You have heard about the path and the principles, now let’s get down to the nitty gritty! Today I finally will hit LESSONS in the Responsive Classroom. Before I begin, I do want to share one more story about trust. I will never forget a few years ago, during a teacher inservice I was at, where we were discussing work ethic of students based around behavioral choices. I mentioned trust. One of the teacher’s responded, “Trust? I can’t TRUST my students to do anything!” This teacher was at the very same type of school I was. Yet, she couldn’t TRUST them. In fact, it was even the way it was said. It was a foreign concept to this teacher. So, I write with a purpose. Have you examined the trust you have for students, for families, for ideas, and more, in your class? Is this the place you should start with? For it is this very trust that leads to the lessons I’m about to present. Without it, it is but a lesson…
The very first day I start with this truth, “I do not have a behavior system. There are no red, green, and blue charts. There are no clips to move. There is you. You must monitor yourself and follow our rules. I believe every one of you can do this. No matter what, I believe in you.” And, honestly, that’s about it for the first day. There are so many things to cover that I let this very idea sink into their heads. Their faces are precious. You can see “What?!” on all of their faces. For many of them, this is the first time someone has been this brave with them. I’ve seen this face from 1st Grade to 5th grade. Every single one, “What!?” And, we move on!
In the next few days, we cover a variety of topics all within Morning Meeting. As I stated in the previous post, I only conduct a team building activity within the meeting setting. It is very important kids sit in a circle during this time. They can see each other and that creates an equal opportunity for all students. No one feels left out when a circle is made. (I did have an autistic student who preferred to sit slightly outside the circle. Remember to be sensitive to a child’s particular need. This was one that made him more comfortable and that matters!) These team building activities allow kids to be serious, to be silly, to dance, and to sing within a very short activity. This builds trust among students. There is something transforming when that student who won’t interact does their first little dance and everyone cheers them on. There is something wonderful when a serious child shares a funny nickname for a name game. There is power in these moments that you shouldn’t overlook. It unlocks the culture of a classroom. It builds responsiveness and eagerness that becomes a force of it’s own. They begin to crave this time together and it is worth the 5 to 10 minutes every day. It is the backbone activity to everything that you will do, all year.
We then move on to bigger things. It is key within this community to build a classroom pledge or rules together. I build a classroom pledge. It usually contains procedures that the kids suggest are important in our class and school. This year’s has some repeats, but the kids built it. They also sign the pledge and we say it each day. It binds us together.
There are many lessons you can include to build community, but my favorites are always During the first few weeks, we build on citizenship ideas such as trust, cooperation, and simple procedures that must be clearly defined. Here’s an example. This is one of the few charts I don’t actually make with my kids. It was just a good chart! Voice Choice is something that came out of a problem with one of my classes one year. I have used it ever since. We go through the lesson in a number of days at the beginning of they year. Then, from there on, we have a common understanding of the expectations. This happened today; so let’s go through it step by step from the kids themselves.
1. Identify the problem. This week, my kids have been WHACKED out! No matter what we are doing, they are crazy! Yesterday I decided it was time to have a class meeting to discuss what was going on. I can identify the need for a meeting or the kids can. I haven’t had many kids asked, but they have occasionally.
2. Circle up! I pulled the chart stand over (I move mine around) and then we sat together in a circle.
3. State the problem. I use it for the title of the chart where I will record the information we share in the meeting.
4. Let them talk! I let them think, pair, and then they share. I listen when they talk. See that bubble on the side. That was not shared. I overheard that! I asked the student to share at the end. I also code the chart. The large arrow is to indicate a future lesson to clarify rules on helping others. I didn’t know until this meeting that kids were struggling with helping each other and being off task. This came out of the lesson. Look for discoveries! We talked about all 3 points on this chart separately.
5. Record everything! I try to record in their words. If I need to, I do adjust them to the positive. I record my information with my name by it. That way students know what my thinking is compared to theirs. We talk about where it matches so that we are on the same page. Everything works together to create a mutual language and understanding. No one walks away wondering. It is clear because it is THEIR thoughts. You wouldn’t believe the amount of heads that shook yes when the group brought up Halloween being a major problem for them!
And, the caveman comment was a student’s. This really stuck with them after he said it! What about the brain shuts down comment! They really do understand what they are doing to themselves and how their thinking is broken down by their behavior!
6. Give them a chance to come up with solutions!
They can! That list is theirs! I added the “Saying no is ok” and “Self-reflect”. The rest is their thinking! I tied their response into our yoga routine. We are working on controlling our bodies during that time using our mind. I connected it back to using it to avoid distraction. Notice there are no consequences. That doesn’t mean we didn’t talk about it. They are now aware that if the behavior persists, they will write a note home to their parents. I have them write their own notes. That makes them take ownership with the problem and creates an honest exchange between them and their parents. This is what I envision when I think of discipline in a student lead classroom, the two sides of that idea.
7. Practice the language. Today I heard myself say, “Are you working in the solution zone?” "What solution should you use in that moment?” Make sure you are choosing a solution instead of a self-control issue. “ I also noticed that as I practiced this language, so did the kids. The other thing that happened is I began to see the patterns of behavior from the children that may be triggering the problem. Now I can focus on those patterns and work with those children to change the situation. This may be through discussion or through the process of informing parents. But the pattern emerged, where as before, it was just a mess everywhere!
8. Go over the chart! I will spend a number of days simply re-going over the chart. It may happen more than once a day. The chart is there for all future issues of loss of control also. Our Teacher’s Job/Student Job chart was referred to at least 4 times today.
The look on their faces is always the same. The common language and expectations puts the situation into perspective and eliminates the hemming and hawing that normally takes place about an issue. It also binds them together as a one-thinker unit. If new students arrive, the other students take them through the charts and information to build background. They know where to look and what to do without me having to tell them, because we are a community who thinks alike and has clear understanding together.
I repeat these steps with many topics, many times a school year. Yes, it takes time. Today’s activity took a half hour. But it was the best half hour I have used in a long time!
Now, here are some oldies but goodies that came from the Logical Consequences behavior plan from my old school. It even has the professor that came to visit us on the bottom! I also included a list of some of my basic lessons that I may or may not do with my class, depending on their needs. This includes one of my favorite charts I make every year, “What to do When I’m Finished!”
I hope this helps you to see why the Responsive Classroom is a great program to look at to help build a classroom community! I can testify completely that it is the “response” of the students that makes this program so worth it!