early childhood and we're taking it on, you all have been very open to us saying hey, can we look at more videos that have more diversity and skill level across them? Also what resources you had already created, the one about how to observe in a specialized setting all those support are work.
I think it just helps all of us truly make CLASS what you said, it's not something extra, it's what we do, but how do we make it across all education and early childhood.
Jess: Whew, that was such good information shared and I agree with Cindy and Christie on everything they shared. I'd say personally looking at this and rolling it out with teachers and we're going to have a lot more teachers being CLASS observed next year. Something that I learned this year taking forward and from the other coaches is that I was an advice giver and recovering people pleaser here.
You know everybody's a unique individual. You say that, but you don't really know that everyone is a unique individual until you sit down with each teacher and a plan that you had in your head and that went this way for this teacher does not work with that second teacher.
Not going in and saying I want to tell her—and I say her because I don't think I saw any men this year—this and I want to tell her the positives and I want to go on this. It doesn't work that way. Being able to sit down and have more of those coaching conversations, which the other five coaches helped me with being like how do you feel about this? What questions do you have? Tell me what's on your mind, and active listening because when you're in that advice giving mode in your head, you're thinking about what you want to say to address that and you can't do that.
You really have to sit and say what are they trying to tell me? How are they feeling? How can I meet them where they are? Because all of that kind of drove these trainings this year and the impact that we were able to have or the impact that we weren't able to have because there are some coaching sessions that I wish I could do over. They did not go well.
Even starting a conversation with look, I know you have, you have a really hard group this year and the teacher interrupts him, being like oh, that means I did horrible. Just to take that active listening stance.
I think a big thing that I learned this year also is veteran teachers, I think I went in thinking this is new to them too. They're veteran teachers, but this tool is new to them. I'd sit down with novice teachers and I'd say how are you feeling? Here are all the positives.
Then I'd meet with a veteran teacher who like Cindy said has more experience than I do and I'd say here's your scores. What questions do you have? Thinking that they didn't want their time wasted, but they really needed to hear those positives too and they really needed that conversation because they were really having challenges with this is something new and maybe I didn't do as well as I thought I would or maybe I did do that well but this tool looks at way more than we were ever supposed to do with our population and talking that through with them.
That's a long way to say just active listening, unique individuals, and to really go over the positives and give everybody a chance to talk whether they're a novice teacher or a veteran teacher and kind of start to acknowledge their feelings and their biases. Then we can look at how we address those.
Marnetta: Thank you so much. Earlier on there were several questions when we were talking about the challenges that you were anticipating with your team, we answered some of them and one of them that we didn't talk about is, is CLASS appropriate for special education? You said that was one of the questions that you know the teachers had. What advice would you give programs who are on the fence about using CLASS in their special education programs?
Christie: I think what CLASS looks at is just good teaching and it's that good tier one teaching and foundation for that emotional support, that organization in the classroom, and what needs to happen during instruction for all children to learn. The difference it makes in our early childhood special ed classrooms is first it reminds us as early childhood special educators to start at the tier one beginner level, and don't start scaffolding until you put the question into the room first.
We're so good at providing hints, scaffolding, accommodating, and modifying. Sometimes it's that friendly reminder to back up and give the childrens a chance to do it even more independently before we put so much support in front of them. Also when our classrooms have needs across all areas of development, but across all levels of services, gen ed and special ed. We have a lot of children working with that social-emotional needs.
It looks at those foundations of the teacher sensitivity, the regard for student perspective, even in the behavior management, the proactive. Just all the things, the clear behavior expectations. It's a tool that speaks to any instructional setting, regardless of background or abilities.
I think if you take that to your teachers and say, let's just look at it. Let's see which of these things you value, I think they will say I do value that. That's not different than I value. Then it just may be a matter of because the tool is reliable looking at what exactly is someone having to look for. Then the thinking part past that like yeah, there's a score, but what do we really want to do?
We want to increase our instruction in the classroom. Why is that important and what would that look like for our students? I think that was something I would share with anyone bringing it to their school system of it's not a gen ed tool.
I think that's important to say because even we had some of those conversations because sometimes some observers came in and maybe they had never observed in a special ed setting and they too weren't comfortable. We've shared with different people about the resources around how to observe and settings with dual language learners or students with different abilities because I think it just reminds you how to be a better observer. Again, it reminds you this tool isn't unique to gen ed, it works for everyone. This is how you look.
Marnetta: Thank you, Christie. Cindy? Jess? Did you want to add anything?
Jess: I'd say, Christie, that was well said, but a lot of being able to put that question in the room, put the wonder in the room, and then we do the scaffolding, and then we do the visuals. I know our teachers do have challenges. A teacher told me yesterday I can't do a lengthy feedback loop because I have to keep things going for this kid with significant behavior.
Letting your teachers look at the tool, look at how they're already doing it, to reflect on how they could enhance practices. Sometimes you do your best and if you don't hit a long feedback loop in every cycle, did we grow in other ways? Can we continue to try when we do have that opportunity? Or you're in a small group or you're on the floor playing with the students or what have you. Realizing that these teachers are experts at what they do and to trust them and to give them the knowledge they need and to talk it through with them about what they're doing.
But yes, I continue to say, like Christie said, to have observers also looking at what does this look like in a special ed room? What is a feedback loop with a non-verbal student or a student using a communication device? What do transitions look like when three of the students have mobility walkers and different things like that.
Marnetta: Wonderful. Thank you so much. Go ahead, Christie.
Christie: Jess had said earlier you were asking for another takeaway and as Jess was talking about changes for next year, maybe as Cindy said, she worked with somebody and she was probably the same age they'd been teaching. Cindy and I are peers and we are also in that place.
As a teacher who's been around for a long time, it is also important for all of us who are using these tools for growth to be real advocates that they remain there and that we use curiosity and feedback from teachers experiencing it and making sure it is meeting those goals and doesn't get misused into a performative, a judgment, or an evaluative and lose what it is capable of doing if teachers really feel safe to let you watch their practice, get feedback from you, and grow versus feeling like they have to hide something.
As Jess said, when you're a very experienced teacher, you do know a lot but we're learners. If you're not a learner as an educator, you're missing something because there's always changes we learn from our students, we learn from research. Even if I know how to do it, show me new ways, show me new ways, because it also reignites me. We have some very experienced teachers that need just some energy and reigniting and that's what learning does.
Marnetta: Thank you, Christie. We're wrapping up our time, but what I'd like is one teacher quote. You've gone through these cohorts. You've had these outcomes. We've shared a couple of tidbits, but if each of you could gimme one of your favorite teacher quotes before we head out, it would be great.
Cindy: Let me look up our presentations because we had some at the end there.
Christie: I think while they're looking for it, one I would share is a very experienced teacher who's taught at many levels and has just joined us at the preschool level, but she's worked with adults with disabilities, so she's very excited to now be with the youngest learners as she's worked with the oldest to think what are those important skills going forward?
What I loved was when we talked about open-ended questions, she goes my job is to put the wonder in the room. Now that I put the wonder in the room, I am so excited and I can engage with following a child's lead or their ideas because by putting the wonder in, they tell me the next direction to go. That was super exciting for me to hear her say that because I don't have to coach her in any way that feeds itself.
Jess: I had a teacher who has made tremendous growth this year, personally and just with the buy-in and the process. We were talking a little bit about the balance of utilizing the skills.
First she had said I would have no idea that these students know as much as they do if I didn't start implementing this and asking some of the questions. What really stuck out is she said I'm a better teacher for this and my students are better learners. I'm actually kind of fearful or scared that they won't get this same type of teaching as they move into the upper grades, as they move into kindergarten and beyond.
That stuck with me. They have such a chance for expression and analysis and reasoning and I just worry they won't get the same. It was huge.
Marnetta: Thank you, Jess. Cindy?
Cindy: I'm thinking back to one of the teacher interviews that I did with the teacher that I've been working with this year. She teaches our morning class, which is typically twos and three year olds. She had students last year that she has again this year. She said they went from being majority non-verbal in their language to now starting to use words.
She said I think that has to do with a lot of things. I think it's just kind of the natural development and growth of the students, but I really do think a lot of it is CLASS and what we've begun to intentionally implement from CLASS. That was really cool for me as a coach to hear too of they are seeing improved interactions and growth in their room. From the teachers, from the assistants, from the students, and then even the parents as they continue to have the little kiddos at home and see their language growth.
Marnetta: If that doesn't say success, I don't know what does. Thank you so much, Christie, Cindy, and Jess and the entire Fairfax County Public Schools team for sharing your stories with us today.
You can find today's episode and transcript on our website, teachstone.com/podcast. As always behind great leading and teaching are powerful interactions. Let's build that culture together. Thank you so much. You guys did so great. It was wonderful talking to you.