When students are part of a classroom environment that fosters community, collaboration and positivity — a responsive classroom — they are more likely to be invested and engaged in their education. And this doesn’t happen by accident, says Meghan Stott, Lower School Director at The Roeper School, an independent PreK-12 school for gifted students in Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills.
“Responsive Classroom is an evidence-based approach to teaching and fostering a positive classroom culture,” Stott explains. “This relates not only to academic work but also to the communal feel of the classroom. In a responsive classroom, students feel inclined to support each other and their growth.”
At Roeper, the responsive classroom approach dovetails perfectly with the whole child philosophy expressed in Roeper’s mission statement, Stott says. “It’s so interesting because Roeper’s founders were grounded in this concept that education, by design, should not be competitive in nature. Learning should be something that a child is intrinsically motivated to do,” she says. “So, how do educators foster that intrinsic motivation? We do this by fostering positive classroom culture.”
Defining the responsive classroom
While it’s always a challenge to define what makes an individual feel comfortable and at ease in a certain environment, by design, a responsive classroom does have some key foundational elements.
“The way we greet each other in the morning is important, so we provide intentional greetings and we look each other in the eyes,” Stott says. Students learn to greet each other, too, so everyone is seen and heard each morning. “This makes everyone feel that they are part of the classroom community.”
Each morning, students and teachers join in a classroom morning meeting to start the day. “This can be something simple. It might include an overall message or it might concern a collaborative problem-solving piece,” Stott says. “It’s really part of the culture to sit in a circle and engage in a conversation each morning.”
At the beginning of each school year, classroom members work together to create a classroom agreement. “This agreement includes whatever the students have identified as their own needs for their particular classroom environment. It becomes a living and breathing document which is revisited on a regular basis to make sure it’s followed. If it needs to be changed to be more responsive, students change it as a group,” Stott explains, adding that the tenets of the document are transferable to special area classes like music and art.
Examples of what might be included in a classroom agreement include caring for the learning space and being stewards of the classroom environment, treating teachers and classmates with respect, being an active listener and allowing others to share their ideas without speaking over them. The act of creating the classroom agreement encourages teachers and students to dive deeper into what each element actually means and why it’s important.
Embedded into a responsive classroom is the understanding that making mistakes is an important part of learning. “This is a culture where making mistakes is seen as part of the learning experience. We’re not simply focused on getting things right, but also on learning how to support each other when we do make those mistakes,” Stott shares. “How do we fix it when something happens? These intentional conversations have always been part of Roeper’s mission and philosophy. One of the great things about the responsive classroom approach is how it provides frameworks to help guide these.”
Choice, social-emotional learning and fun
A responsive classroom culture is strengthened when students have fun together, so games and activities are intentionally included. “We promote having fun together,” Stott says. And, each day students have an element of personal choice.
“We understand that for students to be lifelong learners, they need to have a say in their education. This is infused in the philosophy here at Roeper and students have their choice of electives and free-choice activities,” Stott says. “When students have a say in how they spend part of their day, this builds positive classroom culture.”
In an ever-growing Responsive classroom environment, students begin to recognize that we’re all products of our immediate environments and to allow for grace when a classmate is having a challenging day.
“Students will come to school and their social-emotional needs might be different every day. We don’t know what happened that morning — whether a child had time for breakfast or if they had a mad dash to get to school on time. We all come in with some of those emotions left over from the morning. A responsive classroom meets everyone where they are and supports each other to be in the mindset for community activity and learning.”
This sense of empathy for fellow students is an important social-emotional skill that is woven into the philosophy of education for the whole child.
“Here at Roeper, we’re developing students who understand their feelings in the moment and are given tools for self-awareness and self-management,” Stott says. “There are so many common threads between Roeper and what the responsive classroom, at its core, works to cultivate.”
Learn more about The Roeper School at roeper.org.