Making Connections with Responsive Classroom

Barbara Applebaum February 19, 2024

Now more than ever, we are responsible for taking care of our students as people, not just teaching them content. Our young learners are living through a worldwide pandemic, which has impacted their well-being and the well-being of everyone they love and trust. We know, from the news, from the research, and from our own experience that children and teens need support and strategies to cope with the ever-changing world around them and fortunately, at Hillel, we are prepared to help our students thrive in and out of the classroom.

Hillel is a place that values both academics and the mental, social, and emotional health of our students and teachers. For that reason, we adopted Responsive Classroom in 2019. Responsive Classroom is a student-centered, social and emotional learning approach to teaching and discipline. It is comprised of a set of research, and evidence-based practices designed to create safe, joyful, and engaging classrooms and school communities for both students and teachers. In 2019, all of our teachers took part in a four-day intensive training, and this year, they were given the opportunity to explore a more specific topic in-depth. In these trainings, teachers were taught how to use effective teacher language to promote academic and social growth, how to encourage engagement by giving students meaningful choices, how to establish routines that promote autonomy and independence, and how to teach students 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, collaboration, creativity, and innovation.

Before coming to Hillel, I taught for nine years using Responsive Classroom at Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School. I am a huge advocate of the approach because I have seen the impact it has on students, both individually and as a community. Using Responsive Classroom allows teachers to start each day in a way that sets a positive tone for learning, sets high expectations and teaches students how to meet them, and builds a sense of community and shared purpose. If you were to walk through the halls and classrooms at Hillel (which we hope you will now be doing more and more again), you would see very explicit examples of Responsive Classroom. You may see teachers greeting students by name as they enter the classroom or see students sitting in a circle, looking each other in the eye, during a morning meeting. You may hear a teacher asking open-ended questions and reinforcing student growth using concrete and specific language. What may not be as obvious is that all students are working towards their own goals that they have crafted with a teacher or an advisor. Or that a teacher has worked with a student on a logical consequence based upon research and knowledge of students’ social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development.

The teachers and staff at Hillel are seamlessly weaving Responsive Classroom into each part of their students’ day. You can see this in your childrens’ smiles at the end of the day, their excitement to come to school each morning, their ability to reach out to their teachers with questions or concerns, their understanding of routines and expectations, and their ever-growing independence and confidence.

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Barbara Applebaum

Barbara Applebaum is Director of the 5-8 Learning Communities at Hillel Day School.