Fostering Safe and Joyful Classrooms in Monterrey, Mexico

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American School Foundation of Monterrey

  • Santa Catarina, Nuevo León, Mexico
  • Private PreK-12 international school
  • Implementing Responsive Classroom since 2016

For many educators across the United States, Responsive Classroom is a well-known approach to education and discipline that supports student growth and well-being. In the last five years, Responsive Classroom has spread its wings to bring support to schools across the world. International schools, located in many of the larger cities of the world, serve families of U.S. expatriates who live abroad and wish to continue an American-style education for their children. Students from across the globe attend these schools, where the language of instruction is English.

At the American School Foundation of Monterrey (ASFM), an international school in northeastern Mexico, there are students not only from the United States but also Europe, Asia, and Mexico. This college preparatory school with a 90-year history welcomes PreK–12 students, most of whom matriculate to universities in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. ASFM’s goal is to serve this diverse population and prepare students to achieve their individual potential through citizenship, academics, athletics, and the arts. ASFM’s vision of “open minds, caring hearts, and global leadership”—essential for a healthy and successful life—can be found in every classroom, hallway, common area, and play space.

Of course, ASFM does not just teach English to the 1,300 students that walk through the doors of the elementary school each day. All students have their own feelings, opinions, and personalities, and creating a positive learning experience with expatriates and local host families can be challenging and complex. With this in mind, our teachers and administrators recognized a need among students for instruction in understanding diverse backgrounds, social-emotional learning, and thinking inclusively, as well as a need for our teachers to learn how to address students’ individual and collective needs. School leaders were also concerned that negative social interactions and exclusion were inhibiting cognitive growth and classroom communities. It was determined that we required specific changes to teacher language, improved equity of access to the curriculum, and better relational skills. To address these needs and build a shared set of classroom practices and principles, in 2016 ASFM started a partnership with Center for Responsive Schools to institute the Responsive Classroom approach.

For the last four years, Responsive Classroom representatives have come to Mexico to help ASFM teachers understand how to feel more empowered and skilled with building classroom communities and addressing issues we encountered. Responsive Classroom trainers Kerry O’Grady, Lindsey Lynch, and others have traveled to Monterrey on multiple occasions to assist our Responsive Classroom Leadership Team in developing a culture of respectful learning.

Responsive Classroom trainers helped our team develop bold steps toward lasting, thoughtful change. In particular, based on our team’s work with the trainers, ASFM created new school rules. All stakeholders met with a team member to offer their thoughts on what the rules should be. After reviewing close to 2,000 sticky notes from the meetings, the list was narrowed down to three items: Care for Self, Care for Others, and Care for the Environment. This process led to additional conversations with students and teachers about the choices that we make on a daily basis, and classrooms began posting specific ways to demonstrate these rules for caring.

Katia Martínez, a second grade homeroom teacher at ASFM, is one of our leaders in the Responsive Classroom initiative. She cites Responsive Classroom training as a factor in the growth of her students. “During Morning Meetings, [there] is an opportunity for students to open up more and share anything that might be on their minds,” says Martínez. “Morning Meeting is a chance to emphasize the importance of being good listeners, taking good care of each other, and developing empathy. In my class, we have experienced the feeling of belonging, but also of having fun. I have been incorporating academics through the morning messages and activities. There has been a substantial breakthrough. Students feel like they are in a safe zone in which they are ready to spend a day of successful learning.”

Closing circle has also been important in her work. “This is an opportunity to gather again at the end of the day in a circle as a family,” says Martínez. “We finalize our day by sharing celebrations, important feedback, and compliments. At other times, we simply practice breathing exercises, which help all of us (including myself) leave the classroom feeling mindful and relaxed. On occasion, we say goodbye to each other, wishing [everyone] a positive rest of the day. Sometimes we share a silly story, a riddle, or a joke, which ensures a smile on our faces as we leave 2E. I am grateful for learning about these practices which have been so powerful in my teaching experience.”

“The Responsive Classroom
principles and practices
have helped me better
integrate academics and
social-emotional learning
in my classroom, creating
an environment where
students feel safe and loved.”

Ime Guerra, Third Grade Teacher

Ime Guerra is a third grade teacher and also a leader of our Responsive Classroom implementation. “I can definitely say I have come a long way after my first formal Responsive Classroom training four years ago,” says Guerra. “The Responsive Classroom principles and practices have helped me better integrate academics and social-emotional learning in my classroom, creating an environment where students feel safe and loved.”

Guerra has helped her colleagues by sharing her experiences, providing professional development, and helping to clarify particular areas as needed. “The elementary practices, such as our Morning Meeting and closing circle, have impacted our classroom climate,” she says. “During these times together, students learn about each other, understand differences and uniqueness, create a sense of community, and at the same time reinforce academic skills.

“Training in . . . teacher language has helped me understand that the appropriate use of words, phrases, and tone can either build children up or tear them down,” adds Guerra. “Using effective language, such as reinforcing, reminding, and redirecting, has been impactful for me. My words can encourage and support students in their learning while building trust and relationships with them.” Both Martínez and Guerra are advocates for continuous review of training, and they lead ongoing discussions about best practices at ASFM.

ASFM has seen growth and improvement over time, and we continue to revisit the beliefs, principles, and practices provided by the Responsive Classroom approach. The leadership team and teachers all know that there is no quick and easy way to transform classrooms into safe, orderly, and rigorous environments; strong classroom communities and developmentally responsive teaching evolve by design. All classrooms, both in the United States and abroad, can benefit from improved school climates. ASFM embraces the ongoing learning process for students and teachers undertaking the global challenge of constructing inclusive environments and improving the learning experience. Our struggles and our climb together have been worth the journey.