What is a responsive classroom?

JANE ATTAH, GRADE 2 TEACHER: 

I believe that the most impactful academic learning cannot be decoupled from social-emotional growth.

I believe that what we learn is as important as how we learn, and who we are learning with.

I believe that children who feel safe, who feel valued, and who feel loved will discover they have the potential to reach any academic height.

When I decided to become an educator, I felt strongly and earnestly that it would be crucial to create a learning environment that supports and nourishes both the mind and the heart throughout the school day.

…create a learning environment that supports and nourishes both the mind and the heart throughout the school day.

As a teacher who follows the tenets of a Responsive Classroom method, I’ve seen its incredibly positive learning effect on my young students. This method is a research-based approach to a K-8 curriculum focuses on the strong link between academic success and social emotional learning.

A set of core practices guide the Responsive Classroom approach throughout a K-8 continuum1:

  • Interactive Modeling—An explicit practice for teaching procedures and routines (such as those for entering and exiting the room) as well as academic and social skills (such as engaging with the text or giving and accepting feedback).
  • Teacher Language—The intentional use of language to enable students to engage in their learning and develop the academic, social, and emotional skills they need to be successful in and out of school.
  • Logical Consequences—A non-punitive response to misbehavior that allows teachers to set clear limits and students to fix and learn from their mistakes while maintaining their dignity.
  • Interactive Learning Structures— Purposeful activities that give students opportunities to engage with content in active (hands-on) and interactive (social) ways.

At its heart, my role in that classroom is that of a facilitator, versus ‘instructor.’ My goal is to scaffold my students’ learning by supporting them wherever their capabilities are, while also illuminating the path to their own academic independence. With a responsive classroom approach, how children learn, and with whom they learn, is as important as what they learn.

I strive to create an environment where my students feel safe to comfortably engage with their peers, and have an awareness of respect for others, the school community, and themselves. Our daily routine is flexible, and adaptive, within a broader structure of our curriculum goals.

I maintain a high level of classroom management to ensure we’re functioning in a calm and orderly way so learning can take place. When my students know I am prepared for the day, (even when something does not go according to plan), they are ready to adjust to the change. An effective Responsive Classroom strategy for classroom decorum is to work together to establish yearly goals, and set rules for how we will help everyone reach these goals.

Another strategy to create a responsive classroom—and one of my favorites—is to designate a time for a morning meeting. This sets the tone for the day and allows the students to “check in” with each other as they exchange a friendly greeting and warm handshake. It makes such a difference when a student expresses openly how they are feeling on a given day. It brings out the empathy in their peers. It is also a place to practice mindfulness and what it means to be fully present.

A responsive classroom teacher is able to step in and out of any learning activity and give support his or her students. Thus, I am able to build nurturing relationships with students so that each one feels he or she is known and respected.

A Responsive Classroom approach requires dedication and a commitment to heed the needs of each student. I always remind myself that no one has time; rather, we must make time. All educators feel the pressure of a classroom schedule and lesson plan—but taking the time to first build a classroom community is the foundation for positive social-emotional learning necessary for academic achievement.

1 “Responsive Classroom: Principles & Practices.” www.responsiveclassroom.org

2 thoughts on “What is a responsive classroom?

  1. Great post, Jane! I particularly like the line: “I always remind myself that no one has time; rather, we must make time.” It’s a great mantra for education and parenting!

  2. I love this, Jane!! You’re taking good care of my classroom and it’s precious occupants.
    I hope you have many happy years there – they are lucky to have you!

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