Creating a Team Identity Through Responsive Classroom
“Peace begins with me,” the grade 2 class chanted as they sat cross-legged in a circle during their daily team meeting. Led by Grade 2 Teacher Katie CILLO Jordanoff ’95, the Class of 2030 was learning how to regulate their bodies and calm their minds through meditation—just one new thing, out of countless new things, they will learn about as a group this year.
An essential component of the Responsive Classroom teaching methodology, daily team meetings set expectations for students while bringing them together to learn and grow as a team. Girls express their ideas, listen to each other, challenge each other’s thinking, and problem-solve in unison. Community and connection are cultivated between classmates, teachers, and grade levels as a result.
“The team meetings support positive relationships between the girls and their teachers,” said Betsy Gianakas, Grade 1 Teacher. “Whether offering thoughts about new endings to a story or imagining adventures in a tropical rainforest, when sharing aloud, emphasis is placed on listening to and accepting others. In this space, highlighting our students' vast array of ideas is a great strength.”
The team meetings are employed in the Ellis Lower School as a mindful way to begin the day. Faculty members may begin the meeting by posing a question or offering up a story about themselves to which the girls can relate. For Ms. Jordanoff, this looked like sharing how meditation helps her manage her responsibilities as a parent and a teacher.
“Do you ever feel like you can’t relax when you need to sit still?” she asked her students. As heads nodded in agreement, Ms. Jordanoff showed the girls how to meditate as a way to regulate their own emotions in an age-appropriate way. This modeling of positive routines and behaviors is a crucial element of the Responsive Classroom approach. It takes the guesswork out of how students are expected to interact because teachers are explicitly demonstrating it for them. They can manage unruly feelings because Ms. Jordanoff taught them how to meditate. They can move past a playground tiff with a friend because Mr. Fagersten taught them how to resolve conflict. They can contribute to a group conversation because Ms. Gianakas taught them to be a respectful listener. The list goes on.
The Responsive Classroom approach teaches students that it’s not just what they learn, but how and who they learn alongside that sets them up for success. At its core, school is a social experience; therefore, specific social-emotional skills like cooperation, empathy, self-control, inclusion, and respect must be taught and practiced in order for students to be successful learners. By recognizing that social interactions are essential to cognitive growth, Lower School teachers are giving girls the tools they need to read their first book, write their first essay, or study for their first test.
“Through a Responsive Classroom, we strive to engage Ellis girls in collaborative activities that require critical thinking while building upon the foundation of a healthy community environment,” shared Betsy Gianakas, Grade 1 Teacher. “Something that may seem simple, like solving an addition equation, becomes complex as we explore problem-solving in more than one way. Together as a class, we stretch learning in a natural manner and have fun in the process.”