The first thing you might notice when you walk into Ms. Mahfus’ second grade class of 22 students is the quiet. Surely it was because of a visitor with an escort
from the principal. But as I walked in, few kids looked up from their work, each focusing on a different task. Some students were writing in journals, some
were reading, some were unpacking their things - all quietly. They listened to
morning announcements and were called to the circle for ‘Morning Meeting’. On this day, the students were not as efficient as Ms. Mahfus would prefer, so she politely and quietly asked them to do it again. They did. The day was off to a calm, yet joyful start. They were excited for their “Energizing” time
– a song about bananas that allowed them to be silly and fun. They loved the
story about a surprise birthday party as they learned words such as
“prediction”. Their pride showed when Ms. Mahfus called them “continent connoisseurs” after their geography lesson.
So begins another day at Daniels Run Elementary School. Following the “Responsive Classroom” theory of management and teaching, adults in the building - from the cafeteria staff to the administrators - use the methods to help students learn. Developed by teachers in the 1980s, the Responsive Classroom emphasizes the whole child - social and academic with equal parts. By building on a child’s social skills - collaboration, relationships, respect for self and others,
managing emotions students achieve academically at a higher level.
“By establishing a sense of calm and safety, setting high expectations for behavior and giving the students the feeling they are important and valued, I am able to do much more academically,” said Helai Mahfus. “At the same time, we want them to know they are an important part of our community. This is an important concept we try to weave into every part of our day – the understanding that while we are very much responsible for our own learning, we have the ability to greatly influence others’ learning and in turn, have them influence ours.”
As I enter Mrs. Carter’s 5th grade class, I wonder if the older students will be more disruptive than their younger school mates, not sure if this approach would work on ten year-olds. It does. The students were calm and collected. Each working on their own task and when asked, came together as a group for their morning meeting. On this morning, Ms. Carter handed out cards for each student to hold and began a math game to practice a key skill in the curriculum. The students were reminded to “sub-vocalize” – to rehearse their answer under their breath so they would be ready when it was their turn. They helped each other out when needed, they laughed when things were funny, and they listened when Mrs. Carter spoke. And again, when the teacher asked them to return to their seats and collect their things for math, she was not happy with their efficiency and asked them to do it again. Again, they did without complaint.
“Responsive Classroom principles and practices provide a nurturing, structured environment in the classroom that allow students to achieve to their highest potential, both academically and socially,” said Bernadette Carter. “It helps students to become responsible citizens who understand that how they interact with others is important to their education. For me as the teacher, RC creates a
classroom in which no time is wasted and ALL students can achieve in an
atmosphere of calmness and peace.”
The University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education supports the Daniels Run
approach. Their research* found schools that incorporate Responsive Classroom practices see
- Improved teacher-student interactions
- Higher-quality teaching
- Improved social skills in children
- Greater student achievement in math and reading More positive feelings toward school among students and teachers
“The Responsive Classroom approach creates safe, challenging, and JOYFUL elementary schools,” said Adam Erbrecht, principal at Daniels Run Elementary School. “It is a research-backed approach that increases academic achievement while decreasing problem behaviors. It focuses on improving social skills and creating a sense of belonging to the classroom and school-wide community.”
*For more information on the research and studies, please see www.responsiveclasssroom.org/research