Better learners are found in caring classrooms

March 30, 2017
teacher and students

More than fun and games, Responsive Classroom makes big difference for kids and teachers

You can hear them before you even step into the room – a group of elementary teachers from various schools across the district, laughing and shouting as they engage in a very different kind of professional development.

Throughout the past year more than 300 teachers have been trained in Responsive Classroom (RC), a program designed to help strengthen social, emotional and academic growth by creating safe and welcoming school communities. Additional training is taking place for middle school and high school staff in Developmental Design (DD) and Building Assets, Reducing Risks (B.A.R.R.) programs, which expand the key concepts of RC into a middle school and high school environment.

“I'm beyond-the-moon excited that our district has decided to invest in such a valuable approach preK through high school,” said Sara Tate, a Rutherford teacher. “I find using the Responsive Classroom techniques in my classroom work together to create a sense of community and belonging, fun shared experiences, and a vehicle to reinforce academics in new and exciting ways.”

Responsive Classroom is best known by its trademark Morning Meeting.  If you walk into an elementary classroom at the start of a school day, you’ll no doubt find kids gathered in a circle either sitting or standing side by side. It’s here that students greet one another – often in a fun and wacky way with a handshake or gesture, or by using a weird voice (think Darth Vader). They also have an opportunity to actively listen as a student shares something with classmates (think show-and-tell). As part of each meeting they’ll participate in some type of group activity that gets students moving and often laughing together. And before the circle time breaks up, the teacher shares a message about what kids can expect to do and learn throughout the day.

Beyond morning meetings, RC also incorporates time in the day for students to transition between lessons or classes with energizers – short, playful whole-group activities – and quiet time – purposeful, relaxed time after lunch and recess. The students also end the day with a short closing circle to reflect on and celebrate what they’d accomplished.

“The point of RC is to create greater teacher effectiveness, higher student achievement and improve school climate,” said Michelle Pentland, a teacher at Lily Lake Elementary. “I love how RC builds a classroom community of respect, positive collaboration and includes everyone. It helps teachers plan purposeful lessons where children are engaged and active learners.”

Research shows that the Responsive Classroom approach – along with the more grown-up versions of DD and B.A.R.R. - is associated with higher academic achievement in math and reading, improved school climate, and higher-quality instruction.

“The benefits for students are evident immediately,” said Pentland. “They grow and mature. They are valued and most importantly feel cared for at all levels, developing a wonderful connection between students, families and staff.”

Expanding the RC concepts to older students is another commitment the district has made for the new year. DD is being integrated into the new middle school model, and B.A.R.R. will be part of the new 9-12 high school program.

“As children develop, they need continued instruction and support in social, emotional strategies,” said Lisa Blake, an instructional coach and Responsive Classroom trainer. “Our district is designing a rigorous pathway for all students beginning in preK and moving all the way through high school to provide that continuous support.”