If you have spent any time with children, you probably know that getting them to be quiet and listen, or to follow certain rules, is not always as easy as just asking them to do as you say – especially if it’s your first time meeting them. It is important to establish trust and respect, as well as create an environment that is conducive to those wanted behaviors. 

Enter responsive classroom, a student-centered, social and emotional learning approach to teaching and discipline. Responsive classroom is comprised of a set of research, and evidence-based practices designed to create safe, joyful, and engaging classrooms and school communities for both students and teachers. Teachers at City Academy receive extensive training in the practice — from four-day workshops with independent school teachers from around the country to a four-part webinar series. 

Third grade humanities teacher Erin McDonough considers herself a responsive classroom “guru” and enjoys implementing the strategies with her students as she sees extensive benefits from the approach. 

“The main purpose is for students to really have the ability to feel seen and heard in the classroom, and feel as though they are a part of a community that is filled with trust and gives them the ability to tackle new challenges and take risks in the classroom,” McDonough said. “Establishing that community of support and love is really the main purpose. And then it guides the students through the year as we experience those new challenges. They’re willing to take on new risks with a positive mindset and know they’re in a safe space.”

Two components of responsive classroom that are widely implemented at City Academy are the morning meeting and closing meeting. Morning meeting occurs shortly after the all-school pledge and can last up to 25 minutes, depending on the grade level. McDonough said the morning meeting is a great way to check back in with students to review what they learned the day before, as well as to gain insight about the child’s life outside the classroom. 

“Learning about those traditions and what those evenings look like for our students also helps you support them during the day,” McDonough said. “I have been able to support families through conversations we have had through morning meetings, things that I wouldn’t have necessarily found out about a child or a family, I am able to hone in on specific things that come out, because they’re willing to share during morning meeting or closing meeting.” 

The meetings begin with a chime as a gentle reminder that it is time to stop what you are doing and listen to your teacher. During the warmer months, McDonough likes to have the morning meeting outside in conjunction with the other 3rd grade students that are part of Lisa McKenna’s advisory. The meetings typically include a greeting, a share, and an activity. The greeting can be educational (i.e. greet each other with an adjective) or just silly (i.e. greet each other in an animal noise, or with a new dance move). The share offers teachers and students an easy way to get to know each other, as each student answers questions like “What’s your favorite color?” or “What did you have for dinner last night?” McDonough then quizzes the students based on what was shared to make sure students are listening to one another. The activity usually involves some kind of movement such as a game of sharks and minnows or silent speedball. 

“As we all know, kids need movement breaks and having these options built into the day makes it easier for when we need them to sit still and focus,” McDonough said. She also likes to incorporate an academic piece to the activity when possible, such as having the students line up in alphabetical order or by age without talking. 

The closing meeting is typically a shorter wrap up at the end of the day, often just five minutes in length. It allows students to reflect on their day and end it with closure, that way they are able to come back fresh the next day. 

McDonough enjoys the morning and closing meetings because while it’s easy to focus on what students are good at or not good at in an academic setting, responsive classroom allows students to shine in different lights. 

“You might find that a child is very good at taking on responsibilities and then you can tap into those strengths or weaknesses in the academic settings and see how they bring that to life as well,” McDonough said. “When we have the ability to have those connections, the students trust me and they trust each other so much, so this classroom really is a safe space. It’s not just something we say, but it’s a safe place where they know I can make a mistake and I can know I’m supported through that mistake. I have a community here that will uplift me and not laugh at me when I make a mistake. And therefore I’m willing to push myself in that direction, even when I don’t fully trust that I can’t tackle a challenge.” 

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