Archive for category Responsive Classroom

No Playground? Time for Creative Play!

Our school district is currently in the mist of a large renovation project.  This isn’t your normal, “Get new doors and sidewalks” type of project but a, “gut the entire school to the beam structures” kind of project.

There is a vision, a brilliant one, to consolidate our resources and place our elementary student population on one campus, our Middle School population on one campus and our High School population on yet another campus, making a total of 3 campuses.  And now construction started on the elementary school and boy is it being gutted!

As we moved classrooms and redistributed our student population so we can still conduct school, little did we know that our elementary playground would be dismantled due to gas and electric lines running under the playground and detouring them to the building!  Oh, the horrors for our UPK-2 kiddos!  No playground to play on!

Ah, but here is the best part.  Since there isn’t a playground, our kids are now forced to use their imagination!  Out come the kickballs, the bouncy balls, the footballs and hula-hoops.  Sidewalk chalk is used to draw on the pavement and group games are being incorporated.  But no playground equipment you say?  Yep, it has been a blessing in disguise!  Now, kids are being taught how to play creatively and purposefully. Maybe we should do away with the playground?  Oh no,  did I just write that????  Oh, what joy, wonder and imagination, our students  will encounter!  I love it!

(Looking down one of the wings in our school during renovations.  Looks like a warehouse.  Who would have thought!)

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How a Social/Emotional Philosophy Changed an Elementary School


Today was the last day with our kiddos at East Side Elementary School.  This is also my 9th year as principal/lead learner for the East Side Elementary School in Gouverneur New York.  We are a rural district in northern New York with about a total population of a little bit over 1,600 pupils.  At East Side, we currently serve 463 pupils, PreK-5 and I oversee 61 staff, including 43 teachers and staff that are under my supervision.

Four years ago, I heard about Responsive Classroom and noticed that Patrick Shaw, a trainer from the Syracuse area and the OCM BOCES was holding training sessions in Watertown, NY at the Jefferson-County BOCES center.  One of our second grade teachers wanted to go, so with permission from the assistant superintendent, we sent her to bring back the information.  She was hooked, implemented the program and philosophy into her classroom and would continually invite me into the class to see what was happening.  I would ask her to come to our staff meeting and show Morning Meeting and talk about the philosophy with our staff.  After that year, I made a plan for all of our classroom teachers to either take the 5 day course in the summer along with me, or be trained in the fall.

Needless to say, the classroom teachers were thrilled to sign up.  Anytime as a principal that I can learn along with my staff, I will do that, so we have common language, hence the title Lead Learner!  (See Michael Fullan, The Principal)  What happened drastically was that we all had a common philosophy and a belief that the social and emotional curriculum was just as important as the academic curriculum.

Discipline referrals drastically went down.  Teachers talked to the kids and would take action on the “minor” incidents in the classroom rather than sending it to me.  What really has worked is implementing one of the RC components: Morning Meeting.  This is a time when the teacher can really get to know his or her students in the classroom.  It is the “heart” of the RC philosophy and starts the day, every day!  Morning Meeting has four components:  1. A Greeting; 2. Sharing 3. A Group Activity 4. A Morning Message.  You can read about Morning Meeting here.  It truly builds the community in the classroom and permeates throughout the building.

So, are you wondering what the data looks like with discipline referrals? Below is a simple chart to show you the data over 5 years.  (We implemented Responsive Classroom during the 2011-2012 school year!)

 Referrals School Year
192 2008-2009
161 2009-2010
142 2010-2011
64 2011-2012
52 2012-2013
21 2013-2014


Here it is in graph form:

 Discipline Data

Pretty amazing isn’t it, from 192 referrals to 21.  Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that we do not do discipline.  It is how we work with our students, putting in logical consequences and understanding that kids do make mistakes. Some may think we are soft, but what we are doing is working with our kids and our parents to help model best behavior and to have our children leave East Side with a strong social and emotional foundation so that they can be productive young adults as they enter our Middle School.

My friend and colleague Lisa Meade had a recent blog here about discipline and implementing PBIS in her school.  She ended her blog with, “We all make mistakes.  In life, its’ not about the mistake.  It’s about how you recover from it and what you learn about yourself.”  This is what a social and emotional curriculum can do for you if you implement something, anything, to help your students and staff form a community and relationships.  In the end, it is all about relationships between student to teacher, and teacher to student, as well as school to home and home to school.  Put in an S/E curriculum and watch your school change for the better!


Why We Need to Believe in our Kids

WCAK movie poster

Today, I had the unique opportunity and privilege to watch a screening of Dan Habib’s fabulous film, “Who Cares About Kelsey”  at the Syracuse University Summer Leadership Institute.  This film follows Kelsey as a high school student who is diagnosed as ADHD and trying to graduate high school.  The high school that Kelsey attends has the highest dropout rate in New Hampshire.  A new team comes in the next year and implements Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) and the team creates a process called RENEW and other supports to help improve the culture and the dropout rate in the school.  (It’s a MUST SEE for all, so look for it on your local PBS station this fall!)

This film was very emotional for me.  It also redefined why I do what I do as a building principal.  It is not about test scores, that’s for sure.  Yes, we just received our preliminary scores in New York State and they will be released tomorrow.  A sobering reality that I haven’t seen anything like happen before in my 15 years of principalship. But, what was reassuring to me that came to mind, again and again, while watching this film, is that the social and emotional curriculum is JUST as important as the academic curriculum.  They go hand-in-hand.  And, that we as adults have to believe in our students that they CAN, not that they CAN’T.

At the end of the film, we were treated by a Q and A by the star of the film, Kelsey Carroll.  One of the questions asked was what can we as educators do back in our schools.  Kelsey stated that the biggest thing we can do is to have caring adults in our schools, someone who kids can go to so that they can be listened to, have an open door and have the belief that they can do it, no matter what.  Yes, we have the academic curriculum to get through, but if the social and emtional curriculum is not in place, forget about the academics.

So, check out the links I provided, watch for the launch of the film on PBS, and think about what your school culture is like.  Is the social and emtional curriculum in place and if not, how will you change it so that it is just as important as the academic curriclum.

Let me know what you think.  Enjoy!

(Another great approach that is compatable to PBIS is Responsive Classroom.  Our school is in it’s 3rd year using this approach and we will continue and tweak what is best for kids.  Great results because it is about the people – the staff.)

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