Imagine classrooms filled with children who are comfortable taking risks, sharing ideas, and working cooperatively with their peers. Can this become the norm in classrooms across the nation? Yes, because this is what consistent and effective Teacher Sensitivity (TS) cultivates in the classroom. Research tells us that teachers who are aware of and respond to each child, supportively facilitate the ability of all children in the classroom to explore actively and learn.

Teacher Sensitivity is not about how “nice” or “caring” teachers are; rather, it is about how teachers consistently demonstrate awareness and responsiveness to children’s current academic and emotional abilities and needs.

As a coach, enhancing this dimension can be very challenging. TS is inherently a sensitive topic and can easily cause teachers to become defensive. So how can we discuss TS without the conversation becoming too personal or feeling judgmental? Here are some helpful tips:

  • Begin by expressing a message like this to your teachers: “The CLASS framework values you as a teacher and seeks to enrich what you love about working with children. CLASS provides you with the knowledge and tools necessary to become more intentional in your daily decisions about how you interact with children so that your words and actions will best support children’s learning and development.”
  • Explain that TS, as defined by CLASS, is an action, not a feeling. Therefore, it is important for coaches to keep conversations primarily based on observable teacher behaviors and children’s actions. Help teachers reflect upon a specific time when they made a decision to respond to a child’s needs. Ask: “What was it that made you aware of the child’s needs in that moment? How did you respond? What effect did your words or actions have on the child? What did the child do next?”
  • Discuss how TS is about accepting children where they are at in their academic and emotional journeys. It is being aware of and responsive to children’s daily needs and then providing a secure base from which they can blossom. Talk about how you as a coach do the same for teachers. You communicate expectations, scaffold growth, and empower teachers to own the role they play in children’s development--all from a position of acceptance for where each teacher is at in her current teaching practice.
  • Be intentional about demonstrating coach sensitivity in the moment. As you talk about TS, notice how your teacher is reacting. Make every effort to genuinely elicit, listen to, and respond to her thoughts and concerns. Try to understand her feelings and encourage her to see you as a source of support. Ask reflective questions such as: “Based on what we’ve been talking about, what are your thoughts right now? How can I support you in actively exploring this dimension in your classroom?”

Genuinely being “in tune” with those that we support and educate is a goal worthy to strive toward every day for both teachers and coaches alike. It supports learners who are able to share their ideas freely and challenge themselves frequently. The most exciting thing is that both teacher and coach sensitivity are behaviors each of us can learn about, practice and perfect. Let’s start today!

Originally published January 27, 2016

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