What is Responsive Classroom?


Learning how to participate in a group activity, how to listen respectfully to others, and how to regulate emotions without the comfort of Mom or Dad are some of the most critical skills elementary students must learn in order to thrive in a school environment. If they can’t master these crucial skills, how can teachers expect them to learn how to read chapter books or do multiplication?


The social-emotional health of students has become a main focus in many independent schools, with the Responsive Classroom approach being a leading methodology for supporting student growth in these areas. An evidence-based roadmap that fosters inclusivity, community, and engagement, Responsive Classroom teaches students that it’s not just what they learn, but how and who they learn alongside that sets them up for success.


Morning team meetings are an essential component of Responsive Classroom. At The Ellis School, elementary school educators begin the day cross-legged in a circle alongside their students, sharing tidbits about their lives and posing questions to which students can relate.


A mindful way to start each morning, the meeting sets expectations and rules for the students while bringing them together to learn and grow as a team. In one of the first morning meetings of the year, an Ellis second grade teacher taught students how to meditate—hence offering them an opportunity to better know their teacher, while at the same time providing a useful tactic for dealing with unruly feelings at school.


“The team meetings support positive relationships between the girls and their teachers,” said Betsy Gianakas, a first grade teacher at Ellis. “Whether offering thoughts about new endings to a story or imagining adventures in a tropical rainforest, when sharing aloud, emphasis is placed on listening to and accepting others. In this space, highlighting students' vast array of ideas is a great strength.”


Another facet of the Responsive Classroom methodology is using intentional language and modeling positive routines and behaviors. Why? It takes the guesswork out of how students are expected to interact because their teachers are explicitly demonstrating it for them. By using specific language that enables kids to think outside of themselves and their own needs, elementary-age children learn to empathize, cooperate, and work collaboratively.


Responsive Classroom activities are important because they teach children to express their ideas, listen to each other, challenge each other’s thinking, and problem-solve together. Because at its core, school is a social experience, and specific social-emotional skills like cooperation, empathy, self-control, inclusion, and respect must be taught and practiced in order for students to be successful learners.


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