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DON'T FEAR THE EVALUATION: Why every teacher should want a CLASS observation

OMG. I love Bobby P (Officially known as Robert Pianta and one of the creators of The Classroom Assessment Scoring System). The Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) is a research based tool that measures teacher-child interactions in Pre-K through 12 classrooms and settings that serve infants and toddlers. I may be one of the biggest cheerleaders of this tool in town! The reason for all of this rah rah cheer is that I believe if I would have had this professional development tool used in my classroom while I was a classroom teacher it would have impacted my teaching implementations and therefore effected my students’ learning outcomes.

I taught kindergarten for eight years. I received at least one observation/year by an administrator. The observations I received provided minimal feedback or ways to grow as an educator. Basically, my principal or vice principal would walk into my classroom with a checklist or rubric developed by the district. We would then (sometimes) discuss the rubric and I would shove it in a file folder and never think about it again. The reason I believe the CLASS would have changed me as a teacher is it measures the interactions that I was having with my students. Components of the CLASS that I love the most are: allowing for student autonomy of learning, fostering a positive and responsive classroom environment, encouraging and promoting high levels of language stimulation, and intentionally promoting students’ higher-order thinking skills. I can tell you without a doubt that I have never been observed on the types of interactions I was having with my kids. This would have been game changing.

I am so jazzed about the CLASS tool that I am now a pre-K CLASS trainer and find joy in spreading the CLASSy message to educators across my state! While training other teachers on this tool I am finding that they are AFRAID of the CLASS or ANGRY that they have one more assessment or “thing” they have to deal with as a teacher. I hope through this blog post I can help to relieve some of those fears and encourage educators to embrace what the CLASS is and understand what the CLASS is NOT. Listed in bold are concerns and comments I have heard from teachers during my CLASS trainings.

The observer is here to judge me. What if they don’t like my teaching style?

The CLASS is a research based tool that focuses on improving the effectiveness of teacher-child interactions to impact positive outcomes for children. The CLASS tool is not an opinion of what type of teacher you are! As a CLASS observer, I must use the lens of the tool. I do not come into your room and score a CLASS based on what I think you are doing right or wrong. There are 10 dimensions with indicators and behavioral markers that help observers to make standardized assessments based on the CLASS tool.

I already have observations done in my classroom every year. Why do I need The CLASS?

Classrooms are complex places! The CLASS tool measures 10 dimensions at the same time allowing certified observers to code many indicators and behaviors in the classroom at once! The CLASS gives educators a snapshot picture of one part of one day in their classroom. This snapshot can provide you with a lot of information about what you are doing really well during certain formats and what areas you have room for growth. Let me use my own classroom as an example. Hypothetically, if a CLASS observation was happening in my classroom during Center Time I would typically have scored high in Regard for Student Perspectives. My students would have had choice within centers, I would have been talking and eliciting their ideas, and they would have had opportunities for leadership. During the same observation, if Whole Group or Opening was observed my scores for Regard for Student Perspectives would have been extremely low! During a Whole Group format I had little opportunity for students to have ownership or choice of their learning. This is the beauty of the CLASS tool. I may not have noticed this disparity as a classroom teacher on my own! BUT with a snapshot picture of my day I could see what I was doing well and areas I could use some improvement. My typical district observations did not include that type of feedback.

We don’t use the same curriculum as other districts or classrooms so my CLASS scores will be lower than other teachers’ scores.

The CLASS does not measure or observe your curriculum. When I am observing a classroom, I don’t care what they are using as curriculum. What the CLASS focuses on is the HOW. How the teacher is implementing curriculum, the quality of interactions happening between teacher-students, and the types of interactions between students-students.

I have a really hard group this year. Five of my students receive services for Behavioral Disorders. I am sure my CLASS will be lower because I have difficult children to teach.

The CLASS tool measures your interactions with your students. Before a CLASS observation I do not ask the teacher how many of her students are on IEPs or receive special education services. I am watching how you proactively state your behavioral expectations and how you respond to active misbehavior. The tool also takes account for the average experience of the average child. This means if you have one student who is having a hard day and is throwing objects in the classroom or hitting others, or shouting at you-the CLASS observer will not automatically drop your score for Behavior Management. What the certified observer will watch for is how you respond to the situation and if things continue to escalate. Frequency, depth, and duration are important elements that are considered for every indicator of the tool.

I am worried that if I score low on the CLASS my director/principal will be mad at me. What if we lose our funding because of me?

Like I mentioned above…this tool is designed to be used as professional development! The tool is not to become grounds for breeding a competitive atmosphere between teachers or schools. Please don’t compare your scores to the scores of the teacher next door. It is for YOU the teacher to use as a means of seeing your strengths and realizing ways you can improve. Hopefully your director, principal, or funders can see this tool for what it is-professional development for the teacher or team of teachers. As a teacher one of your responsibilities is advocacy. Advocate for your students and yourself. Remind policy makers and administrators that the CLASS tool is for helping you improve and validating your strengths. Don't be afraid to have discussions on the purpose of the observation.

The main reason I fell in love with the CLASS so much is because of the focus on relationships and interactions. That is really what it all boils down to. In fact, I loved the tool so much that it inspired me to write a book to help teachers reflect on their current classroom practices and understand the importance of relationships and interactions with their students (Crisscross Applesauce and Shut the Hell Up: 10 Reflective Lessons for New and Seasoned teachers). I plan to continue to spread this CLASSy message to as many educators that will listen to me because I am an advocate for kids and teachers! The CLASS tool serves both.

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