Schoolwide Implementation of Responsive Classroom in Durham

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Club Boulevard Magnet Elementary School

  • Durham, North Carolina
  • Public K-5 school
  • Implementing Responsive Classroom since 2017

When I started as principal at Club Boulevard Magnet Elementary School, Durham Public Schools was a Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) district so a system was already in place to help create a positive school environment for our students. However, we found that PBIS was not working: the same students were always being “rewarded” and the same students were not. We wanted something more.

We began training with the Responsive Classroom approach in 2016 and started implementation throughout the school in 2017. We then partnered with E.K. Powe Elementary, a school already using Responsive Classroom strategies in our district, for additional training. Our teachers found the new program easy to use and were excited to integrate the strategies into their classrooms. As part of the training package, we had our Observation and Feedback Visit by a Responsive Classroom consultant. During this visit, the consultant used the Responsive Classroom observation tool, Kaleidoscope, and observed our teachers. We then had a small team of teachers conduct a second observation and use the Kaleidoscope tool to measure the growth and change of educators between the first observation and the second one. Because they were colleagues, there was a high level of trust between the observers and the teachers, and feedback was well received.

Since we began integrating Responsive Classroom in our school, the positive results in the classroom have not surprised us. We have students coming in from all around the county, and with an early start time of 7:45 a.m., Morning Meeting has become an integral part of each day. The most surprising changes have occurred in the school’s common spaces, such as the cafeteria. By using Interactive Modeling to teach our students how to properly behave in the cafeteria, we have noticed that students are getting through the food line more quickly and keeping the line to deposit their trash much neater. There is still work to be done, but we have noted improvements. 

We are serious about our commitment to Responsive Classroom and have found success using these strategies. Based on our experience so far, we recommend the following actions to leaders who are considering the implementation of the Responsive Classroom approach.

The leadership in our school observe our teachers and then recruit those teachers who are implementing Responsive Classroom most effectively to lead professional development for other staff members. We have also encouraged these recruited teachers to pursue certification as Responsive Classroom Certified Educators, which we have found is a good way to get teachers more invested and involved.

We have also organized half-day opportunities for teachers to observe colleagues in classrooms in the same building, or teachers at another school in the district, who have more experience with Responsive Classroom. These sessions give the observing teachers a chance to see that, unlike the “drill and kill” method of teaching, Responsive Classroom brings academics to life for children.

Although staff time is limited, we have worked diligently to prioritize professional development topics that align with identified growth areas by restructuring our weekly schedule to integrate Responsive Classroom training. For example, on Fridays students spend part of the day attending clubs covering student-chosen humanities topics that are taught by staff, parents, and community volunteers. Teachers take advantage of this time to plan across the K–2 and 3–5 vertical teams, and we also have integrated into this structure time for professional development in Responsive Classroom practices.

In asking teachers to use Responsive Classroom we point out that the goal is to offset other interventions by proactively addressing behavior issues within the classroom.

We are working out a few issues to more fully implement the Responsive Classroom approach throughout the school. Our student body is racially diverse, and while the integration of our humanities-focused curriculum and the Responsive Classroom approach is attractive to parents and students, our staff does not represent the same diversity. We are working toward a goal of a staff that mirrors the student demographics, and even though we have a small core of veteran teachers, hiring a number of new teachers sometimes makes it feel like we are consistently starting over with Responsive Classroom training and workshops.

We still need improvement in the areas of high-level questioning and the use of teacher language with students in the classroom, especially the use of envisioning language. We encourage our teachers to use anchor charts to get more accustomed to using this type of language with their students. Not only can anchor charts serve as a helpful reminder to students, they also can be used as a reminder for the teachers.

It is not always easy to convince teachers to try the Responsive Classroom approach.We are asking them to integrate yet another educational structure into their daily classroom routine, but in asking teachers to use Responsive Classroom we point out that the goal is to offset other interventions by proactively addressing behavior issues within the classroom. Rather than wait for disciplinary problems to occur and then attempt to fix them with other methods, we instead try to make our classroom environments feel safe and welcoming, giving children the internal motivation to behave in a positive way. We are also working with the teachers to help them navigate the many different expectations that the district has by helping them blend and streamline what is being asked of them.

Because every child is different, teachers are sometimes hesitant to believe that this approach can work for all students. To ensure that it does, the coaches and teachers work together to create a plan that utilizes specific strategies tailored to each student’s needs.

There is still work to be done, but as a team we are leading lasting change in the building as we continue to implement the Responsive Classroom approach.