The article “Starting The Year Off Right with Responsive Classroom” originally appeared in For the Love of Teachers. Reprinted with permission by author Christine Weis.
If you read my recent post, 5 Must Do Back to School Activities-Week 1 then you are ready to start off the year with some terrific getting to know your students activities and building your classroom community of friends and learners. Being a Responsive Classroom (RC) teacher for 12 years I have found extreme value in its philosophy for building a strong classroom community that thrives and is conducive to learning.
If you are not too familiar with Responsive Classroom or haven’t had training, then here is a brief summary of what RC is. Responsive Classroom is an effective approach for meeting the social, emotional and academic needs of your students. This can be compared to a leader in a professional workplace providing their employees with what they need to thrive and be successful. It is a way of organizing and managing your classroom by creating an environment that is conducive for teaching and learning. Building a strong classroom community through daily morning meetings, interactive modeling, teacher language and more are all powerful components of Responsive Classroom.
- Teaches social skills
- Builds classroom community
- Helps students make friends and connections
- Establishes clear routines, rules and expectations
- Nips focus and behavior issues early on
It is critical to set this foundation within the first 6 weeks of school. Fortunately, the school I taught at was a Responsive Classroom school at the time and offered Responsive Classroom courses 1 & 2. This was one of the best professional development experiences that I have ever had. You could find more information about these courses at responsiveclassroom.org, along with other useful information and resources to help support your RC classroom. However, if your school district won’t foot the cost of RC training but you are interested in the responsive classroom approach, then here are both extremely useful professional resources and activities that can help you transform your classroom into an RC classroom right from the start of the school year.
Establishing Class Rules
At the end of week 1 your students wrote about their hopes and dreams. In order for all students to reach their hopes and dreams, discuss what rules are needed in order for the teacher to teach and for students to learn. I refer to this amazing book, The First Six Weeks of School, Week 2 (K-2 and middle grades 3-4) to develop the rules and routines that will help build a cohesive community of learners and reach our hopes and dreams. Brainstorm a list of rules with your students about how we treat each other, how we take care of things, how we do our work and how we stay safe (refer to page 101 Thinking About Rules worksheet in The First Six Weeks of School. Groups then present their rules and we vote on our final class rules together, usually coming up with about 5 solid rules that fit into the 4 categories. I found it helpful for students, especially in the younger grades, to illustrate what each rule looks like and sounds like in our classroom. These posters were displayed in our classroom as a visual, which is important for visual learners. Remember if you do not have clear rules established in your classroom, and if your students do not understand them, nor take ownership for creating them, then you will not be able to teach and your students will not be able learn to their fullest potential.
This book will give you amazing, structured ideas and plans for the first 6 weeks of school, K-6. After having this book, I cannot start my year off without it. It’s a must have!
Morning Meeting is a 15-20 minute daily routine used to begin the school day. All classroom members gather in a circle to greet one another, listen and respond to each other’s news, practice academic and social skills, and look forward to the events in the day ahead. It serves as a transition from home to school, helps children feel welcome and known, and sets the tone for the day. Morning Meeting should be introduced in the first two weeks of school, starting off slowly introducing one component at a time.
The Four Components
- Greeting– Children greet each other by name, handshaking, hi-five, etc. with a smile and eye contact.
- Share– Five students or so share per day with some news of interest to the class and respond to each other with thoughtful questions/comments, practicing communication skills and learning about one another.
- Group Activity– The whole class does a short fun activity together, building class cohesion through active participation.
- Morning Message– Students develop language skills and learn about the events in the day ahead by reading and discussing a daily message posted on a chart or dry erase easel.
The Morning Meeting Book is a great resource for introducing, modeling and supporting daily morning meetings in your classroom. Another must have!
Interactive modeling is an effective way for teaching procedures and routines. Do not assume that your students know the expectations in your classroom. The first six weeks of school are crucial for establishing rules, routines and procedures from walking in the hallway to using classroom materials.
Using interactive modeling scripts, like this one, Interactive Modeling-Morn. Routine, during the first six weeks of school is a classroom management technique that is worth your time. After, you will be able to teach and your students will be ready to learn in a safe, organized manner. You will find more interactive modeling scripts in my Teacher Pay Teacher store coming soon to help you get started at the beginning of the school year.
Interactive Modeling is a guide to modeling everything and anything in your classroom, from academic and social skills, routines, transitions, use of materials—any behavior, skill, or routine that needs to be done in a specific way. When teachers use this technique, children quickly learn what to do, and they remember better.
What to model: EVERYTHING but here are a few ideas!
- How to use each and every classroom supply
- How to line up
- How to walk in the hallway
- How to walk in the stairwell
- The morning routine
- How to work in learning centers
- How to sign out for the restroom
- How to … do EVERYTHING you could think of!
Give Responsive Classroom a try. It will definitely change the way you teach, how you teach and how your students learn.
Christine Weis is a Back to Basics Learning Dynamics tutor, teacher, professional development instructor, mom of two boys and the founder of For The Love of Teachers, a website and blog dedicated to teacher collaboration, professional growth and useful resources. To read more about Christine, CLICK HERE.