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Top 6 Challenges in Implementing CLASS PD– Establishing Teacher Buy-In

29 Sep 2016 by Sarah Hadden

At our recent 2016 InterAct CLASS Summit, we asked a group of educators to share their biggest difficulties in implementing professional development within their organizations. Despite the group’s diverse backgrounds, they reported similar challenges:

  • Buy-in
  • Uneven teacher skill sets
  • Planning and logistics
  • Time
  • Sustainability
  • Costs

We're excited to introduce the next post in our four-post series discussing strategies to help with these common challenges. 

It’s not surprising that we encounter resistance to new professional development initiatives. After all, change is hard for most of us. 

Understanding Reluctance

New teachers who are just starting to hone their craft may be reluctant to try out new ideas because things are going pretty well and they don’t want to jeopardize the precious hold they have on their classroom. At the other end of the spectrum, veteran teachers may fail to voice enthusiasm because they’ve been at their jobs for a long time and feel comfortable with their current practices. Furthermore, they’ve probably experienced a lot of initiatives in the roller-coaster world of educational policy and don’t see the point in investing a lot of time and energy into learning something that may be history within a year or two.

If you’ve heard a teacher grumble, “This year it’s the CLASS tool, what will it be next year?” you can probably understand why.

Let’s be honest. The CLASS has received a bit of a bad rap in some circles. Head Start teachers may only think of the CLASS as one of the triggers in the DRS system. Teachers who participate in their state’s quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) may worry that lower CLASS scores may result in a decreased rating. When we experience this, we need to acknowledge teachers’ feelings (ignoring the elephant in the room doesn’t make it go away) and then help them see the intrinsic value of the CLASS.

Work with teachers so they understand that the beauty of the CLASS is that it focuses specifically on what they already do in their classrooms each and every day. It’s not an add-on. It doesn’t require that teachers learn a new curriculum or develop new lesson plans. “Doing the CLASS” isn’t going to take any additional time in their already jam-packed days.

When done well, CLASS-based professional development helps teachers see the things that they are already doing well and thereby increase their intentionality around these effective interactions. Teachers can take more control of their classroom when they see that the children are well-behaved and enthralled by a lesson or activity because of what they, the teachers are doing. And when teachers see that they are indeed the change-agent in their classroom, their sense of self-efficacy increases.

Getting Buy-in

So, how do we get teachers to buy-in? How do we move them from seeing the CLASS as a “gotcha” tool to a supportive tool?

First let’s think about how we introduce the CLASS. Do we gather all the teachers together and announce that “The CLASS is coming and you better get ready?” Do we do CLASS observations without telling the teachers what the CLASS is about and then leave a cryptic report in their mailbox after the observation? Or do we introduce the CLASS as a supportive tool for PD that focuses on helping teachers improve their teaching? Do we explain exactly what to expect in a CLASS observation and share the results with teachers in a supportive manner? Do we help raise their awareness of the success of their interactions by focusing attention on their children's improved responses? 

Teresa McGregor-Oster, a post doctoral researcher at the University of Utah, conducted a study that showed that teachers who had more positive attitudes towards the CLASS had higher CLASS scores, which suggests that the latter approach is preferable.

How do we do that? There are lots of ways to promote teacher buy-in, but things to consider include holding small group or team conversations with teachers to explain what the CLASS is and discuss why your program has decided to adopt it. Or better yet, bring the teachers in early on and ask them to be part of the decision-making process.

Change that is mandated from the top-down is harder to achieve than change that includes the participants in the conversation. Consider providing teachers with CLASS Dimensions Guides that describe each dimension in teacher-friendly language, explain why the dimension is important, and share information on how teachers can engage in these types of interactions in their classrooms.

And take it slowly. Don’t expect all teachers to embrace this new tool right away. Obtaining full buy-in requires that we meet each teacher where they are; we need to systematically work to help teachers see the benefit of using CLASS. Pushing too hard will result in resistance, so look for places where you can easily integrate CLASS concepts and let the teachers see how well it works for them.

Finally, model CLASS in our daily interactions with teachers. Offering them choices on what they want to focus on and providing quality of feedback, are excellent ways to show teachers that everyone is committed to improving interactions for the ultimate benefit of the children.

Still have questions about how to gain buy-in? Learn how a QRIS in Duval County, Florida moved from an ERS focus to a class focus. 

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