The First Couple of Weeks(!)

Symonds school is a “Responsive Classroom” (RC). RC is a social curriculum used nationally (perhaps internationally, I don’t know). It was born in Western Massachusetts some years back. The Northeast Foundation for Children (NEFC) develops RC and promotes materials and workshops that help teachers and whole school communities develop common language and cultures of caring; ultimately a positive school environment that serves as a foundation for more successful academic learning. The Northeast Foundation website states the following:

Northeast Foundation for Children, Inc. (NEFC) was founded in 1981 by a group of public school educators who had a vision of bringing together social and academic learning throughout the school day. We remain dedicated to helping those who want to learn about elementary teaching that emphasizes social, emotional, and academic growth in a strong and safe school community. NEFC is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization and is the sole source provider of the Responsive Classroom approach.

The Responsive Classroom is a general approach to teaching, rather than a program designed to address a specific school issue. It is based on the premise that children learn best when they have both academic and social-emotional skills. The Responsive Classroom approach consists of a set of practices that build academic and social-emotional competencies and that can be used along with many other programs. These classroom practices are the heart of theResponsive Classroom approach:
Morning Meeting—gathering as a whole class each morning to greet one another, share news, and warm up for the day ahead
Rule Creation—helping students create classroom rules to ensure an environment that allows all class members to meet their learning goals
Interactive Modeling—teaching children to notice and internalize expected behaviors through a unique modeling technique
Positive Teacher Language—using words and tone as a tool to promote children’s active learning, sense of community, and self-discipline
Logical Consequences—responding to misbehavior in a way that allows children to fix and learn from their mistakes while preserving their dignity
Guided Discovery—introducing classroom materials using a format that encourages independence, creativity, and responsibility
Academic Choice—increasing student learning by allowing students teacher-structured choices in their work
Classroom Organization—setting up the physical room in ways that encourage students’ independence, cooperation, and productivity
Working with Families—creating avenues for hearing parents’ insights and helping them understand the school’s teaching approaches
Collaborative Problem Solving—using conferencing, role playing, and other strategies to resolve problems with students

Having been a part of a Responsive Classroom community, I will simply say IT WORKS. I might even go so far as to say that implemented nationally, it could save our schools. I’ll talk more about this later.

As you can see from the RC bullet points above, many music teachers would say (and I’ve heard them say this!) “I can’t do this with the little time I have!”. Well, I do, as does our stellar PE and Art teacher here at Symonds. It’s the consistency within and outside of our classrooms that make it all work. That said, how do I practice my first 4-6 weeks of “acclimation” to the music classroom, a place where I see kids 70 minutes a week…? Responsive Classroom stresses that the first few weeks of school are crucial for getting kids acclimated to the “culture” of the classroom. In many cases teachers refrain from any academic content to pave the way for a respectful, orderly, caring and attentive learning environment. This year I have 350+ students this year. 30+ are brand new to Symonds. The returning kids forgot over the summer and the new ones need to learn the crucial routines and expectations.

The music room is a place for order with a cloak of chaos and excitement. Kids have to feel that they can freely, artistically, and openly express themselves but not at the expense of safety and structure. My rules are simple: We must maintain an environment that is Safe, Kind, and Responsible. My first order of business is to establish how we move in our space. We practice, practice, practice how we sit down, line up, move on the dance floor, then we practice again. We also work on how we talk to one another, how we “take turns” talking. The formal part of cementing this understanding involves the signing of a contract. Once we have established as a class what it means to be “Safe, Kind, and Respectful” by naming behaviors and in some cases writing them down, everyone signs a big piece of paper that states “I will help make the music room a Safe, Kind, and Respectful place”. It goes without saying that this is probably more intuitive and more easy established in a grade level classroom than a “specials” room (by the way, I whole-heartedly dislike the term “specials”, and I will touch on that later as well).

So, in short, our first couple of weeks of music class is a combination of a couple of things:

1.Naming positive (and negative when given the chance) behaviors to establish a positive music classroom culture
2. Exploration of the music space
3. Having FUN (and understanding that silliness is fine, but it’s a matter of when to be silly) to establish that hard work can take place in the presence of positivity and a great time.

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