I’ve been privileged to teach in a school that embraced the tenets of Responsive Classroom. If you’ve never been exposed to this program, explore this link. There is a calm sense of purposefulness in Responsive Classroom schools; it begins right from the first days of school when students are explicitly taught expectations for their own behaviors and treatment of other members of the community of learners, but also for the materials and equipment that we use in our classroom. Kids learn to manage conflicts and to care about each other.
Unfortunately, much of what we used to do had to be let go. As it stands, the time demands in classrooms exceed the number of minutes in a school day. Something is always slipping out of reach. Unfortunately over the last few years, working through Responsive Classroom has nearly disappeared.
The end of a school year is a time when many children feel stressed and worried. They are concerned, naturally, about leaving the comfort of their familiar classroom and teacher and sometimes their school. This is especially true for children of poverty or trauma. Any teacher who has experienced the end of the year with students with socio-economic challenges has seen the Two-Weeks-To-Go meltdowns. It is the overwhelming unknowns that create behavior challenges just when we’d all like to sit back and glide toward a finish line.
I have had a challenging group of mainly girls this year. This last week they seem to be unable to stop themselves from being in each other’s business. The final tip-off that things were about to blow came this afternoon when one of my students voiced that she didn’t think anyone was her friend anymore and a nearby eavesdropper commented, “Well, I don’t like you!”. Wow! Even I was taken aback by this lack of a filter!
So, we stopped what we were working on (Literary Essays), as Writing Workshop was no longer the most important thing to be accomplished. We had to fix our community so that everyone felt they were being treated civilly. We had to resolve those conflicts.
Back when we “had the time” for Morning Meetings and community building, our days seemed to go better. Oh there were times when we needed to talk it out – my favorite conflict resolution activity has always been Ruth Sidney Charney’s Pretzel activity – but mainly our days started and ended with warmth, calm, and a feeling that together we could accomplish most anything. What has been lost in our high-pressure, inanely over-scheduled days where we hit the ground running and don’t stop until dismissal is the chance to work on interpersonal skills.
Today was simply the point when students, already feeling a bit overwhelmed and unsure, let me know in no uncertain terms that they need something else. We used some of those principles that Ruth Sidney Charney advocates and cleared the air. My favorite part of today was at the end when one student asked if we could all try to “say something nice” about each other. I knew we were on our way to healing!
Even if there are only two weeks left in our school year, we are going to pass on those mandated must-dos and find a way to become a community again. Every child in that class deserves to feel safe and welcomed.