Responsive Classroom After School: Interactive Modeling and Positive Teacher Language

This is the third post in a series on using the Responsive Classroom Approach after school. It’s my hope that it will be useful both to teachers who wish to extend their use of RC after the school day, as well as to teaching artists and community educators who may find RC to be as transformational for them as it has been for me. Please note, while I use RC, I am not formally connected to the organization.

So far I’ve discussed the principles and practices of RC, and how to use Morning Meeting after school. Before I go any further, I think it is important to emphasize two of the challenges to working after school:

1. After-school time is not academic, so social skills are even more important. Be careful the example you set, and the influence you are having.
2. Corollary to #1. Don’t expect to be treated like a teacher. Any authority you have is earned.

As much as RC offers structures like Morning Meeting and Closing Circles, the real heart of it is fostering social and emotional learning and a healthy self-esteem. This is why it can work outside of school — it’s a tool set for adults working to foster the maturation of young people. The next few posts is where I will focus on different dimensions of RC in classroom management, starting with a technique called Interactive Modeling.

As I said in my first post in this series, modeling behaviors is just as important after school as it is during the school day. While students won’t have the same structure as school, and many of them don’t want to feel like they are “learning something” or that the school day is being extended, nevertheless the adults are still role models. When activities require specific processes (i.e. everyone forming the circle quickly and quietly to begin the session), interactive modeling is a way to model the behavior, engage students in the process, and reinforce the positive contributions students give.

Here are the basic steps:

  1. Briefly state what you will model, and why.
  2. Model the behavior exactly as you expect students to do it.
  3. Ask students what they noticed.
  4. Invite one or more students to model the same way you did.
  5. Again, ask students what they noticed the modelers doing.
  6. Have all students model while you observe and coach them.
  7. Provide feedback, naming specific, positive actions you notice and redirecting respectfully but clearly when students go off track.

I also appreciate that interactive modeling is so inquiry-driven. It’s not about showing and telling students what to do. It’s about showing and then asking what they observed. In my experience, many students aren’t used to those kinds of questions, but are very eager to answer. So in effect, interactive modeling doesn’t just show how to do a particular task, but shows that the adult leading the activities actually cares about the youth and their opinions. In after-school programs like Boys and Girls Clubs or the Y, this emphasis on caring while teaching social skills is critical, and only comes with practice. Whether or not these students come from Responsive Schools, being another caring and engaged adult in their life is a good thing.

Interactive modeling works in conjunction with positive teacher language, especially in the feedback process. Interactive modeling asks learners, “What did you see? What could we do better? Who can show me?” Positive teacher language reinforces this with, “I saw lots of eye contact,” “You did a good job helping your neighbor get that right,” and so on. I find that by giving positive feedback, my students are beginning to give more positive feedback to their peers as well.

Positive teacher language doesn’t just work with modeling of course, but like modeling it sets the tone for how things are going to be approached in the time we have together. As I said above, after-school time is not academic, and so there is more room to practice social skills. Negative language — whether or not you are a teacher — can be a deal breaker for youth in this regard. No matter how much they are enjoying your programs or activities, if they feel invisible, unimportant, or misunderstood, then they will check out (sometimes mentally, sometimes physically). In my next post, I’ll also look at how rule creation fits in with this process.

Be sure to check out other posts in the series:



  1. […] Interactive Modeling— modeling behaviors is just as important after school as it is during the school day. Because of the freedom to emphasize social skills and processes even more, interactive modeling is incredibly accessible after school. For arts programs, this is also useful in helping students learn the processes and procedures of an art form. (See my post here). […]

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