On August 1 I joined Teachstone as Chief Impact Officer. If my name sounds familiar, it may be because I am one of the authors of the CLASS and a co-founder, with Bob Pianta, of Teachstone. For the last 20 years, I’ve spent my days researching ways teachers can best support children’s and adolescents’ development and learning. I’ve conducted many studies, written many papers, and trained doctoral and post-doctoral candidates who have gone on to do even more and better work in this area. Most of those 20 years I’ve worked at the University of Virginia’s Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) and have had the privilege of working with incredible colleagues at UVA and elsewhere. Honestly, it’s a dream job: getting paid to think, write, and travel to talk about our work and find inspiration in the ideas of others. So, not surprisingly, when I tell people about my new job, I get a lot of quizzical looks.
For me the reason to join Teachstone is so clear. To the extent that my professional mission is to impact the lives of children and adolescents by working with teachers, there is no better place to be than Teachstone.
Although there is certainly a need for more research in this area, the evidence is clear that interactions matter. What is less clear is how we achieve that mission at scale: how we ensure that every child, in every state and every country around the world, has access to life-changing teachers. Not just for one year but year, after year, after year. That’s why I came to Teachstone, a company that is at the forefront of taking on that challenge—working to scale proven innovations in partnership with leaders across the country and around the globe.
But because I’ve now answered that question of “why” many times, I’ve developed my own Top 5. Here they are:
I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with Teachstone staff from the beginning—when it was just a few people sitting around UVA—to now, when we have almost 100 employees. Of course, I’m biased, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a smarter, more dedicated or mission-driven staff anywhere. I only started a week ago, but already I am feeling so excited about what we can achieve together now that we get to collaborate every day.
And in my new role I also get to work with the clients, partners, educational leaders, and policymakers who make this work possible, keep challenging us to do more, and open our eyes to new possibilities for impact. I have so much to learn from the field about how we are already achieving impact and what else we can be doing.
We (that’s a big collective we) have been at this work for a long time—but there are still way too many children who don’t get to experience life-changing teachers. Moreover, there are incredible inequities in opportunities. One study found that children living in high-poverty communities are over two times more likely to experience ineffective instruction in pre-K compared to students in better-resourced communities.
Doing this work is hard. It isn’t just about “Doing CLASS.” It’s about creating systems that focus in on this challenge over time, attacking it from different angles (pre-service training, hiring, coaching, curriculum, supervision), collecting data as they go to continuously improve and refine the systems. It’s hard, but it’s not impossible. Innovative approaches to this work in places like Louisiana, Boulder Valley, and even as far as Ecuador provide examples that we can learn from and scale.
Because there is so much to do, it’s clear we can’t achieve this mission alone, and I am so excited to be able to engage with our key partners in this work. As just one example, did you know that Teachstone recently partnered with Kindercare to offer an online, CLASS-infused CDA to teachers? Why? Well, we recognized that hundreds of thousands of teachers in child care simply haven’t had access to learning about how to most effectively interact with children. Many of them are required to have CDAs, and it's critical that these credentials lead to effective teaching and positive outcomes for children. Teachstone's CDA with CLASS was developed with that single focus and to demonstrate that credentials and degrees can matter.
Teachstone’s mission is “enhancing classroom performance—because every student deserves life-changing teachers.” But I think we need to follow that with, “and every teacher deserves career-changing professional learning experiences.” Teachers enter the profession because they want to impact the lives of children, but too often they fail to get the education or training they need to do that most effectively. That simply has to change, and there are few organizations better positioned to lead that change than Teachstone.
I don’t think I need to say much here. If you are still reading this, I’m sure you know what I mean. We all have images in our minds of those children whose lives have been changed by teachers—and images of those that have been left behind.
It’s those children (and adolescents) that motivate me the most. They shouldn’t have to keep waiting to experience the life-transforming power of great teaching. They should all be as lucky as Angel, a child who had the great luck to get Mrs. Tetlow as a preschool teacher as a part of Virginia’s preschool expansion (a big shout-out to my colleagues at CASTL, VDOE, and Chesterfield County Public Schools for bringing us this great story). After watching, you won’t be surprised to hear that this teacher received very high CLASS scores—across all domains.
What could our students achieve if they all had Mrs. Tetlows, every year, from early childhood to high school graduation? That is the vision that drives me. It’s the vision that drives all of us at Teachstone.
There are actually many more reasons for joining this great company, but I’ll stop there. For now, anyway.
So what will I do as Chief Impact Officer? More on that to come. And if you have ideas, feel free to share.
I’m looking forward to starting the conversation!
Think about the biggest challenge you’re facing in your role today.
Perhaps it’s handling teacher turnover, managing your time while coaching over large geographic regions, or dealing with the disappointment of not seeing the results you thought you might see when you implemented that new professional development program.
We remember when we first learned about CLASS (it was a long time ago!). It was EXCITING! Interactions are at the core of every moment of the classroom day. And CLASS seemed to draw out everything that we knew would lead to engaged learners and long-term success for children. We wanted to shout CLASS from the rooftops!
Facilitating a brand new training can come with a mix of emotions like anxiety, nerves, and excitement. I recently experienced every one of those emotions and then some as I prepared to deliver a new training. I wanted to ensure that I learned the new content to fidelity, so I spent hours reviewing and studying. I viewed the training videos. I prepared some awesome reflective questions to ask my participants. I brainstormed activities to engage the group, and I rehearsed my PowerPoint slides. My facilitator binder and manuals have never seen so many highlighter marks!
With preparation complete, it was go-time! I put on my “CLASSes” and knew that if I focused on the importance of interactions, it would all come together. And it did.