Responsive Classroom

Patricia R. Reynolds M. Ed.
Responsive Classroom Consulting Teacher 


Principles and Practices of Responsive Classroom

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 children 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:

  • The social curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum.
  • How children learn is as important as what they learn: Process and content go hand in hand.
  • The greatest cognitive growth occurs through social interaction.
  • To be successful academically and socially, children need a set of social skills: cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, and self-control.
  • Knowing the children we teach—individually, culturally, and developmentally—is as important as knowing the content we teach.
  • Knowing the families of the children we teach and working with them as partners is essential to children's education.
  • How the adults at school work together is as important as their individual competence: Lasting change begins with the adult community.

Classroom Practices

The Responsive Classroom is a general approach to teaching, rather than a program designed to address a specific school issue. It is based on the premise that children learn best when they have both academic and social-emotional skills. The Responsive Classroom approach consists of a set of practices that build academic and social-emotional competencies and that can be used along with many other programs.

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

  • Morning Meeting—gathering as a whole class each morning to greet one another, share news, and warm up for the day ahead
  • Rule Creation—helping students create classroom rules to ensure an environment that allows all class members to meet their learning goals
  • Interactive Modeling—teaching children to notice and internalize expected behaviors through a unique modeling technique
  • Positive Teacher Language—using words and tone as a tool to promote children's active learning, sense of community, and self-discipline
  • Logical Consequences—responding to misbehavior in a way that allows children to fix and learn from their mistakes while preserving their dignity
  • Guided Discovery—introducing classroom materials using a format that encourages independence, creativity, and responsibility
  • Academic Choice—increasing student learning by allowing students teacher-structured choices in their work
  • Classroom Organization—setting up the physical room in ways that encourage students’ independence, cooperation, and productivity
  • Working with Families—creating avenues for hearing parents' insights and helping them understand the school's teaching approaches
  • Collaborative Problem Solving—using conferencing, role playing, and other strategies to resolve problems with students

Responsive Classroom Video (Elementary)



Principles and Practices of Developmental Designs

Guiding Principles

The Developmental Designs approach is founded upon seven evidence-based principles that form the core of successful teaching and learning in the middle grades.

Knowing the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual needs of the students we teach is as important as knowing the content we teach.
We learn best by actively constructing our own understanding and meaning. The greatest cognitive growth occurs when learning is leveraged by social interaction. Goals are best achieved through the incremental mastery of tasks. Social learning in a supportive community is as important to success as academic learning. 

There is a set of personal/social skills that students need to learn and practice in order to be successful socially and academically:
  • Cooperation 
  • Assertion 
  • Responsibility
  • Empathy Self-control
  • Trust among adults is a fundamental necessity for academic and social success in a learning community.
Classroom Practices

Goals and Declarations
Students declare a personal stake in school to anchor their learning in a meaningful commitment to growth.

Social Contract
Based on their personal goals, students design and sign an agreement that binds the community to common rules. Its requirements are modeled and practiced every day

Modeling and Practicing
Social competencies are learned by seeing and doing. Nothing is assumed—all routines are practiced.

The Loop
Ongoing, varied reflective planning and assessments ensure continuous, conscious growth.

Empowering Teacher Language
Gesture, voice, and words combine to create a rigorous, respectful climate for building responsible independence.

Pathways to Self-control
When the Social Contract is broken, teachers have an array of strategies, such as various kinds of redirection, loss of privilege, Take a Break, and Take a Break out of the room. Social skills grow without loss of dignity.

Collaborative Problem-solving
Students and teachers use social conferencing, problem-solving meetings, conflict resolution, and other problem-solving structures to find positive solutions to chronic problems. 

Power of Play
Play is designed to build community, enliven students, and restore their focus—more time truly on task. 

Practices for Motivating Instruction
Student choice, bridging, structured interaction, and other practices help connect young adolescent needs and the school curriculum, so that students are deeply engaged in learning.


Developmental Design Video (Middle School)


Social Emotional Learning Success