Given the context of today’s educational landscape, the global pandemic we are still fighting, and the divides our country is facing, strong leadership is essential. There is a clear need to restabilize and improve education for every child, and every educator. But, what does that mean exactly for educational leaders who are leading the way?
Early learning experiences shape student achievement across an academic career. This is especially true for literacy, which has a window of development in the first five years of life, after which it becomes difficult to remediate the skills that develop through intentional fostering in young children. For this reason, it is imperative that young students have the most enriching socio-emotional and academic learning opportunities in their formative years. And, it is the charge of school administrators to lead and ensure this aim is achieved.
To realize all of these gains, however, this commitment to developmentally appropriate, rigorous, and warm instruction must extend beyond pre-K. The CLASS® tool takes the full range of children’s educational experiences into account - from birth to 12th grade - because research makes clear that this is necessary for students to thrive. All learning is rooted in the relationships between learners and educators, and it is critical for leaders to prioritize relationships at every level.
Educators are consumed with the day-to-day logistics of teaching and caring for children. To take on the life-changing work of more intentional interactions, schools must have leaders who are cognizant of what is needed in the classroom and develop systems that support teachers. Thus, it is crucial to provide ongoing professional development opportunities that allow school leaders and teachers alike to fully understand what good instruction looks like in practice.
Examples of sound professional development for school leaders at the district-wide level exist across the country. With a focus on SEL and recognizing the importance of relationships between teachers and students, Dallas ISD has prioritized alignment for pre-K through second grade. After engaging in cycles of data collection and analysis, the district realized that school leaders needed more resources to better support their pre-K - 2 staff. By deliberately correcting course and supporting leadership with CLASS-focused professional development, Dallas ISD has better equipped its school leaders to build capacity at the local level to meet the needs of the teachers and students they serve.
Every child deserves life-changing teachers. However, this does not happen by chance. State and district leaders must be intentional when it comes to ensuring students are placed in the care of exceptional educators. This is essential given the fact that webs of systems have perpetuated persistent inequality and inequity. Thus, as we rebuild schooling post-pandemic, we must do so with equity at the center.
The core domains of CLASS - emotional support, classroom organization, and instructional support - are evidence-driven and, by definition, individualized for each child. At the same time, they can be scaled up, measured, and improved upon in a systematic way.
Across the country, CLASS is used by local and state agencies for this purpose. In Louisiana, use of CLASS has allowed policymakers, school leaders, teachers, and other stakeholders to norm and calibrate on a shared definition of high-quality instruction. The unified focus on interactions means that families, too, have meaningful, transparent, and accessible information about program quality. With the same data, large-scale decisions, like identifying and prioritizing areas of professional development, can be made by leaders and instructional changes can be made by teachers who know their students best.
With limited time and resources, practitioners can benefit from the expertise of external professionals. Partners with a shared dedication to social-emotional learning, instructional leadership, and creating equitable systems for continuous quality improvement are essential to the monumental task of building back stronger. Teachstone has been a trusted thought partner to schools, centers, districts, states, policymakers, leaders, and teachers since 2008, with a body of evidence to validate successes. As a certified B Corporation, the team at Teachstone is dedicated to working with stakeholders at all levels to ensure a future where all students succeed to their fullest potential.
Rebuilding towards a future of equity and quality for every child, and every educator requires a collaborative effort. It requires all of us coming together to articulate a vision, execute plans and processes, and adopt systems that will make our long-held dreams a reality.
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At Teachstone, our driving vision is to ensure every child experiences life-changing teaching. This mission is why we’re making a commitment to restabilize and improve education for every child, and every educator. And, we know that bringing this commitment to life requires providing education leaders with the support they need to not only face the current challenges, but that will propel towards the future of quality and equity.
Nearly two years ago I joined Teachstone with a deep desire and commitment to support leaders and teachers with real-time, practical, and evidence-based strategies and solutions to address the current needs of children, families, and educators. For the 20 years prior, I led organizations working at the national, state, and local levels focused on addressing the needs of children and families, especially those living in marginalized communities. As a practitioner at heart, my passion has been translating research to practice to drive impact and positive outcomes for children. This passion brought me to Teachstone.
Many teachers and leaders associate CLASS® with preschool. And we get it! It’s used in early childhood classrooms across the country, including Head Start programs, and it’s been more important than ever for young children as they begin to return to in-person learning.
But the principles of CLASS - Emotional Support, Classroom Organization, Instructional Support - are important for children well beyond Pre-K. The ever-increasing research base shows that interactions matter for children’s social-emotional and academic development. That’s why CLASS is organized to support children from infancy to high school with the developmentally appropriate interactions that drive learning - and why K-12 leaders are embracing CLASS in their schools.
We’re closing out our celebration of NAEYC’s Week of the Young Child with Family Friday. We have revamped this post from spring 2020 a little to reflect the changes that have happened since last April, but as many families have learned this year, classic activities are classics for a reason. Please enjoy these ones with your young child, and remember - the love, support, and work you’re putting into them will change the world.