Including All Staff in the Responsive Classroom Journey

When Bristol Elementary School, a public school in a small Vermont town, started its journey of Responsive Classroom implementation a few years ago, it took a two-pronged approach, focusing simultaneously on classroom practices and a few high-impact schoolwide initiatives. In both areas, the contributions of educational assistants and other support staff have been a key to success.

Thorough planning to ensure success

At Bristol, educational assistants, known as “EAs,” fill many roles. They provide one-on-one support to students, work with pull-out groups, and help in kindergarten classes. They’re on duty at lunch and recess, and they often travel through the hallways with students. “EAs play an incredibly important role in how smoothly things run here,” says co-principal Jill Mackler. “To accomplish our goals for whole-school improvement, all staff members had to be included in learning about the Responsive Classroom approach.”

So, in summer 2006, when most of Bristol’s classroom teachers and both co-principals completed a week of Responsive Classroom training, many of the EAs also took a Responsive Classroom workshop that was offered on a professional development day. As a result, when classroom teachers started the school year by introducing daily Morning Meetings and creating classroom rules with students, the EAs knew what to expect and how they could help.

After this training, a Responsive Classroom consultant provided follow-up coaching to help Bristol staff, including the EAs, establish consistent behavior expectations and use clear, positive language when communicating with students. This work had particular benefits for the EAs who work with students at all grade levels and in many different settings. Educational assistant Kim Krampetz says it’s made a real difference. “We’re much more consistent now. I can be anywhere in the school, and if I say to a group of first graders, ‘Show me what a first grade line looks like,’ they know exactly what to do.”

Valuing lunch staff’s ideas for lunchtime improvements

One of the first schoolwide projects Bristol’s Responsive Classroom steering committee decided to tackle was improving lunchtime. After observing the crowded, noisy cafeteria scene and noticing that it took a long time for students to get through the line, steering committee members asked lunch staff—the EAs, the cafeteria manager and workers, and the custodians—for their ideas about how to make this time of the day go better.

The lunch staff suggested several changes, including re-routing the line to improve traffic flow, placing trashcans in a different location, and moving condiments from the lunch line to separate stations. Steering committee members shared that they’d noticed some children having difficulty making on-the-spot decisions when lunch offerings included many choices. The cafeteria manager simplified some menus, and the lunch line began to flow more efficiently.

At the same time, the rest of the staff made additional changes to help this part of the day go better. Bristol administrators changed the schedule so that each lunch period would include a mix of older and younger classes, and they ordered round tables so children could see each other more easily and converse without shouting. Classroom teachers were involved in lunchtime improvements as well. As new procedures were rolled out, they introduced them to students, taking the children to the cafeteria to practice the new ways of doing things.

The result, two years later, has benefitted everyone. The middle of the day is a more pleasant time for students and for staff who work in the cafeteria—and teachers have noticed that students are transitioning more smoothly from lunchtime back to the classroom.

A stronger adult community

Working together on schoolwide implementation of the Responsive Classroom approach has strengthened the adult community at Bristol. They’ve gotten to know each other better and to appreciate more fully the unique insights each staff member contributes to their common goal: creating a climate that supports positive behavior and learning.

Bristol Elementary Demographics

Setting: A town in a rural area
Grades: K–6
Number of students: 300
Number of classes: 18
% of students receiving free/reduced-price lunch: 47%

Tags: Building Schoolwide Community, Professional Community, Professional Development