Responding to Our Students

Here at Parker, we believe that children learn and thrive when they are part of a community that sees who they are, hears their voice, and then supports each whole child as they establish their identity within their classroom. Nurturing a cohesive community of individuals is so integral to the culture here at Parker that it is written right into our mission. As such, the beginning of our school year is full of intentional work designed to strengthen our school community.
Parker has long followed an evidence-based approach to this process of building a safe, strong, and joyful school community known as Responsive Classroom. This fall, our faculty engaged in a full-day Responsive Classroom workshop to refresh, update, and hone our skills in this practice. We found the experience to be illuminating in putting concrete language and actions to so much of what we already practice daily here at Parker. In that vein, we would like to share the six guiding principles of Responsive Classroom.
Responsive Classroom is grounded in the core belief that in order to be successful in and out of school, students need to learn a set of social and emotional competencies alongside academic competencies. In other words, learning skills such as cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy, and self-control is equally as important as learning how to develop an academic mindset, perseverance, learning strategies, and academic behaviors. How do we translate this to our work in our classrooms? By following these six guiding principles:
  1. Teaching social and emotional skills is as important as teaching academic content.
  2. How we teach is as important as what we teach.
  3. Great cognitive growth occurs through social interaction.
  4. How we work together as adults to create a safe, joyful, and inclusive school environment is as important as our individual contribution or competence.
  5. What we know and believe about our students — individually, culturally, developmentally — informs our expectations, reactions, and attitudes about those students.
  6. Partnering with families — knowing them and valuing their contributions — is as important as knowing the children we teach.
Over the course of the year, we will revisit these guiding principles and share tangible examples of what that work looks like here at Parker. Today, we will start with the precept that is already robustly at work in each of our classrooms — the creation of a safe, joyful and inclusive school environment.
One of our strategies for creating a positive community here at Parker is by beginning each day with a Morning Meeting (lower school) or Responsive Advisory (middle school). These gatherings create opportunities for students and teachers to learn about themselves and each other while also connecting them to the day of learning ahead. Everywhere you looked these past few weeks, you would find teachers hard at work with their unique group of children to determine classroom rules and responsibilities that respond to each community’s distinct needs.
At the youngest level, this involves talking with children about what we need to help our classroom feel safe and friendly for everyone and establishing a classroom “compact”. At the middle school level, community discussions respond to the developmental abilities and needs of adolescents by focusing on the balance between individual independence and group identities. Advisors are all working with their students to establish relationships and customs that will set the tone for their community, while also participating in get-to-know-you exercises designed to help students identify ways in which they are distinct along with their commonalities as a group.
When you engage students in conversations about what matters to them and then put their ideas at the center of developing an action plan, children will instinctively unite towards common goals. This is the powerful belief that underlies so much of what we do here at Parker. This week, as teachers strove to ensure that each student’s voice was heard and represented, they were also laying the groundwork for students to feel invested in a community that they all helped to create. Students caring about their community is the foundation from which all else is built.

Explore Parker