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Responsive Classroom at the John Winthrop School

Teacher: Margaret LaBonte/Amber Kalaclar
School: Winthrop Elementary

The Challenge:
Since our school community has high levels of homelessness, poverty, and trauma it can lead to high stress and disregulated behaviors which can be detrimental to student learning. While we have been Open Circle trained and try to implement a PBIS program model, there is always more learning to be done. We opted to have a cohort of teachers trained in Responsive Classroom. Responsive Classroom supports these initiatives already in place by building teachers’ capacity for running an effective classroom and creating a caring, safe community where high levels of learning can happen for all students.


What did your team do about it?:
Twelve teachers received a four day training called Introduction to Responsive Classroom. Two teachers received further specialized training, Strategies to Prevent Bullying. The lead teachers on this project are on the School Climate Team and all but one member of the team was able to receive introductory training. We worked within the structure of our School Climate Team to disseminate information to staff and check in about our new learning at our monthly meetings. We were able to administer social emotional assessments within the already existing framework of the school year (but at the time of this writing have not had the time to administer end of year assessments). A challenge has been that this year we did not visit classrooms as part of the CLASS tool (as we had done previously) so we needed to find times to observe each other outside of that structure. We created a schedule for teachers and teachers shared video and pictures as well for those that were not able to visit.


Impact on Students:
We observed that the Responsive Classroom approach was beneficial for many students who would be considered on the cusp of being high needs (although not overwhelmingly effective for our highest need students). For these student on the edge, Responsive Classroom provides a routine, expectations, and community building that helps them to regulate and in most cases, keeps them from displaying dis-regulated behaviors. While we were unable to collect the complete data we expected since our school discontinued use of the CLASS tool and our BIMAS and SELWEB end of year data is currently unavailable, we do have many anecdotal situations where teachers had students who were skewing toward becoming dis-regulated or following misbehavior but we put on track using Responsive Classroom techniques. An example of this is a student, M, who is considered a marginalized student. He is being raised by his grandparents and qualifies for free lunch. He is not involved in an after school program or extracurricular activities. He has responded well to the community building piece of Responsive Classroom, often reminding his teacher about favorite RC Morning Meeting Activities (“can we play back-to-back?”) and to do the “Goodbye Chant” even when days get hectic. He is doing well as a classroom community member due to the predictable routine and fun activities his teacher learned at the Responsive Classroom training.


Teacher Leadership and School Community:
As a school community, we have been able to develop common language and teaching structures and strategies that can provide consistency and continuity as children move through the early grades at John Winthrop. As teacher leaders, having not had the experience of administering a grant in the past we were surprised by the amount of time and detailed record keeping required. We were challenged by some administrative tasks yet we were able to overcome these challenges through the support of the TLF committee. These challenges also let us develop skills in new areas and extend ourselves in a way that we might not have done so previously.


What’s Next?

We believe that Responsive Classroom helped us to promote joyful learning but there are still a number of students for whom this is not enough. We are hoping to study more trauma informed practices and find new ways to engage these most marginalized students in an effort to develop a whole school climate of achievement for all.


Helping Others:

One of the most important and easily implemented parts of Responsive Classroom is the idea that play should be part of learning. The most marginalized students often respond to opportunities to move and play while learning. Some of the readings we found helpful for implementation of these strategies include:
The Morning Meeting Book 978-1-892989-60-4
Closing Circles 978-1-892989-52-9
Energizers! 978-1-892989-33-8
80 Morning Meeting Ideas 978-1-892989-47-5
99 Activities and Greetings 978-1-892989-20-8