|Tommy Rogers, left, and Emma Weisel shake hands as part of the greeting in the daily morning meeting in Sarah Osborne’s second grade class at Christ the King School. Christ the King has adopted a research based program called the Responsive Classroom throughout the Pre-K through 8th grade school. The Responsive Classroom is an academic approach centered on students taking ownership for what happens in their classrooms, and encourages positive interactions between teachers and students. Photos by Rick Musacchio
In 2007, Christ the King Principal Sherry Woodman heard about a teaching philosophy called Responsive Classroom, an academic approach centered on students taking ownership for what happens in their classrooms, positive interactions amongst teachers and students, and creating a classroom setting where all students feel loved and respected.
As the former second grade teacher at Christ the King, she implemented the program’s methodologies in her classroom with great success. Now, she has implemented Responsive Classroom school-wide to replicate the success she saw with her former students.
“It made such a positive difference for my students and for me, that after I became principal I thought about how wonderful it would be if I could share that with all of the teachers in my school,” she said. “It is a perfect fit for our school’s mission.”
The foundations for the Responsive Classroom program are laid down in each grade at the beginning of the school year. Students collaborate with their teachers to outline what they hope to achieve during the year and create expectations for classroom behavior that guide the class towards achieving its goals.
To follow up, teachers and students continually hold each other accountable to keep the class on track to do what they set out to do. This reduces disciplinary problems as students become more cooperative with each other.
Each school day begins with a morning meeting, where students gather to greet each other, share what is happening in their lives, do an activity that incorporates social or academic skills, and get an overview of what they will do that day.
|Christ the King School second grade teacher Sarah Osborne leads the morning meeting in her classroom. The school has adopted a research based program called the Responsive Classroom, which is designed to increase student accountability and reduce disciplinary problems as students become more cooperative with each other.
Christ the King teachers have noted the difference morning meetings have made, noticing that it helps students prepare for the day. “Responsive Classroom practices have had an endless amount of positive results in my teaching already,” said second grade teacher Sarah Osborne. “I see many tired faces transition to show smiles and excitement for the day ahead. This meeting sets a positive tone to the day as we greet each other, share and do activities.”
The staff and pastor at Christ the King have other good things to say about Responsive Classroom. They are especially excited about the social skills the students are learning at school.
“Responsive Classroom techniques are key on social and emotional learning, and that aligns well with the imperative to teach the whole child that’s at the heart of Catholic education,” said Vice Principal Don Boehm.
“A student who can look a person in the eye, smile, shake hands, and engage in conversation is not only laying the groundwork for a friendly, collaborative classroom now, but is also building skills that will allow a person to stand out later on in life in interviews for scholarships or employment,” he said. “As students gain confidence and poise in the social interactions that (Responsive Classroom) promotes, they become effective collaborators and thoughtful contributors, practicing the 21st century learning skills that are the grounds for success in school, at work, and in life.”
Father Dexter Brewer, Christ the King pastor, has seen the program work in other school settings and is excited that it is being introduced at his parish’s school.
“Some years ago, I saw something of this pedagogical tool at work at a friend’s school in San Diego, California. The students and teachers began each day with a few minutes of interactive exercises, which seemed to make the students more alert and positively responsive to their teachers, the learning environment and to the other students around them,” he said.
|Osborne talks with second grade students Isabella Mathew and Will Derrick. They had just finished a partner chat, part of the Responsive Classroom approach that encourages positive interaction between students and teachers.
Teachers at Christ the King have spent the past year preparing to undergo this transition. “Last fall we had a one day orientation for teachers and office staff to help everyone get a sense of what the program was about. Teachers continued to talk, read and try some of what they had been introduced to throughout the year,” Woodman said.
“We had an intensive four-day training this past June that all of the teachers attended. It involved learning the principles and strategies of the approach with a trainer who models the strategies being taught,” she added.
“It’s a very hands-on class and fun to participate in. It was exciting to see and hear teachers get inspired by an idea and start planning how they could use it in their classroom,” Woodman said. “There was lots of camaraderie.”
Christ the King parents have also been interested in learning more about Responsive Classroom.
“The first week of school I had questions from junior high parents who were trying to see how Responsive Classroom practices could work with adolescents,” Woodman said. “Their queries were very helpful to me in thinking through some adjustments we needed to make. I made a presentation at our Parent Back to School Night and teachers shared information during classroom visits that followed. Parents thanked me afterward and let me know they appreciated the positive approach.
“Another parent gave an example about how a teacher’s proactive response helped her sixth grader improve his social skills that week and how glad she was that we made this change,” Woodman said. “I’ve had questions about how parents could use some of the (Responsive Classroom) ideas at home and I tried to include some suggestions for them in my presentation.”
Implementing the program has been a period of adjustment for the whole school, but Woodman is confident that it will succeed.
“As we move into the school year, the challenge is to keep the momentum going, encouraging and supporting the teachers and students as they try new ideas,” she said. “Change can have its ups and downs, but when bringing a new program to our school that is research-based and has proven benefits for students academically, socially and emotionally, the extra work is worth it.
“I have a lot of confidence in my faculty,” she said. “They are dedicated to doing what is best for the students.”