How did Middle School Spanish teacher Duncan Insuik greet the new year? With a catchphrase of “The best year yet!” And by all accounts, he’s right on task.
This summer Insuik participated in a four-day professional development workshop entitled “The Responsive Classroom.” “The program is designed to leverage social-emotional learning in an academic setting,” Insuik said. “Many of the strategies promote proactive discipline. How do you set expectations? How do you model? The students notice why procedures and routines are important in the classroom.”
According to The Responsive Classroom website, the pedagogical practice “ is a student-centered, social and emotional learning approach to teaching and discipline. It is comprised of a set of research, and evidence-based practices designed to create safe, joyful, and engaging classrooms and school communities for both students and teachers.”
Insuik said Responsive Classroom began as an elementary school program for teachers. The curriculum was so successful and effective that the organization expanded that program to include the middle school. He finds that the tactics employed in the classroom gave him a great structure and springboard to start the year. “I am already feeling the difference in the class and the confidence it gives me as a teacher,” he said. “I feel more armed to work with students and positively redirect them.
Insuik utilizes ‘teacher language’’ - envisioning, reminding, redirection, and reinforcing language to manage the classroom behaviors. For instance, one proactive strategy is ‘space and time.’ If a student is not on task, the teacher asks the child to remove themself from the activity, go to another part of the room, take a deep, and reflect. Once the student gathers themself, they can rejoin the activity. This non-punitive ‘time out’ permits the student to take a breather and reset their mind to continue the activity. If, over a week, the student is still struggling in the class, the teacher would meet with the student and discuss how to manage themselves better in the class.
Other tools in the tool kit include redirection language that is kind and firm. Another strategy is reinforcing language. The teacher observes the class engaged in a task and notices and calls out certain behaviors i.e., “I see John is working on the question” or “Sydney’s quiet and ready to work.” “The kids let you know that they are working and often call out that they, too, are on task,” Insuik said. “They want to be seen. They want to be noticed for the littlest things. Using this subtle language in small moments really reinforces the routines.”
After embedding these techniques and language in his class, Insuik observed that the class operates cooperatively, creating a positive and dynamic learning environment. Students know what to expect and can transition faster from one activity to another. “This is my sixth year teaching, and these strategies have changed the atmosphere in the class,” he said. “It’s more work upfront, but once the procedures are set up and established, it will pay dividends in December and the spring.”