The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority. -Ken Blanchard
Consider for a moment the roles both influence and control play in our work as school leaders. If we’re truthful, the amount of things we have ultimate control over is actually quite small. One thing we do control is the choices we make about the kind of influence we want to have.
Realizing that was one of the most important things I learned as a school leader. Many decisions that determined the majority of what happened in the classrooms were mostly, or even completely, out of my control. Curriculum, budgets, school calendars, policies, regulations, laws, accreditation measures, you name it! Because of the constant changes, I quickly learned the way I communicated about those decisions and changes was something that I could control.
Learning About CLASS for the First Time
One day, I received an email that all of our program leaders were required to attend a training where we would learn about the CLASS tool. As we gathered at the training, several of my colleagues shared with me that they had been through the training before, and that it was challenging.
On top of that, they told me we were going to have to pass a test on the information to become certified observers. “Higher ups” in our organization had decided that we would soon begin using this process to evaluate our teachers. Many of us were skeptical about this change, but it was out of our control.
Even though I’m usually open to change, I felt nervous and concerned about what all this meant for me and the teachers in my program. Could we manage another big change? When would I find the time to learn all of this? How would the teachers respond to being observed?
Something began to happen, though. As I learned more about the CLASS, and passed my first reliability test, I started to fall in love with the way it captured, with both clarity and nuance, the complexity of classroom interactions. CLASS had the power to improve our classrooms, but I still had to figure out how to convince the teachers. While none of us had any control over this change, I knew that my influence was critical to the success or failure of our implementation.
Implementing CLASS Across a Program
We started small, asking for just two volunteers. A couple of teaching assistants, who were dedicated to growing professionally and invested in improving our program, offered to take part. I introduced them to the CLASS and observed them. They shared their positive experiences with the rest of our staff to help “break the ice.”
Becoming more comfortable with the tool took effort on my part. I watched videos in the Video Library, observed in classrooms, peer coded with a CLASS-certified and more-experienced colleague, and studied my manual. It was a lot of effort on top of my other administrative duties, but it was time well-spent so that I could use my influence to talk about CLASS with enthusiasm and confidence. Over the next couple of years, all of the staff were successfully brought on board.
Looking back, I learned three key things during the implementation efforts:
1. You can do this! In fact, you’re already doing this!
It was important for our teachers to learn about CLASS without overwhelming them. I shared tidbits of information with them about the interactions described in the tool. We also had an introduction to CLASS which included Video Library videos so they could see effective interactions in action. Most importantly, following my informal classroom observations, I sat with teachers and shared moments of effectiveness that I saw and how those moments were described in CLASS. Focusing on their successes was a positive way to influence their confidence in the change.
2. We’re all in this together
I took the stance that this change affected everyone, involved everyone, and was not mysterious. As an administrator, each year my organization required me to do two formal observations and monthly informal observations of each of my +/- 20 staff members. In addition, the monthly informal observations included all aspects of a school day (arrival, large group, small group, center time, outdoor play, meal time, and late afternoon activities).
While I only ever shared scores with the particular teacher, I created a bulletin board in my office (out there for all to see!) to track our progress in meeting all of these observation requirements. Knowing how important it was, a teacher once asked if she could read my manual, thinking that she would find the answers for how to get all 7s, all the time. “Sure!” I told her, “Knock yourself out! It’s no secret what’s in there, but it is a lot of information. I’m here to help make sense of things, so let me know if you have any questions.”
Transparency, openness, and support were all approaches that influenced a sense of team commitment to the change.
3. CLASS fits with other things you already have to do
Communicating about yet another addition to the teachers’ already very long list of responsibilities was a daunting task. However, what I learned was how CLASS supported (instead of added to) their long list.
So, that is what I chose to keep our focus on: the ways that CLASS was reflected in our curriculum, assessment, and lesson planning; how CLASS related to our initiatives with CSEFL and Powerful Interactions; and ways that our efforts at CLASS also met NAEYC Accreditation standards and Licensing regulations. Helping teachers see that these parts were more like “Best Practices” puzzle pieces fitting together to form a whole, rather than just an ever-longer list of unrelated “Must Do” tasks, was the key to our success and influenced teacher buy-in for the change.
With time, CLASS became an integral part of our program. We didn’t just “do CLASS.” We lived it! And it made a huge impact on our program. I believe my efforts, enthusiasm, strength-based focus, transparency, and making connections to other initiatives were highly influential to our success.
Maybe you’re in the same situation I was in. You know CLASS is heading your way and you don’t have control over the change. Decide today: what will you do to influence the success of your CLASS implementation?
A CLASS Primer for Leaders
A CLASS Primer for Leaders is an online program that helps leaders understand how to lead a CLASS implementation in their organization. It's short (around two hours!) and flexible - you can start the program when needed and finish it on your own time. You'll learn how CLASS works and why it's important, how to communicate the values of CLASS to your organization, how to interpret and use CLASS data, and more.
If you're currently implementing CLASS in your organization or thinking about implementation in the future, check out A CLASS Primer for Leaders.