Over the past 5 OCM BOCES’ Responsive Classroom blogs, I have been sharing the guiding principles behind the approach and its 10 teaching practices. This blog entry will focus on Principle 6: Knowing the families of the children we teach is as important as knowing the children we teach.
In the Responsive Classroom we believe that family involvement is essential to children’s growth in education and learning. We like to start the year asking parents what their hopes and dreams are for their child’s learning socially and academically. Those goals are related to the child’s goals for the year. We use the hopes and dream to formulate our classroom rules and classroom community.
As stated in the Responsive Classroom Level 1 Instructor’s Guide, “In the Responsive Classroom approach, it is imperative to begin from the belief in the family’s best intentions. Many families simply don’t know what might be best or are struggling just to make ends meet. Educators must work with families as partners and not see families as the ‘opposing side’. “ (NEFC 2008)
America is and continues to change. It is so important in the 21st century for teachers to understand at deeper levels different cultures, family structures, wealth and poverty, and that not every child is being raised in the stereotypical family of June and Ward Cleaver. America has changed a lot since the 1950’s and it is important for teachers and educators to understand, and at times be more empathetic, to a child’s home life and how that may inform a child’s self-worth in the classroom.
I always worked hard to establish a community in my classroom, but I also worked to develop a strong and resourceful parent community that was also functioning in my classroom. Many of my Responsive Classroom trained teachers use the Responsive Classroom teaching practice of morning meeting for parents during their beginning of the year open houses. Parents actively participate in a structure their children will experience each day in their classroom to build community. Parents find it a great way to get to know the other parents in the classroom and a fun way to learn about their child’s classroom. Teachers report that they feel less stress and actually really enjoy open house more using this structure to get to know parents better.
During the first six weeks of school, children are asked to articulate their “hopes and dreams” for the year (this could also be seen as goal setting). This practice is the beginning phase of our teaching practice of creating rules with students. Teachers find this practice extremely informative getting to know their students and the families they will be working with.
I remember when my daughter Abby attended Moses DeWitt Elementary School in the Jamesville-DeWitt district and a Responsive Classroom trained school. Andy Johnson was her 1st grade teacher and prior to school starting, he had an “informal” playground meeting so that children could meet their new teacher and the other children who would be in their community in the coming year. As the children played with their future new class of friends, Andy made his way around to meet and greet parents and get to know the families of the children he would be teaching in the coming year. I found this to be a wonderful proactive way to informally get to know families in a setting that warm, unthreatening and welcoming to all.
Parent involvement and a good working relationship with student, teacher and parent are the keys to a successful year of learning.
For more information on Parent and Teacher relationships check out the NEFC book Parents and Teachers Working Together (Davis/Yang 2005)
Many Responsive Classroom teachers share their learning about child development due to their work with the NEFC book Yardsticks (Wood 2007) with parents by providing them with great pamphlets designed with the 3 chronological ages found in a grade level. Many parents find this information very helpful to understand the developmental stages of their child.