November 2, 2015

Trust in the Responsive Classroom

            Last year I tried something crazy!  Even when I did it, I knew it wouldn’t work.  I convinced myself I was being a good teammate, because it was the same behavior plan  the majority of my team used.  I put up a behavior chart.  And, for the first month of school, it was TERRIBLE!  I was totally frustrated and couldn’t figure out why! It finally hit me, hard, one day.  I was managing every child’s behavior while they were free to behave any way they liked.  When I moved their clip, it was my choice, not their understanding of a behavioral problem.  If they moved it, it was the same thing.  They REALLY didn’t care.  There were no consequences, after all.  The District I work in removed using recess as a consequence (which I believe is a good decision overall) and, being little guys, they really didn’t understand that by Friday, at centers, there would be a consequence.  By then, they didn’t care either.  It was a rough start until I realized what was the real problem-there was no reason to behave because there was no trust!  Yep, no trust!  You can’t trust one another if there is no reason to do so.  You are just a bunch of people in a room, working for one thing, completion of tasks.  That’s it.  Even with team building activities, what was there? No trust!   It took just days to establish, but it was worth everything we had to do in those first few days.  I will not make that mistake again.  And, with the Responsive Classroom, I won’t have too!

            As I mentioned yesterday, I began reading every newsletter that came to my classroom.  I did not adopt everything, but I did adopt a number of things from their program.  And, I look at it a little differently than their overarching principles do.  So, here we go.

To be successful academically and socially, children need to learn a set of social and emotional skills that include cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy, and self-control. 

       This, to me, is trust!  Until they can trust me, our classroom environment and the other students in the room, are just like any other class.  We work hard to establish a morning routine.  We complete a Morning Meeting team building activity each day.  I do not do a Morning Message.  With today’s demands, there just isn’t time.  That makes the team building activity even more important.  I do many activities where they must TALK with one another.  That’s more important than having fun doing the activities.  If you want a class to bond, they have to get to know one another, they have to trust one another with important things.  This starts with talking.  And I’m included.  I act as a member of the team.  I rotate around to groups.  I share the same things that they are sharing.  They get to know the simple me.  We practice how to shake hands, how to use eye contact, how to LISTEN!  Oh, another great one!  How can a child trust you if you don’t LISTEN!  I’ve even taught them that if I’m typing and they need me, that I will give them a signal so that I focus on what they need to say as soon as I’m done typing.  What they have to say MATTERS!  Some of the greatest ideas in class come from them!  They have really great ideas that are worth the extra moment to listen to.  Then they build trust in you-and CREATIVE THINKING!  There is so much wrapped up in this one principle that I could go on and on and on!  But it MATTERS!  Stop, listen, and build trust!  It goes hand in hand to a successful classroom experience! And, I think, I pretty much covered these principles too:

Knowing the children we teach—individually, culturally, and developmentally—is as important as knowing the content we teach.

Great cognitive growth occurs through social interaction.

Here are two more principles to examine. 

The social and emotional curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum.

How children learn is as important as what they learn.

        I spend a lot of time working on building the social and emotional behaviors I expect in my classroom.  This taps into the “how” as well.  I REALLY think that, as educators, we give kids too much credit for knowing what we expect from them.  They come in the door, we say, “Here’s the rules.” We expect them to remember and use them because they are similar to last year.   Then we can’t figure out why they can’t just follow our expectation when we haven’t really taught them correctly.  Stop, just stop, and recognize the reality of this.  They don’t know you, or your expectations, even if they are similar to last year. You may want something very different than their teacher did last year, even if you are in the same building.  We all have our little differences.  You have to communicate them in the first few weeks of the school year.  That’s why their book The First Six Weeks of School is another great product.  I had forgotten I had this one, too!  An example of how my teaching a procedure is a little different than “regular” is I share non-examples.  With glue, I cover a number of things.  We talk about putting dots on the corners and through the middle.  We talk about carefully putting the paper on the page, how it should fit into its location.   Then we talk about what NOT to do with glue.  I cover the “glue hand” and the “glue pencil holder”.   I share how students have done this in the past.  Then I discuss the natural consequences of FORGETTING that the glue is there.  Of the materials that can get stuck and gluey.  The reality of the glue hand and how adults get upset because it lacks self-control. We have fun with it, but I have covered a number of key details-what happens when someone decides to use their glue incorrectly and the natural consequences found within.  I can honestly say it has been years since I’ve had a gluing outbreak.  I’m pretty sure it is this simple “extra” in my procedure discussions that has kept the outbreaks away, since it has happened in a number of other rooms.  I do this with all supplies, so that when I remind them of how to use the supplies correctly, we all have the same background knowledge.  No questions, it’s been presented!

         But there’s another key point here to look at.  Students don’t know what you expect in the next moment ANY TIME OF THE YEAR!  We have done this school year before.  We have told kids over and over. However, it was a different set of kids.  We have to always remember that it is the first time they have heard it.  Even if they have been told yesterday, today is a new day. Until they internalize that routine, or that expectation, and you have exposed them to it over and over again, you can’t be upset with them.  This is the hardest point.  I get frustrated.  I have my moments.  But I come back to this, over and over.  They are 7, they just heard it, they are learning, and it’s my job to remember that!  When adults manage their self-control, it matters!  Lasting change begins with me.  And it’s another principle of the Responsive Classroom.

How we, the adults at school, work together is as important as our individual competence: Lasting change begins with the adult community.

Knowing the families of the children we teach is as important as knowing the children we teach.

            This came naturally in my discovery of what makes a classroom community work.  It suddenly became obvious that I couldn’t just put it out there that my students mattered.  I had to make their whole family matter!  They became a part of my community, not just for parties and for celebrations, but in everything.  Their mom and dad, brothers and sister, all mattered to our community.  When siblings arrive, they are just as important as their brother or sister that sits in my class each day.  This has made such a difference in my classroom.  Yes, they get into things.  Yes, they get everyone wound up. But they matter.  I know what their favorite shows are. I know what they like.  Because it makes my students feel special.  When they talk about their family, I listen.  I ask questions to show that their families and culture matter.  This is not just for the kids.  I went out of my way this year to specifically ask about a student’s cultural celebration.  Why?  I wanted to know so that I gained understanding of the culture itself.  It will make me a better teacher, a better person, and a better citizen of America.  I conduct at home projects that help my students share their family life and to understand it themselves.  These are not projects on a topic of interest. These are projects about THEM! Subject matter can come later!  I have to know them first! 

      So, how does this all really come together?  Time, practice, and TRUST!  I cannot stress this enough.  When trust is an underlying theme, why have a behavior chart.  Why have a system of treats to know how a student is doing?  When trust is built upon valuing students and their families, a system is in place. One where a child can believe in themselves and their behavioral choices.  They can self -monitor and self-assess when necessary.  They can get themselves to use self-control because they have learned that they are valued.  Believing in a student, no matter where they have come or where they are going, goes a long way.  It is the foundation of the trust that runs my classroom.  It is the RESPONSE in the Responsive Classroom! 

      I do know I did not get to my lessons yet!  I will go into more details as to how lessons are conducted and how a classroom meeting looks!  They are easy, but important elements of keeping the RESPONSE in your class alive!

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