responsive classroom

Responsive Classroom

by Tiffany Townsend
Children are more comfortable and confident in engaging in active learning when they are in an environment that fosters social and emotional understanding and competence. Responsive Classroom (RC) is an approach to teaching that employs thoughtful and proactive practices to create a safe and joyful classroom culture that is developmentally responsive to students’ strengths and needs.
With Responsive Classroom, the growth of social and emotional skills is equal to academic development. Everything from teacher language, to tone of delivery, to the physical setup of a classroom contributes to the creation of an environment where students are able to do their best learning.

Kindergarten teacher Megan Florentine and Middle School English teacher Emily Parrelli were immediately drawn to the philosophy of Responsive Classroom after attending training sessions. Emily explains, “There is a connection between RC and the mission of Ensworth in the core values of teaching the whole child. The emphasis is on belonging, significance, and fun, which closely aligns with what we do here at Ensworth.” Both teachers became certified with RC and are now two of the approximately 200 RC consulting teachers across the country.

Megan and Emily first shared their RC knowledge informally with other teachers through Late Start opportunities and discussion groups. In the summer of 2018, the rest of the kindergarten team, along with Grade 4 teacher Whitney Earhart and Grade 5 teacher Kelly Goorevich, attended training together in Chicago, which led to the first RC cohort on campus for the 2018-2019 school year. The group met monthly to discuss RC principles and strategies and to collaborate on intentional ways to incorporate RC into the structure and procedures of their classrooms.
Megan shares how RC informs her approach to teaching her kindergarten students: “We are teaching skills for success on the front end instead of just assuming they know what to do and then getting upset when they get it wrong. Children want to know how to do things correctly. If we assume that we need to teach everything, there’s never a moment of disappointment. We demonstrate and practice every single step of each process, whether it is how to push in your chair at the table or how to line up at the door, so students know exactly what we are looking for and how they can do it right. And then you revisit those things as often as you need to throughout the year.”

Emily explains how the tenets of Responsive Classroom also apply to discipline and classroom management in her middle school class: “RC guides the way you work with students who have made a mistake or a bad decision. Logical consequences take place first; then, you have a problem-solving conference, and students set goals for themselves. Having disciplinary steps that are consistent helps take the stress out of it. The student can see the escalation of their actions instead of thinking a teacher is picking on them; it shows direct connections between their actions and results. Plus, it encourages us to deeply and individually know our students and what is going to resonate with them, which in turn guides the way we respond.”

This summer, Grade 4 teacher Sarah Bryant, Grade 5 teachers Barb Daugherty and Michelle Chang, Lower School Science teacher Andrew Bond, and Middle School Math teacher Edd Caudill attended the RC Summer Institute, and the two cohorts will work together in the coming year. Additionally, Emily will be hosting a book study group on RC discipline with Middle School teachers, and Megan will be working with special teachers on implementing RC practices in their classrooms through the study of a book written specifically with special-area teachers in mind.

Megan and Emily agree that the Responsive Classroom training has been the most life-changing professional development they have experienced. “It’s the subtle things you do differently that change everything,” explains Megan. “You are calm; your kids are calm; it fosters a safe and peaceful environment. You know each student as an individual and can respond to them accordingly.” Emily adds, “It’s not a huge departure from the way we were teaching before, but it’s a shift in thinking and a more intentional approach. And when you do it consistently and well, it benefits both students and teachers.”

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