Responsive Classroom: Empathy Is The Key

Kuleana responsibility

I learned a new word: kuleana. It’s a Hawaiian word that means one’s personal sense of responsibility. I accept my responsibilities and I will be held accountable.

As an educator, having a vision is important. We have a great responsibility to our students and to society. I’m privileged to be an educator, and part of my vision is to teach children not only academic skills, but social-emotional skills that will prepare them to master this concept of kuleana and use it throughout their lives.

This same personal sense of responsibility is naturally embedded in the work I do every day. I’m part of a community of educators who believe in the principles of the Responsive Classroom, a K-8 approach to teaching and learning which includes specific tools, strategies, and practices to help teachers provide a high-quality education to every student, every day. It’s not an add on nor a stand-alone program. These principles, woven into everything we do, how we speak, and how we model behavior, are based on research that shows a strong link between academic success and social-emotional learning.

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Five Ways To Close A Lesson

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Most of us realize the importance of a warm-up to get our bodies and minds ready, whether we’re talking about exercising, singing, or learning. But what about the cool down? How you close a lesson is just as important as how you open it. Yet all too often, we run out of time. Or, we look at the clock, see our students are still working hard, and think to ourselves, why interrupt their flow? But there are proven benefits to taking even just one minute to wrap up a lesson.

In those last moments, you and your students have a chance to check for understanding, reflect on what you’ve learned, tie up loose ends, or make sure everyone is ready for the next part of the day. You could even just take a moment to breathe! If you’re looking for new ideas on how to wrap up your next lesson, here are five things you can try.

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Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain

Podcast anewkindofPD

Editor’s Note: Interested in Culturally Responsive Teaching? Listen to our #anewkindofPD podcast episode featuring Zaretta Hammond. Subscribe here on iTunes or Stitcher for reminders of new podcast launches.

This school year, I have the privilege of working shoulder to shoulder with teachers who are rolling up their sleeves and asking hard questions about how they can better serve their under-performing students who are disproportionately English learners, poor students, and students of color. They are working to incorporate culturally responsive practices into their classrooms.

I believe culturally responsive teaching (CRT) is a powerful method for accelerating student learning. But truth be told, most educators are not really sure what it is or what it looks like. For some, it seems mysterious. A number of leaders discount it because it seems too “touchy feely” or only focused on raising students’ self-esteem, when they need to raise achievement levels. But CRT is so much more than that. It’s the reason why I wrote Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain.

Two of the biggest challenges I see teachers struggle with when first embracing CRT, is understanding the role culture actually plays in instruction and how to operationalize culturally responsive practices. They worry that they have to learn 19 different cultures — everyone’s individual customs, holidays, foods, and language. This simply isn’t true. Here are four other big ideas about culturally responsive teaching to keep in mind: Read more

Building Your Teacher Toolbox: Five Ways to Improve Classroom Management

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Managing a class isn’t easy! Before you can teach content, you need to create a positive learning environment (check out our Class Culture Deep Dive for tips on how to do that). Building culture is a long process, one that eventually makes management easier. But what do you do when you need your class to calm down and focus? Or how do you deal with a student who is outright defiant?

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Reimagine Your Learning Space: Starbucks Your Classroom!

Hey!

It’s been awhile since we’ve seen each other. I know we don’t talk that often these days, so I thought I’d drop you a line and see what’s been happening with you.

How are you? How’s your summer? Hot? Are you chillin’ like a villain? Doing some grillin’? I wish I was… But I’m not. I’m kinda’ blah right now. I’m bored. And I’m boring, too. I’ve looked the same for centuries, and that’s a long time. Trust me.

Look, I’m not saying it’s your fault. And, I’m not saying you don’t care. I’m just saying that I’m in need of an update in the worst way… I’m Outdated. Constricting. Confining. Compromising. I’m Obsolete! You know what I’m saying? I want a change. I need a change. I must change!

No more rows, columns, grey, and gloom. No more control — it’s an illusion.

Collaboration is where it’s at. Communication, creativity, and critical thinking are what I want to emulate, stimulate, cultivate, and propagate.

What you say mate?

How about some couches, armchairs, coffee tables, high tables with stools, restaurant style tables, standing tables, a rug, and maybe even a yoga mat? How about you make me look like Starbucks, but cooler? Can you do this for me?

I promise you won’t be disappointed and the kids will love it.

Stay cool.

Yours truly,

Your Classroom

Boring Classroom

What Does Your Classroom Communicate?

As teachers, we spend a great deal of time in our classrooms. Sometimes it may even feel like we’ve moved in. I imagine our students feel the same. If we’re going to spend most of our time in our rooms, the space should feel good. It should feel comfortable. A classroom should inspire creativity and productivity, but that’s not always our reality. When something is off in your classroom — when your design lags behind your teaching style — you can feel it. It’s almost as if your classroom is trying to tell you something needs to change.

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Rich Talk = Rich Learning

Effective Academic Conversation with Kenji Hakuta

It may feel a little unusual to think that the more your students talk in class, the more they might learn. But that is just what we, researchers and professors at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, have found to be true. Constructive conversation and meaningful interaction throughout a lesson not only develop students’ crucial communication skills, but also give them a richer understanding of the content.

Although new education standards in college and career readiness highlight collaboration and communication as critical skills, this type of peer-to-peer interaction is actually quite rare in the classroom. While common activities such as whole class discussions, jigsaws, and think-pair-shares can produce the appearance of constructive interactions, they often don’t provide enough substantial opportunities for students to engage in back-and-forth dialog, especially for ESL students.

So what can we do to make sure our students are getting the opportunities to learn deeply about a specific topic AND hone their communication skills?

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A Climate for Great Practice: Collaborating for Student Success

Getting Better Together

The climate, or culture, of a school is one of the most important factors in its success. In fact, you can almost feel the climate of a school within seconds of ringing the buzzer for entry. A culture of collaboration and excellence provides the climate for consistent success for students and increased job satisfaction for teachers. Working towards creating this generative environment is a worthy, yet difficult goal.

Whenever you invite humans into the process of any complex work, there’s the inevitability of error, miscalculation, or failure. What’s also possible in this space, and I think what makes this process so messy and beautiful, is the potential for teachers to change, grow, and create transformative teaching experiences.

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Unstoppable Learning: Making Room For Students’ Passions

I came back from my morning run completely energized. I took my headphones off and continued to puzzle over Sugata Mitra’s compelling segment on the TED Radio Hour, Unstoppable Learning, which I had been listening to and which suggested that in many ways, teachers are getting in the way of learning.

A tough pill for me — a teacher of seven years — to swallow.

I scrawled some thoughts in my journal — “students in pursuit of learning,” “fostering curiosity,” “CHOICE,” “unstoppable learning…” — and grinned as I imagined what this transformation could look like in my classroom. This always happens, I reflected. I get the best ideas when I have more time to listen, to read, to run. I always learn the most when I have space just to think. As a new mother and a classroom teacher, lead teacher, mentor, fellow, friend, and wife, my days are jam packed. Further, my time is often completely scheduled. The time and space to read and think is few and far between. But making space for it is so, so important.

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Teaching With Grace, Learning With Dignity

We’ve all been there — a momentary, frustrated reaction to a student that’s more curt, less kind, and more gruff than it ought to be. Its roots are embedded somewhere in our lack of sleep, or a floundering lesson, or unforgiving piles of paperwork. And it’s a reaction immediately regretted, but unable to be undone.

We’re flawed human beings. So are our students. The work is challenging for everyone, so these moments happen.

I’ve learned how that moment can irreversibly color a student’s experience in our classrooms, like food coloring staining a glass of water. For children — too often bearing burdens of anxiety, a challenging home life, or the common self-doubts of adolescence — the last thing they need is for a teacher to be an adversary in their learning. Yet, I still occasionally make these mistakes. But I’ve also made the choice to be intentional in limiting and countering them. I’ve made the choice to focus on teaching with grace, so that students can learn with dignity.

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