Supporting Kindergarten and First Grade Teachers
Over the past dozen years, the Community Foundation’s work in early childhood education has helped thousands of preschoolers in our community start school ready to learn. Working with Ann Rosen and Sue Christensen, co-directors of the Family Connection, the Community Foundation’s Early Years Count initiative has trained more than 500 preschool teachers and program staff in the nationally-recognized HighScope curriculum, providing on-site mentoring and classroom materials. Through this, we’ve transformed our county’s Head Start program, turning it into one of the strongest in the state. We’ve also made HighScope training available to teachers with our local registered ministries—church-based child care centers that serve some of our community’s most vulnerable students.
Now we’re taking the next step to contribute to our community’s children’s school success. We’ve begun providing professional development and support to elementary teachers, too.
To do this, we’re using a research- and evidence-based approach to elementary education called Responsive Classroom.
The approach, which emphasizes building strong, respectful relationships among peers, has been tremendously successful in greater teacher effectiveness, higher student achievement, and improved school climate. The best thing about Responsive Classroom is that it’s not a new system of teaching; rather, it’s an approach that incorporates methods that many of our best teachers are already using.
Across the board, teachers respond positively to Responsive Classroom. Amy Troyer, the South Bend Community School Corporation’s Teacher of the Year in 2012, is using the approach with her kindergarteners at Warren School.
Each day, Mrs. Troyer’s class begins with Morning Meeting, in which the students take time to greet each other and share one-on-one. Together with Mrs. Troyer, they set the agenda for the day—student choice is an important component of the approach—and review the class rules, which they were involved in creating. Throughout the day, Mrs. Troyer uses deliberative, positive language with her students, reinforcing the importance of personal responsibility and promoting community-oriented behavior.
Mrs. Troyer says, “I‘ve found that most of the elements that Responsive Classrooms encourages are quite easy to implement. Having said that, it still requires a great deal of practice to be consistent with language, vocabulary, questioning techniques, and continually being conscientious of frequent interactions with children.”
Responsive Classroom teaches social skills as well as academic skills, addressing the concerns of many parents about their children’s social development: Through the teacher’s use of positive language and specific activities that encourage peer interaction and personal responsibility, Responsive Classroom helps students become active, invested members of their classroom communities, reducing bullying and related behaviors.
Currently, Responsive Classroom is being used in five schools: Hay, Harrison, McKinley, Monroe, and Warren. The Community Foundation plans to work with the SBCSC to extend the program further next year.
UPDATE September 2016: The Community Foundation has expanded its Responsive Classroom training to nine schools, involving more than 220 teachers and impacting some 3,400 local students.