An initiative to take Alleghany Highlands schools from “good to great” includes the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching children.
Responsive Classroom is an evidence-based approach to elementary and middle school teaching that focuses on the strong link between academic success and social-emotional training. It is a way of teaching that creates a safe, challenging and joyful classroom and school-wide climate for all children.
Funded by The Alleghany Foundation, the Responsive Classroom is endorsed by administrators and led by teachers in both the Alleghany County and Covington City school divisions. It is part of an effort between the local school systems and The Alleghany Foundation that started in 2014 and emphasizes moving area schools from “good to great.”
“The Responsive Classroom approach is a way of teaching that emphasizes social, emotional and academic growth in a strong and safe school community,” said Dianne Garcia, educational liaison between The Alleghany Foundation and area school systems. “Developed by classroom teachers, the approach consists of practical strategies for helping students build academic and social-emotional competencies day in and day out.”
Training began in 2015 and continued last year. Cohort III training occurred this summer and included the first Advanced Course.
All schools are training together with representation from all elementary and intermediate schools.
Each training session has 30 available spaces, and all are filled with a waiting list.
“Covington City Schools is excited to continue to provide Responsive Classroom instruction techniques for our students at Edgemont Primary and Jeter-Watson Intermediate in grades K-5,” said Melinda Snead-Johnson, superintendent of Covington City Public Schools. “Our teachers utilize the strategies to emphasize social, emotional and academic growth in their classroom community. The core beliefs and guiding principles of the Responsive Classroom program provides our teachers a methodology that integrates academics and social-emotional skills to create a learning environment where all learners can do their best each and every school day!”
This year’s trainer traveled from Los Angeles and commented that the group was the “largest advanced course Responsive Classroom has ever taught nationally, as well as internationally, with a very dedicated and energized group of teachers.”
The trainer spent two weeks in the Highlands.
“Independent research has found that the Responsive Classroom approach is associated with higher academic achievement in math and reading, improved school climate and higher-quality education,” Garcia said. “It has been described by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning as one of the most ‘well-designed evidence-based social and emotional learning programs’.”
The Responsive Classroom approach is now in year three of a 4-5 year implementation plan for students from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.
Since implementation began, teachers say they are seeing fewer discipline referrals/suspensions and better attendance. The classroom climate has improved and teachers are energized.
The Responsive Classroom approach is informed by the work of educational theorists and the experiences of exemplary classroom teachers. Six principles guide this approach.
- Teaching social and emotional skills is as important as teaching academic content.
- How we teach is as important as what we teach.
- Great cognitive growth occurs through social interaction.
- What we know and believe about our students — individually, culturally, developmentally — informs our expectations, reactions and attitudes about those students.
- How we work together as adults to create a safe, joyful and inclusive school environment is as important as our individual contribution or competence.
- Partnering with families — knowing them and valuing their contributions — is as important as knowing the children we teach.
The Responsive Classroom model offers practical strategies for teaching rather than formulas telling teachers what they must do in the classroom. Teachers adapt the strategies as needed to address their students’ needs, so things may look a bit different in each classroom, but you’ll usually see and hear teachers:
- Leading daily morning meetings;
- Teaching children the specific skills they need to participate successfully;
- Treating mistakes in a positive way;
- Using positive language.
Teachers are provided many tools to help children control their own behavior and contribute to the classroom community. When a teacher uses the Responsive Classroom approach, they are focusing on the skills needed for academic excellence.
Research indicates that for every dollar spent on Responsive Classroom, there was a return of almost nine dollars per student.
“The Responsive Classroom reinforces that student learning is more than academics,” said Gene Kotulka, superintendent of Alleghany County Public Schools. “Social-emotional learning, social skills, social interaction and learning to work together are very important for a child to be successful. The Responsive Classroom also provides teachers with opportunities to better understand their students, their backgrounds, family life and how each student learns.”
From 2008 to 2011, researchers at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education conducted a three-year randomized controlled study led by Dr. Sara Rimm-Kaufman.
The Responsive Classroom Efficacy Study, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, involved 24 elementary schools from a large district in a Mid-Atlantic state.
The schools were assigned randomly to intervention and comparison groups. The study followed 350 teachers and over 2,900 students from the spring of the students’ second grade year to the spring of their fifth grade year.
Researchers found that teacher use of Responsive Classroom practices was associated with positive outcomes that included: improved student achievement, improved teacher-student interactions and higher quality instruction in math.
Teachers also reported that a supportive setting and support from their building principals is important to their implementation of Responsive Classroom practices.
“In order to be successful in and out of school, students need to learn a set of social and emotional competencies — cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy and self-control — and a set of academic competencies — academic mindset, perseverance, learning strategies and academic behaviors,” Garcia said. “Responsive Classroom is an approach to teaching based on the belief that integrating academic and social-emotional skills creates an environment where students can do their best learning.
“The Responsive Classroom approach consists of a set of practices and strategies that build academic and social-emotional competencies,” she concluded.
Reprinted with permission from the Virginian Review. This story appeared in the Thursday, July 20, 2017, edition of the newspaper