Spotlight On: The Family Connection

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The Family Connection of St. Joseph County is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of early childhood programs in St. Joseph County, Indiana. Through the Early Years Count Education Initiative, The Family Connection coordinates with the Community Foundation of St. Joseph County to support early childhood programs with teacher training, program and classroom assessment, and various other forms of assistance, including a quality leadership institute, an early childhood lending library, and educational scholarships. For the past seven years, they have integrated the Responsive Classroom approach into their teacher training. We spoke with co-directors Ann Rosen and Stephanie Hooks to hear more about The Family Connection and their experience with Responsive Classroom.

Supporting the Community’s Social and Emotional Well-Being

The Family Connection supports social and emotional learning through workshops for teachers and early care providers geared toward social-emotional skills such as self-regulation and friendship skills. They also offer individual coaching to help K–5 teachers integrate social-emotional practices into their classrooms. The Family Connection further supports social and emotional practices through a lending library full of relevant resources, as well as calming baskets, which contain developmentally appropriate hands-on tools that help children (and adults!) calm themselves, identify their emotions, and learn self-regulation skills.

Following the Responsive Classroom Approach

Eight years ago, The Family Connection was drawn to the Responsive Classroom approach because of its strong research and emphasis on social-emotional learning. In the years since, The Family Connection has trained over 350 teachers across 16 schools in St. Joseph’s County in the Responsive Classroom approach. Responsive Classroom fills an important need that The Family Connection found in these schools. While The Family Connection has trained over 800 early childcare providers in the HighScope approach, this approach only focuses on children from birth to the start of school. The Family Connection found that once children entered school, there was a general lack of strong social and emotional support. Responsive Classroom provides a continuum that picks up where HighScope leaves off, so that The Family Connection’s mission of improving outcomes from children in their community can continue uninterrupted.

Impact of the Responsive Classroom Approach

From improved body language to positive communication to safe and calm hallways, the educators that Ann and Stephanie work with have seen a noticeable difference in their schools’ environments since they started using Responsive Classroom. “Once I started doing Morning Meeting, the behavior in my classroom was totally different. We were laughing and joking . . . it feels more like family,” one teacher told them. “We got so much learning done as a result.” This sense of togetherness can be seen throughout this teacher’s school community, where students are more likely to smile, know each other’s names, and generally show signs that they want to be there.

Looking Toward the Future

One of The Family Connection’s mottos is “Hurry slowly.” They know their work is urgent but can’t be rushed. “That three-year-old is only three once,” as Stephanie put it. To that end, their goal is intentional growth, which means not just expanding their reach to higher grade levels and other school systems in their county, but also taking deep root in the communities they work with. As part of that vision, Ann and Stephanie want to see individual teachers and schools fully implement Responsive Classroom, as well as for administrators and board members to deepen their understanding of and commitment to the approach. Their hope is that it will become standard practice for high-quality education in all schools, that it will be used as a lens through which other practices, principles, and strategies are viewed, and that through the partnership between Responsive Classroom and The Family Connection they can continue to achieve the shared goal of providing all children with the very highest standards of care and education.