Responsive Classroom® Leadership

“Don’t send your teachers to staff development that you don’t plan to attend with them”, said Dr. Brian McNulty a few years ago when he presented at a leadership conference at OCM BOCES in Syracuse. McNulty is a co-author of School Leadership That Works: From Research to Results (2005) and Leaders Make it Happen!: An Administrator’s Guide to Data Teams (2011). In his lecture, he told a room full of school leaders that in order for administrators to support learning in their buildings and school districts, they need to learn alongside their teachers.

This past week I heard McNulty’s voice in my head when four building principals joined me for the first OCM BOCES session of the newly revised 4-day Responsive Classroom Course. Pat Charboneau, principal at East Syracuse Elementary, Lisa Kaup, principal at Virgil Elementary in Cortland, Susan Prince, principal at McGraw Elementary School and Peter Reyes, principal at Barry School in Cortland joined the group of summer learners.

The new course focuses on 3 Domains: Positive Community, Effective Management and Engaging Academics. The Responsive Classroom approach has specific practices that allow the three domains to function interdependently to create a joyful, safe and challenging school culture. Participants learn about the Responsive Classroom practices: morning meeting, interactive modeling, teacher language, rule creation, responding to misbehavior (including logical consequences), quiet time, closing circle, energizers, and interactive learning structures.   Having the principals in the training added so much to the learning experience. Because the design of the training mirrors the Responsive Classroom approach, principals had many opportunities to be active and interactive in their learning and were able to add their perspectives, questions, and thinking to small and whole group discussions.

In the newly revised version, the Responsive Classroom Course fosters thinking on how to apply the Responsive Classroom practices within other roles beyond the classroom teacher. Special areas, special education, non-instructional staff and principals reflect on how they too can apply the RC practices in their roles and spaces. Principals learn how they can use the practice of Morning Meeting as a whole-school gathering model to build school-wide community. The 5 elementary schools in Cortland City Schools do use this school-wide structure on a daily or weekly basis. Principals can also use the Morning Meeting structure during faculty meetings to build the adult community. They can use the morning meeting components of greeting, share, activity and morning message as a delivery and learning structure to energize their meetings and make faculty meeting content more engaging. Using the morning meeting structure during faculty meeting not only models for teachers the practice, but also builds the adult needs of belonging, significance and fun within a safe framework to learn and grow together.  Many Responsive Classroom principals adopt the morning meeting component, morning message, as a school-wide practice to greet children, families and staff as they enter the building.

Picture: Principal Maureen Mulderig, Cherry Road Elementary School – Westhill CSD

Principals can also use the format for developing rules school-wide or with their faculty. Faculty members could share their hopes and dreams for the school year and use them as the springboard to develop norms (ground rules) for running effective meetings and committees. Having norms for how the adult community will work together will build a positive work environment.

95% of the Responsive Classroom discipline is on the proactive side of discipline. Responsive Classroom principals know that discipline is about “learning” and believe that children need to be provided a consistent and predictable approach to discipline as they learn and growth in a school culture. Principals learn how they can use the Responsive Classroom practice of interactive modeling to proactively teach children school-wide routines such as lunch, recess, fire drills, bus arrival/dismissal and assemblies to name a few. They might also use interactive modeling for school-wide procedures such as how to walk in the hallways, how to use the school intercom, how to be a good audience member, how to greet visitors in our school, and standing for the pledge to the flag during whole school meetings. Interactive modeling is a powerful proactive practice that helps children be successful following the rules. Once principals use interactive modeling to teach school-wide skills they will then use the Responsive Classroom practice of effective teacher language to reinforce, remind and redirect as they coach children to the desired behavior the interactive modeling has set for the school.

If a principal is looking to develop faculty meetings that are engaging, active, interactive, and learning focused, they can incorporate the Responsive Classroom practices of Academic Choice, Energizers, Interactive Learning Structures, and Closing Circle. Instead of just delivering information that is needed to be shared, a principal could create a learning environment where people have some choice of “what” they will learn more about and “how” they will represent their learning to others on the staff. Energizers could also be used to break up the learning and add energy to the room.   Energizers can help the staff build community through these fun active and interactive activities. Principals may even use energizers as a way to build teams or committees that need to be developed in their schools. The use of the interactive learning structures during meetings can also energize adult learning. Principals can add them to their meetings to create active and interactive learning experiences that will foster deeper levels of process of the content they are assisting their faculty to learn more about.

Many Responsive Classroom principals will work collaboratively with teachers to create a schedule where there is sacred time for morning meeting, a time where there are no pull-outs and no specials so that every child, every day, starts their day with their classroom community. This is a time where non-classroom teachers and non-instructional staff join classroom meetings throughout the school so students in each classroom get to know these teachers as part of the school-wide community. Time at the end of the day is also scheduled in so that classroom teachers can hold closing circles to put closure to the day of learning and reflect on all that was learned that day, before sending student off to parts unknown.

Dr. Brian McNulty believes that principals need to attend professional development with their teachers to show them that the learning they are receiving is important and will be supported. Responsive Classroom principals can not only use the Responsive Classroom practices to model them for their teachers but also to assist them in developing the 3 domains of positive community, engaging academics and effective management school-wide for both the student and adult communities. They can also look at the design of the school day so that scheduling of routines and rituals align better with ebb and flow of a Responsive Classroom school.

Responsive Classroom Leadership Conference:
Oct. 27 & 28, 2014 – Chicago


Responsive Classroom Resources for Leaders:

Shaw_PatrickPatrick Shaw
Certified Responsive Classroom® trainer through the Northeast Foundation for Children, developers of the Responsive 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 the Responsive Classroom)
Responsive Classroom Leadership: A School-Wide Approach for Instructional Leadership

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