Reaching Out to Parents
For many families at Sarasota Suncoast Academy, the school day begins in the parking lot with a friendly personal welcome from principal Steve Crump. He and the rest of the office staff are there twice every day, at arrival and dismissal time, greeting each child by name and touching base with parents dropping their children off at school. “For the parents, just seeing us out there sends a message,” says Steve. This routine is just one of many ways the Suncoast staff demonstrates to families their school’s focus on both social and academic learning.
Suncoast’s family-friendly practices are anchored in schoolwide implementation of the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching. This public charter school, now three years old, provides every staff member with ongoing training and support in using Responsive Classroom strategies. The whole school uses a positive approach to discipline that draws on children’s ability and desire to behave in constructive, friendly ways — and teachers’ ability to empower children to do so. Teachers and children create classroom rules together. Teachers help children practice the rules, and they respond to inappropriate behavior with consequences that help children learn self-control and responsibility. In addition, in every class at Suncoast a daily Morning Meeting helps create a safe, caring community where every child can learn.
Recognizing that the more parents understand about these and other Responsive Classroom practices, the better it is for students, the school has developed many ways to work with parents, including parent meetings, home visits, materials sent home, and opportunities for parents to volunteer at the school. Such frequent, mostly informal connections between home and school also make it easier for parents to share their insights and concerns with the school staff. “It feels like a family,” says Kristi Grossman, parent of a second and a fourth grader and president of the school’s parent-teacher organization. “You don’t feel like a stranger when you walk in the door here.”
Exploring Key Social Skills
At Suncoast, the first six weeks of school are a time when all classes focus intensively on rule-making, community building, and learning routines and procedures. Investing in these elements of the curriculum early on lays groundwork that enables learning to proceed smoothly throughout the rest of the year. During this time, each class explores social skills such as cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, and self-control. Through age-appropriate activities the children learn what it looks like, sounds like, and feels like to practice each skill.
Examples from each classroom are collected and published so parents can be informed of the learning. One classroom example on the topic of self-control is a teacher’s description of using the phrase “Check your body!” to remind students to think about how to sit on the rug at group time. Others are students’ descriptions of times when self-control is needed, such as raising your hand when you know an answer instead of calling out. Teachers also suggest ways families can reinforce learning at home. A recent example was: “Talk with your child about ways you have to use self-control at work or while driving.”
RC 101: An Overview for Parents
This fall the school piloted an evening program that gave Suncoast parents an overview of some key Responsive Classroom practices. This well-attended presentation was led by Suzanne Wright, a kindergarten teacher and founding faculty member. It began with an abbreviated Morning Meeting. After experiencing a greeting, a quick share around the circle, and a partner interview activity, parent Kristi Grossman said she had a deeper understanding of the value of Morning Meeting. “The skills we practiced, such as listening, following directions, and remembering each other’s names, are important. One of my daughters is on the shy side, and I think holding her head high and looking someone in the eye when she speaks to them during Morning Meeting each day is a great thing for her.”
The presentation also included descriptions of the classroom rule creation process, proactive behavior management strategies, approaches to organizing classroom space and introducing materials, and information about children’s developmental needs and characteristics at different ages. Steve Crump said he felt “a lot of lights clicked on” for the parents when they learned about behaviors that were typical at their child’s age. Many parents noticed opportunities to make home expectations more consistent with those their children were meeting successfully at school.
A Better Learning Environment
Suncoast’s multi-faceted efforts to help parents understand and appreciate the school’s commitment to using the Responsive Classroom approach have many benefits. Parents gain a deeper understanding of how and what their children are learning and of the skill and dedication the staff bring to their work. The school benefits from having parents who are informed, engaged, and supportive. But the children benefit most of all, because when schools and families are on the same page, they are best able to support the children’s learning.
Sarasota Suncoast Academy Demographics
Grades: K to 4 (eventually K–8)
Number of students: 210 (eventually 800)
% of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch: 32%
Number of staff: 18