Earlier this year, the Journal of Social and Emotional Learning staff contacted educators who had committed to implementing the Responsive Classroom (RC) approach to get feedback and insight into how the transition to RC strategies had changed their school community. We wanted to provide examples of schools that experienced a successful turnaround to a more positive learning environment for students due to the implementation of the RC approach.
As we collected these accounts and prepared them for publication in our May issue, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, causing nearly every educator in the United States and across the world to rethink their approach to education using distance learning. For schools committed to the RC approach, there was the added challenge of continuing a positive classroom community while teaching remotely, far removed from the physical classroom.
Given the impact of the pandemic on education, we felt it was important to reach out to the educators whose stories are included in this issue to see how they are now approaching education and how they continue to implement RC strategies as they navigate the current health crisis. Their responses indicate that clear communication and Morning Meeting have been integral in maintaining a positive classroom environment within the new distance learning structure.
Wesley Locke, the principal of Spring Creek Charter School in Paisley, Florida, noted that it was the students who requested to continue some form of Morning Meeting. “[O]ur students still crave the connection with their classmates,” Locke explained. “They depend on that support system they have created in their classroom communities.” Spring Charter’s teachers conduct Morning Meetings through Zoom and Google Meet, and find students’ participation levels very high as they virtually engage with their classmates and academics.
The Austin Independent School District has also implemented online Morning Meetings. Angela Bailey, the district’s social and emotional learning specialist, said that “virtual platforms provide a much needed time to connect as class families. The interactive songs and games can be used to bring everyone together in a familiar and fun atmosphere. Since our district is currently on a pass/incomplete status versus grades, we are really leaning in to effective teacher language to provide meaningful feedback to students. Responsive Classroom practices have proven to be effective and beneficial in these times of distance learning!”
Third grade teacher Kirby Schuchter of Columbus Academy in Ohio shared her experience by letting us virtually “sit in” with her and watch her apply RC approaches to her online classes. During their first days of distance learning, she had modeled expectations for the virtual Morning Meeting and established group rules with students, including muting their microphones when not speaking, making sure each student’s face is the primary object on the screen, and requesting that they turn off their camera when eating. On the day we sat in, she greeted each student as they arrived on-screen and made a personal connection with each one. They began with Laugh Greets, in which two students greet each other by saying “Good morning” and the other person’s first name as they both laugh. Next, they shared. Mrs. Schuchter has been teaching the students sign language. She taught two new signs and then gave student volunteers an opportunity to practice these new signs before the class. They then played a game, Guess What’s in the Bag? She held up a brown paper lunch bag with a question mark drawn on it, and the students tried to guess what was in the bag. She ended with a morning message, posting a PowerPoint slide about Earth Day that challenged the students to go outside and appreciate the environment. Throughout the meeting, Mrs. Schuchter used teacher language to reinforce, remind, and redirect.
Some school districts have faced challenges during their quick changeover to distance learning. Club Boulevard Magnet Elementary School teachers have been utilizing Zoom and other similar programs to connect online with their students. Morning Meetings begin with a message and a greeting, noted Principal Terry Phillips. “Teachers [then] invite students to share something from their home while on-screen,” said Phillips. “Students are so very excited to share a special toy, a special relative, or just show their classmates their room.” However, not all students have the technology at home for remote learning. “The parents of many of our kids have the only cell phone in the house, but most are at work during the day,” said Phillips. “Teachers are now alternating meetings between day and evening in order to allow students using cell phones to attend meetings as well.”
At the Raha International School in Abu Dhabi, teachers have taken a modified approach to Morning Meeting. First grade teacher Jillian Wilson explains, “We are not currently meeting with students live, but each day, along with a recording of the expected activities, we provide students with a video recording of a shortened Morning Meeting with an opportunity for sharing (either with their family or recorded and sent to us), an activity we have done before or one they can easily understand and model at home, and a morning message. This has been encouraging students to continue participating in activities where they are able to have fun, feel significant, and feel a sense of belonging.” And there has been one satisfying benefit to the Morning Meetings: “It’s been amazing to see many of our parents participating in these activities with their children for the first time—and to see the children take on the roles of modeling!”
Even during these difficult times, educators are finding new and creative ways to connect with their students and maintain a positive learning experience for students and their families. We thank our contributors for their stories and their insights. We are inspired by them and their response to the current challenges they face.