This is the fourth 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.
I left off my last post with a bit on the role of positive teacher language in giving feedback to students. When working in after-school settings, language closely ties in with the social skills being modeled. As another way to think about it, interactive modeling, rule creation, and the approaches I will discuss in this post — rule creation and logical consequences — all work to help prevent misbehavior.
From my experience, in after-school facilities and programs there are usually program rules that trump a particular teacher’s rules. Certain events or students’ actions may require a disciplinary action on your part. Sometimes, this also means that consequences, or even the rules themselves, are not up to you. You can still rely on positive teacher language here when diffusing a situation.
That said, when the rules and consequences are up to you, the Responsive Classroom approach comes in really handy. Aside from interactive modeling and positive teacher language to affirm good actions, RC also outlines the importance of giving students a say in the rules and how they are practiced. When those rules are broken, RC’s approach to consequences focuses on showing why the action broke a rule and how it can be prevented, not on punishing a student or undermining their worth.
Both rule creation and logical consequences ask for students to respond to behaviors they see, and learn proper ways to manage and correct themselves. The teacher here, I find, acts more as a negotiator and guide than “telling it like it is.” For new teachers and teaching artists, there is a tendency to either be very authoritarian or very lax. Striking a balance is hard, and I readily admit that it is an ongoing challenge for me — and that’s yet another reason why I’ve found RC to be so great in after-school settings where I work. By putting some of the responsibility for rules (and of course following them) on students, you can learn a lot about what they see as fair and appropriate.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that something like rule creation is even better for after school. In many ways, after school time is student time. Personally, I want to respect that students are there to be with friends and enjoy themselves. The same pressures of the school day aren’t there. But that is not to say that students don’t need structure. By having students join with me in creating rules — and being straightforward and fair when rules are broken — means that I demonstrate that even though I am in charge, students’ voices matter to me and I respect them as people.
In the rule creation process, I present the need for a new rule as a problem, and facilitate the group finding a solution. For example, “I noticed that the last couple of days not everyone has turned in their supplies at the end of the day. Who can tell me what we could do to change that?” I don’t like to use the word “fix,” because to me that implies something broken. This process is most constructive when approached as a learning process in its own right — learning what the rules are, and how to ensure they are fair. As students suggest solutions, we move from general concepts to action steps, and then from action steps to consequences. For example, “Everyone should turn in supplies,” evolves to “Students have to check out supplies from the teacher and leave something as collateral,” or “Students who didn’t clean up don’t get to participate in one of the games tomorrow.” As the teaching artist leading the students, I still have final authority. But in this way, rules are created that are fair to these particular students and sensitive to their needs.
I also find that after-school programs like to reward with candy or prizes, which is something I generally disagree with. I do on occasion award prizes for excellent work or exceptional behavior — but as I see it, logical consequences teach that the learning or creativity involved is it’s own reward. For example, a common way of navigating this that I use goes like this:
Teaching artist (to student): I saw that you weren’t sharing the props very much in the character game just now. Can you tell me why? [Note two things: there is no value judgement, and there is no delay between the student action and my response. When possible, I also take the student aside for this.]
Student: For my character, I wanted those three things.
TA: Do you remember the rules for this game? How many props does each person get?
Student: Just one. So I didn’t follow the rule.
TA: No, you didn’t. But I’m glad you really like the game. Do you think it would be fair if you didn’t play the next round so other people get to use those props?
This question-and answer process allows the student to come to their own understanding of why breaking the rule was a problem, and for us to agree together on a fair solution. If that student doesn’t think the logical consequence is fair, we try something else. As I last resort, I ask the student to follow the consequence (e.g. Can you sit out the next round?), and return to the class. In other words, I never divest myself of authority, I’m just willing to share it and have students learn from practicing their own autonomy. Furthermore, I never let one student’s action take my attention from other students for more than a couple of minutes.
One other thing worth noting. One of RC’s practices is “working with families.” Here, I find it is important to share with parents behaviors noticed. This can of course be something negative, “Johnny broke this rule, so that was his consequence. We already talked about it, but I thought you should know.” It’s important to remember that this can be something positive too, “Johnny was a great helper today, reminding everyone of some of our rules and the consequences if a rule is broken.” Working with families like this shows parents that I am another caring adult in their lives, and helps to make sure that the student has multiple positive messages from those adults about their development and maturity.
In my next post, I’ll talk about working with parents again, when after-school time reveals a new interest or talent for a student, and how RC processes can foster those discoveries.
Be sure to check out other posts in the series:
- Principles and Practices Reconsidered
- Morning Meeting after school
- Interactive Modeling and Positive Teacher Language
- Academic Choice, Guided Discovery, and the Arts
- Classroom Organization and Closing Circles