September 14, 2017 Hope Scibal

What is “Responsive Classroom”?

If you’ve spent some time walking through the halls of Grymes, watching students interact with each other on the playground, or even just passing through the front door of the main building, you’ve seen it. There’s something special in the air at Grymes, a happy buzz from students who feel at home in this family-oriented environment. 

Visitors quickly notice how kind Grymes students are, how easily they interact with teachers, and how they all seem to know each other so well and engage with each other with such ease. Kindness, respect, responsibility and honor are nothing new to the Grymes community; they are a part of everyday life here at Grymes.

As a faculty, we decided that being even clearer and more intentional in teaching who and what we are at Grymes is becoming more essential in our increasingly complex world.

Yet, in an increasingly isolating “social media” world – and at a time when the national conversation is becoming more and more contentious every day – the Grymes faculty and administrators felt the need to take a new, more intentional approach to instilling a closer and kinder community amongst students. “We have a culture here at Grymes that we are proud of and that helps define who we are as a school community,” says Head of School Penny Work. “As a faculty, we decided that being even clearer and more intentional in teaching who and what we are at Grymes is becoming more essential in our increasingly complex world.”

Responsive Classroom is a social curriculum, used side by side with an academic curriculum, that fosters a sense of community in the classroom. Used in many schools around the country, the program puts students at the forefront of their learning and their discipline and is proactive in that students buy into the plan that they create together to have a successful year. “Many of our teachers were already using designated ‘homeroom time’ for team-building discussions and activities. Responsive Classroom makes this group engagement an established part of the daily classroom routine, and really encourages our teachers to take a more intentional approach to the classroom chemistry,” says Assistant Head of School Tamie Campbell.

Each student is an individual learner, but through Responsive Classroom we learn about each other and are able to support each other the whole year through.

“What I really like about Responsive Classroom is that it provides a common language and a routine for students that makes the day predictable but also very enjoyable,” says Meghan Stowers, 6th grade homeroom teacher. Stowers received training on Responsive Classroom at the Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland, before joining the Grymes faculty and was quick to advocate for the program at Grymes because she’s experienced the positive environment it creates in a classroom. “Through morning meetings and developing the class contract, we come together as a team, united at the start of the year and really get to know each other. Each student is an individual learner, but through Responsive Classroom we learn about each other and are able to support each other the whole year through.”

The program begins with the “classroom contract”, a set of guidelines made collaboratively between the teachers and students in the first week of school. “The contract really empowers students to feel that they’re in control of creating the rules and the systems for the classroom rather than just being told what they cannot do by the teacher,” says Stowers.

Video

Watch video of Mrs. Stowers’ 6th Graders making their classroom contract

Morning meeting provides the students the opportunity to talk about things, say what’s on their minds and come together, have fun, start the day laughing and have everyone feel included so we can start the day in a positive frame of mind.

Not only does the classroom contract set the tone for expectations in the classroom, but the daily “class meeting” creates time for community sharing, daily “messages” and for activities that encourage students to engage meaningfully in small ways. “Each day we come together and just touch base before we get into the academic rigor of our day. The purpose of this time is that every child hears their name, is greeted by fellow students and the teacher before they start the day, and the day begins in a positive frame of mind.

Indeed, the program is about more than just classroom dynamics; it’s also a way for the whole student community to participate in creating the Grymes school culture. Applying Responsive Classroom techniques to the first assembly of the school year, Dr. Work asked students to share what they wanted their school to be this year. Students of all ages participated in sharing their thoughts, and over 60 words that they used to describe their “ideal school” will become the student mission for the year (the words are pictured below).

“We’ve spent our first two all-school assemblies brainstorming about what kind of community we want to be this year. I’ve been so proud of the genuinely thoughtful contributions and comments made by our students of all ages. Junior Kindergartners all the way through eighth graders have contributed over 60 words,” says Dr.Work. “The next step will be for students to make a ‘motto’ for the year that best represents us. It’s an exciting way to start the school year, with all students engaged in this process both in their classrooms and as a school family.”

Stay tuned for more on Responsive Classroom at Grymes.