The Responsive Classroom approach is a way of teaching that emphasizes social, emotional, and academic growth in a strong and safe school community. Developed by classroom teachers, the approach consists of practical strategies for helping students build academic and social-emotional competencies day in and day out.

Guiding Principles

The Responsive Classroom approach is informed by the work of educational theorists and the experiences of exemplary classroom teachers. Seven principles guide this approach:

  1. The social and emotional curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum.
  2. How children learn is as important as what they learn.
  3. Great cognitive growth occurs through social interaction.
  4. To be successful academically and socially, children need to learn a set of social and emotional skills: cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy, and self-control.
  5. Knowing the children we teach—individually, culturally, and developmentally—is as important as knowing the content we teach.
  6. Knowing the families of the children we teach is as important as knowing the children we teach.
  7. How we, the adults at school, work together is as important as our individual competence: Lasting change begins with the adult community.

Classroom Practices and Strategies

Responsive Classroom is an approach to teaching based on the belief that integrating academic and social-emotional skills creates an environment where students can do their best learning. The Responsive Classroom approach consists of a set of practices and strategies that build academic and social-emotional competencies. This approach works well with many other programs and can be introduced gradually into a teacher’s practice.

These core classroom practices are the heart of the Responsive Classroom approach:

Shared Practices (K–8) 

  • Interactive Modeling—An explicit practice for teaching procedures and routines (such as those for entering and exiting the room) as well as academic and social skills (such as engaging with the text or giving and accepting feedback).
  • Teacher Language—The intentional use of language to enable students to engage in their learning and develop the academic, social, and emotional skills they need to be successful in and out of school.
  • Logical Consequences—A non-punitive response to misbehavior that allows teachers to set clear limits and students to fix and learn from their mistakes while maintaining their dignity.
  • Interactive Learning Structures— Purposeful activities that give students opportunities to engage with content in active (hands-on) and interactive (social) ways.

Elementary Practices (K–6) 

  • Photograpgh by Jeff Woodward.

    Morning Meeting—Everyone in the classroom gathers in a circle for twenty to thirty minutes at the beginning of each school day and proceeds through four sequential components: greeting, sharing, group activity, and morning message.

  • Establishing Rules—Teacher and students work together to name individual goals for the year and establish rules that will help everyone reach those goals.
  • Energizers—Short, playful, whole-group activities that are used as breaks in lessons.
  • Quiet Time—A brief, purposeful and relaxed time of transition that takes place after lunch and recess, before the rest of the school day continues.
  • Closing Circle—A five- to ten-minute gathering at the end of the day that promotes reflection and celebration through participation in a brief activity or two.

Middle School Practices (5–8) 

  • Photograph by Jeff Woodward.Responsive Advisory Meeting—A routine that builds positive, meaningful relationships with caring adults and peers. Components: arrival welcome, announcements, acknowledgements, and activity.
  • Investing Students in the Rules—Students collaborate to establish classroom expectations based on individual goals.
  • Brain Breaks—Short breaks in lessons used to increase focus, motivation, learning, and memory.
  • Active TeachingA straightforward, developmentally appropriate strategy for delivering curriculum content. Components: teacher presentation, explanation, illustration, and demonstration.
  • Student Practice—Students explore and practice the content and skills taught during a lesson, under the teacher’s guidance.

A+SEL Competencies

In order to be successful in and out of school, students need to learn a set of social and emotional competencies—cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy, and self-control—and a set of academic competencies— academic mindset, perseverance, learning strategies, and academic behaviors.

Photograph by Jeff Woodward.Social & Emotional Competencies

  • Cooperation: Students’ ability to establish new relationships, maintain positive relationships and friendships, avoid social isolation, resolve conflicts, accept differences, be a contributing member of the classroom and school community, and work productively and collaboratively with others.
  • Assertiveness: Students’ ability to take initiative, standup for their ideas without hurting or negating others,seek help, succeed at a challenging
    task, and recognize their individual self as separate from the circumstances or conditions they’re in.
  • Responsibility: Students’ ability to motivate themselves to take action and follow through on expectations; to define a problem, consider the consequences, and choose a positive solution.
  • Empathy: Students’ ability to “see into” (recognize, understand) another’s state of mind and emotions and be receptive to new ideas and perspectives; to appreciate and value differences and diversity in others; to have concern for others’ welfare, even when it doesn’t benefit or may come as a cost to one’s self.
  • Self-Control: Students’ ability to recognize and regulate their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in order to be successful in the moment and remain on a successful trajectory.

Photograph by Jeff Woodward.Academic Competencies

  • Academic mindset: Four self-perceptions influence a student’s academic mindset: 1) I belong in this academic community; 2) my effort improves my performance; 3) I can succeed at this work; and 4) I see the value in this work.
  • Perseverance: Perseverance is a student’s tendency to complete assignments in a timely and thorough manner and to the best of their ability, despite distractions, obstacles or level of challenge.
  • Learning Strategies: Learning strategies are techniques, processes, and tactics a student uses to 1) learn, think, remember, and recall, 2) monitor their own comprehension and growth, 3) self-correct when they are confused or have an error in thinking, and 4) set and achieve goals and manage their time effectively.
  • Academic Behaviors: Academic behaviors are the ways in which students conduct themselves that support their success in school, including such things as regular attendance, arriving ready to work, paying attention, participating in instructional activities and class discussions, and devoting out-of-school time to studying and completing assignments and projects.