A blog series: Part 4 of 7
Standard 4: Learning Environment
In the last three OCM-RC Blogs we have looked at the connection with NYS Teaching Standards 1 – 3 with the Responsive Classroom® approach and practices. In this fourth blog of seven we will focus those same connections with Responsive Classroom and standard 4: Learning Environment.
NYS Teaching Standard 4.1 states that teachers “create a mutually respectful, safe, and supportive learning environment that is inclusive of every students.” Responsive Classroom teacher develop this environment on the first day of school. Our belief comes from the philosophy and teaching of Alfred Alder and Rudolf Dreikurs that all human behaviors are driven by our basic human needs to belong, to be significant and to be engaged and have fun in what we do. Children in Responsive Classrooms will often times (especially during the first six weeks of school) wear name badges so that everyone in the school can learn their name and feel known.
Responsive Classroom teachers start each day with the Responsive Classroom practice called Morning Meeting. This practice provides for children a predictable way to start the day of learning by welcoming classmates, sharing thoughts and ideas, doing a fun social or academic activity with classmates and interacting with a morning message developed by their teacher to proactively set a positive day of learning together. The goal of morning meeting is to ensure that everyone in the class gets their needs for belonging, significance and fun met before the official start of the academic day. During morning meeting, students are taught and learn how to be cooperative, to be positively assertive, to be responsible for their actions, to show empathy to others and to practice self-control. These social skills are represented by C.A.R.E.S.
Children are also taught that fair might not always look equal in their classroom. Every child is unique with strengths and weakness in varying areas of social-emotional and academic learning. Children learn that the classroom expectations are to help and support one another. Responsive Classroom teachers explicitly and proactively teach children how to be inclusive during lunch and recess (often a time of teasing and exclusion); to be empathetic and helpful to the guest teacher (aka substitute teacher); to care for the materials so that everyone can learn with them (the use of Interactive Modeling and Guided Discovery); what to do if you should see someone being bullied; how to make respectful comment and thoughtful questions to our classmates; and how to act in special areas and places outside the classroom. Taking special care for the social-emotional learning of our students is the cornerstone to creating respectful and caring classrooms. Eric Jensen’s brain research also supports that children need to be taught how to be empathetic. We as humans are not born with the ability to be empathetic. Responsive Classroom teachers take the time to teach their student how to be empathetic, respectful, helpful and caring to their classmates’ differing needs. Respectful, safe, and supportive learning environments allow children to take risks in learning. When children are in an environment where they can take risks in their learning and make mistakes publically, deeper levels of learning takes place.
NYS Teaching Standard 4.2 states that teachers “create an intellectually challenging and stimulating learning environment.” Responsive Classroom teachers provide rigor and differentiation through the use of the Responsive Classroom practice of Academic Choice. In this practice students are given choice of the “what” and/or “how” in their learning. The use proves to engage children more fully and provide students multiple pathways to construct knowledge on their own and take learning to deeper levels. Responsive Classroom teachers provide their students many opportunities to be active and interactive in their learning. Students are given opportunity and access to real world hand-on experiences.
NYS Teaching Standard 4.3 states that teachers “manage the learning environment for the effective operation of the classroom.” Responsive Classroom teachers spend a lot of time during the first six weeks of school to articulate learning goals through the development of students’ individual hopes and dreams for the learning year. From these hope and dreams students collaboratively develop classroom rules that will guarantee that everyone’s hopes and dream come true. Rules are developed around the ideas that in order for all to learn at high levels, we must establish rules that show care for self and our learning, for others and their learning and lastly care for our learning environment. Once these 3-5 rules are agreed upon, teachers then lead children in thinking what these rules will look like and sound like, not only in our classroom, but in the broader school community. This proactive step provides children with a safe and predictable learning environment that fosters the effective management of active and interactive learning. Responsive Classroom teachers also during the first six weeks of school proactively teach the routines and rituals of school (ie. walking in hallways, doing lunch and recess, behaviors in specials, and bus behaviors etc.) Giving children many opportunities to model, practice and reflect on behaviors. Also, school-wide quiet signals are taught and practice to provide a proactive and respectful way to gain attention and quiet when needed.
The final element for NYS Teaching Standard 4.4 states that teachers “organize and utilize available resources (eg. Physical space, time, people, technology) to create a safe and productive learning environment.” Responsive Classroom teachers pay special attention to their classroom design and layout to meet the needs of their learners. Time is spent to create a true constructivist classroom that grows with the class as it learns throughout the year. Word walls, teacher and student created resources, and materials once they are taught become part of the classroom environment. Teachers use interactive modeling and/or guided discoveries to proactively teach the use and care of classroom materials. Students will often times be asked to create labels for materials to assist in clean up and returning material to the proper storage spot in the classroom. In Responsive Classrooms you will notice more student work or teacher created resources and less commercial art are displayed in the classroom. The items chosen to fill the wall space are thoughtfully selected, academically or socially focused, usual and less “decorative”. Teachers’ desks are neat and orderly (they are the biggest model in the classroom). Many teachers after their Responsive Classroom training often time get rid of their teacher desks due to it being a large piece of furniture that is typically underutilized. They will often opt for a table that can be used for more multi-faceted uses such as small groups, project work and other classroom uses.
The NYS Teaching Standard 4 supports the 3 Domains of Responsive Classroom: Positive Learning Environment, Effective Management, and Engaging Academics. Due to my work I have been doing in East-Syracuse Minoa Central, I also see the connections of the four corners of Harvey Silvers framework (see image).
The Responsive Classroom tagline says it all “A practical approach to creating safe, challenging, and joyful elementary classrooms and schools.” This belief is in total support of the NYS Teaching Standard 4: Learning Environment.
Certified Responsive Classroom® trainer through the Northeast Foundation for Children, developers of theResponsive Classroom
Staff Development Specialist – OCM BOCES – Syracuse, NY
(OCM BOCES is a licensed agency for Responsive Classroom training by the Northeast Foundation for Children, developers of theResponsive Classroom)