What I Learned at a Responsive Classroom Workshop

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What I Learned at a Responsive Classroom Workshop

I’ve been a fan of Responsive Classroom strategies ever since a colleague recommended to me the fantastic book Teaching Children to Care. This past week I had the good fortune to attend a Responsive Classroom workshop. It was so inspiring to explore new ways of working with so many devoted educators.

Most of the other attendees were public school teachers – out of over 100 participants, I was the only Waldorf teacher. It was interesting to hear about the challenges and inspirations the other teachers face and I found that though our curricula and circumstances are different, our motivations are the same.

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The best thing about the workshop was that as we learned about the strategies, we participated in them, so we could really experience how effective they are at creating a supportive learning environment. Some of my big takeaways from this week …

Big Takeaways

  • Interactive Learning Structures – I learned so many different ways of grouping students and giving them discussion prompts and activities to explore together. I will definitely implement many of them in my lessons to mix up the social atmosphere.
  • Energizers – I have often found my toolkit a little lacking when it comes to giving my students little activities to let them stretch and move in the middle of a lesson. Though some of the activities we learned are more appropriate for younger students, there were plenty I can bring to the 8th graders next year.
  • Creating Rules – One of the best things about Responsive Classroom is the structure and format the approach outlines for involving students in the rule-making process. The process begins by guiding students through creating a list of their “hopes and dreams” for the year. I went through the process when my students were in fourth grade, and though I worried that they would find it a little beneath them, they actually received it really well. Their hopes for the year were touching and meaningful and I have no doubt the 8th graders will bring just as much meaning to the process this year.

I’m so inspired about it, I’m hoping to bring some of these strategies to my colleagues in our before-school meetings.

If you’re curious about how you can implement some Responsive Classroom strategies, I encourage you to check out some of their resources. Here are some places to get started.

Previous Posts

How Responsive Classroom Helps Waldorf Students Succeed
Direct Instruction

Websites

Responsive Classroom Official Site
Why Is Everyone So Nice Here (article on Edutopia)
Overview article on Teach.com
Responsive Classroom YouTube Channel
Responsive Classroom Practices Teach the Whole Child article

Books

The First Six Weeks of School – If you get just one book before school starts, make it this one.

Teaching Children to Care – My favorite all-time practical teaching book.

The Morning Meeting Book – Looking for a little more structure for your morning circle time? Or want some ideas for how to make it accessible for older students, too? This is a good one.

The Joyful Classroom – This one is full of energizers, interactive learning structures and all kinds of practical ways to make learning interesting and engaging for your students.

Have you ever used Responsive Classroom strategies in your classroom? I’d love to hear your experience in the comments.

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Free Curriculum Planning Video Series

How Responsive Classroom Helps Waldorf Students Succeed

responsive classroom waldorfI’ve written before about my enthusiasm for the Responsive Classroom approach. Some of my favorite, tried-and-true classroom management techniques and resources come from the Responsive Classroom series and I’ve recommended them so many times, I thought it’s about time that I gave an overview of the Responsive Classroom approach. (If you’re sold already and want a book, buy Teaching Children to Care, it’s the most thorough Responsive Classroom book out there.)

The Responsive Classroom website describes the approach as

Responsive Classroom is a research-based approach to K-8 teaching that focuses on the strong link between academic success and social-emotional learning (SEL). We believe that a high-quality education for every child is built on the foundation of a safe and joyful learning community. We provide professional development for elementary and middle schools worldwide.

You can see in this description how in-line with Waldorf ideals the Responsive Classroom approach is. Waldorf is all about creating a “safe and joyful” learning community, and Waldorf teachers are in a perfect position to create that environment because after spending years with their students, Waldorf teachers know and understand their them so well.

What Responsive Classroom has to contribute is a library full of resources providing teachers with examples of language to use, activities to explore and classroom rhythms and practices to implement.

Responsive Classroom in the Waldorf School

There are a few practices that are fundamental to Responsive Classroom that I have found invaluable and I think they translate really well to the Waldorf environment.

Morning Meeting

The idea behind Morning Meeting is that you use the first 20-30 minutes of the day to reconnect as a class and get ready for the day. This is exactly what we do in our morning circle at the Waldorf school, and the Responsive Classroom Morning Meeting resources can be incredibly useful in putting together a creative, diverse and engaging morning circle. The basic components of the Morning Meeting are:

  1. Greeting — In the Waldorf classroom this usually takes the form of a handshake and the morning roll call. Responsive Classroom resources offer fun ways to mix it up and allow students other ways to courteously greet one another.
  2. Sharing — This is a chance for children to bring something from their lives into the classroom. This sharing can be a story from home or a traditional show-and-tell time. I feel that Waldorf schools don’t do this enough. Let’s look for ways for children to bridge the gap between home and school in a simple morning activity.
  3. Group Activity — The traditional Waldorf circle time can take this position, but there are lots of other things that can serve this purpose, too. Games, dancing and jumprope are all examples of great group activities that bring students together, ready to begin the day.
  4. Morning Message — Students read and interact with a short message written on the chalkboard by the teacher. Often it is a reminder about something that is coming up, a peek into what will be happening that day or even just a question to ponder and discuss. After giving the students time to connect with one another, it is time for the teacher to guide and begin the day.

Establishing Rules

In The First Six Weeks of School, there is a fantastic section on how to work with students to build a set of rules and expectations for classroom behavior. The process guides the teacher through leading students to identify their “Wishes, Hopes and Dreams” for the coming school year and then building from that list to create a set of rules that are student-designed, so there is lots of buy-in.

Every year when I go through this process, my students astound me with their astute observations and great care for each other towards helping each other’s wishes, hopes and dreams come true. Even when I worried my students would find the process pedantic and uninteresting, they surprised me with genuine care for the learning environment we were creating together.

Teacher Language

I have grown so much as a teacher through the encouragement of the Responsive Classroom approach to be very conscious and intentional with my language. From the Responsive Classroom website:

In the Responsive Classroom approach, positive adult language is language that’s direct, brief, and focused clearly on specific actions that help children meet academic and behavior expectations and thrive as valued members of a learning community. The words are delivered in a tone that’s warm and friendly yet professional (no baby talk). The tone is also firm when needed but always kind and respectful (no sarcasm).

Some of the guidelines of the Responsive Classroom approach to language are:

  • Be direct and authentic.
  • Convey faith in children’s ability and intentions.
  • Focus on actions — what the child did, rather than who they are.
  • Keep it brief.
  • Know when to be silent.

These ideas are summarized in the Responsive Classroom book The Power of Our Words. I can’t emphasize enough how valuable this book is and how much it will change your teaching.

There are so many wonderful Waldorf resources out there, it is easy to overlook the great ideas that can be found in other educational approaches. I have found Waldorf classroom management resources to be a bit lacking and I have been grateful for Responsive Classroom and other non-Waldorf resources.

For a more thorough overview of the principles and practices of the Responsive Classroom approach, check out this website.

Related posts:

Being a stickler
Waldorf Classroom Management
Waldorf Teacher Tips for End of the Year Survival

Waldorf Education Planning Resources You’ll Use Every Year

If you’re just getting started building your Waldorf resource library, you may be wondering which books will make the worthiest investment. What are the books Waldorf teachers turn to again and again? Well here’s a list of my favorite perennial Waldorf resources.

These are the books that teachers pull off their shelves and consult every year as a refresher. The content is not specific to a particular grade, but instead these books give teachers the large view picture — the wide angle view of Waldorf curriculum, child development and classroom management. They’re definitely worth the investment.

Waldorf Education Planning Resources

The Tasks and Content of the Steiner-Waldorf Curriculum by Kevin Avison and Martyn Rawson is my number one go-to resource when I begin planning the year. Then I turn to it again as I prepare each block. This book does such a fantastic job of outlining the curriculum — both vertically and horizontally — so it is really clear how all of the pieces of the curriculum fit together. There is also additional content that gives the authors’ thoughts about evaluation and assessment, classroom management and an overview of the Waldorf perspective of child development. It’s expensive, but if you buy just one book, make this one it.

School as a Journey by Torin Finser is another fantastic resource I always read during the summer before each year. This book tells the story of the author and his journey through the grades with his students. Through his real-world experience he does a great job of giving a picture of the curriculum and child development considerations for each year. I like this book so much that some years I have photocopied the chapter for the current grade and given it to parents to read.

 
I’m not one to usually recommend reading a lot of heavy Steiner to prepare for the school year, but The Kingdom of Childhood by Rudolf Steiner is a highly accessible read that is a good place to turn for some back-to-basics inspiration. Don’t be intimidated that it’s Steiner — you’ll enjoy it.

 

Teaching Children to Care by Ruth Sidney Charney is not a Waldorf resource at all, but it is my all time favorite book for inspiration about creating a positive, healthy, caring social atmosphere in the classroom. This book is super-practical, but also full of big guiding ideas. This was the first book I read in the Responsive Classroom series, and I can’t recommend it (and the rest of the series) enough. Another favorite in this series that would be particularly useful to read if you are about to start with a new class of students is The First Six Weeks of School.

 

Finally, one last book that I love for planning and general inspiration is A Handbook for Steiner-Waldorf Class Teachers by Kevin Avison. This one is not so much your traditional resource book for sitting down and reading through, but it is a book full of lists and charts that can be really useful to main lesson teachers. My favorite resource? The list of recall activity ideas — that alone is worth the price of the book.

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Waldorf Summer Reading

Waldorf Summer Reading

waldorf-summer-reading

I don’t know about you, but I can’t get my mind out of the SUMMER! Which for me means

Waldorf Summer Reading!

Of course, one of the things I look forward to most about the summer is having all kinds of time to read. I’m working on my summer reading list, in addition to finding ways to inspire my students to read.

If you’re looking for summer reading suggestions for your students, the best website I can suggest is the San Francisco Waldorf School Library website. There are lists of books for each grade, as well as books per subject. I gave my students a reading list from this site last summer, and then asked them to send me a postcard about a book they had read (of course, I replied to them.)

When it comes to teacher reading, I’m looking to create a nice balance of trashy novels, inspiring biographies and teacherly reading.

  • For the trashy stuff, I tend to hit the Young Adult section at the library. I look for the covers I’ve seen in my classroom — post-apocalyptic teen hero, vampire romance and high school drama novels have made my reading list lately.
  • Our family is planning a big summer roadtrip to California this year, and those Sierra mountains always remind me of John Muir. There is something about this man I just love. I always spend a couple of days talking about him in the 5th grade Botany block. I’ve used John Muir: My Life With Nature as a reader, but I’ve never spent much time with his writing for adults. There are so many selections to choose from, that it’s hard to decide what to read myself, but I think I’m going with his Wilderness Essays. And though I usually make good use of my local library, I think I’ll be purchasing this little gem.Responsive Classroom series and if you haven’t read The First Six Weeks of School, you should definitely pick it up before school starts. Heading into 8th grade, though, I think I’ll take a look at their Middle School Motivators: 22 Interactive Learning Structures.

 

However you decide to structure your summer reading, I hope you make the most of it and enjoy some of it out in the summer sun!

What are you planning on reading this summer? Give us your ideas in the comments!

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Writing and Journaling for the Waldorf Teacher

Waldorf Teacher Tips for End of the Year Survival

waldorf teacher tips

I know that many schools across the country have already celebrated their last day, but here in Portland we’ve still got 3 weeks left (actually, it’s 13 days, according to the second graders.)

So, how do you make it through when you’re busier than ever (have you started your reports yet?), your kids are antsier than ever and all of you are counting down the days (like the second graders)?

Here are my Waldorf Teacher Tips for surviving the end of the school year.

  1. Overplan.

This is no time to ease up and ride the wave of student energy. They still need structure, rhythm and routine and the most effective way to provide them with that order is through captivating content. I’ve never been a fan of talking over students and insisting on quiet before I start speaking to the class, but the end of the year is one time when I start to loosen up on that expectation a bit. I know that if I launch into some fascinating story they’ll all settle right down and listen. (Read this post for more of my opinions about classroom management.)

The point? Keep them busy, engaged and working for as long as possible.

2. Reflect.

Take some time with your students to reflect on the school year. You can do this by informally remembering experiences, stories and lessons, or you can make an assignment out of it.  Some ideas?

  • Have your students look back through their main lesson books and have them each choose a page to recreate and put together a class main lesson book that summarizes the year.
  • Launch a class newsletter project where students write funny stories and experiences from the year. Put their stories together in newsletter form and make a copy as a gift for every student at the end of the year.
  • Start an annual self-portrait tradition. Every year have your students draw a picture of themselves and collect them all to keep and look through at 8th grade graduation.

3. Projects.

There is something about warm, sunny weather that just makes academic work difficult. Go with the flow and make those last few weeks all about hands-on projects. Cover the content you want to cover, but make your daily review active, fun and project oriented. Things you could make?

  • End of year gifts for the subject teachers, parents or each other.
  • Cooking projects.
  • A gift for the rising class behind you.
  • Bookmarks for their summer reading.

Search Pinterest for more ideas.

4. Outside time.

waldorf teacher tips end of year

It’s beautiful out. Don’t resist the call to get outside. Hopefully you’ve planned your blocks so that you’re teaching a block that pulls you outside anyway. Botany, geography, mineralogy — these are all great topics to explore in the spring or the fall, so don’t be afraid to take your lessons outside when you can. If the block you’re in doesn’t lend itself to outdoor lessons, look for ways to get out anyway. Extend your morning warm-up a few minutes. Do bookwork outside. Look for those chances and take them.

5. Celebrate.

You’ve got to have an end-of-year party or activity of some sort. My class has a tradition of having a surprise field trip during the last week of school. They don’t know where we are going or what we are doing, but they know it’s going to be fun. One year we walked down to the waterfront and rented surreys (those big 4 person bicycles). Another year we walked to the bowling alley. Each one of these trips has been one of the most memorable, class-bonding experiences we’ve ever had.

It’s been a long, productive year — make sure you take some time with your class to acknowledge it.

How do you make it through the last few weeks of the school year? Leave your Waldorf teacher tips in the comments.

Related posts:

How Responsive Classroom Helps Waldorf Students Succeed
How to Plan a Physics Lesson | Waldorf 8th Grade Physics
The Waldorf Morning Warm-Up | The First Part of Main Lesson | AWJ #21

Pinterest for Waldorf Teachers

waldorf-teachers-guide-to-pinterest

Pinterest for Waldorf Teachers

Okay, so I know that your Waldorf teacher training instructors would never advise you to check Pinterest for your lesson ideas, but today’s modern Waldorf teachers know that there is a wealth of information on Pinterest for Waldorf teachers and you’d be crazy to not take advantage of it!

There’s a method to the madness on Pinterest, though, and if you approach it with your Waldorf teacher savvy smarts, you’ll be able to make the most of a fantastic resource. So, here are my 7 steps to making Pinterest work for your Waldorf teacher self.

  1. Use it to save ideas.

We Waldorf teachers are in the unique situation of preparing for a new curriculum every year. It’s one of the things that makes our job so difficult . . . er . . . refreshing. But, knowing that you will eventually need to prepare for grade six (and seven, and eight) means that you can start the preparation now. Go ahead and right after you sign up create a board for each grade. That’s right, 8 boards right off the bat. That way when you see that awesome chalkboard drawing for the 7th grade Age of Exploration block, you can pin it and have ready to go when the time comes. And while you’re at it, create a separate “chalkboard drawing” board, too. You (and all of the people who end up following your board) will be glad you did.

2. Choose other people’s boards to follow.

The other thing to do right after you sign up (after you create those boards of course — have you done it yet?) is to start following some people’s boards. There are plenty of Waldorf Pinterest Power-Users and they’ve got lots of boards with lots of images just waiting for you to follow and repin. Some of my favorites?

And now that the shameless self-promotion segment of this post is over, here are some other fantastic people and boards. (These people have so much more content going on Pinterest than I do. You should really follow them first.)

3. Find your next chalkboard drawing.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever consulted Google images to find your next chalkboard drawing. (Hand in the air over here!) Well, imagine a search engine like Google except that it is entirely image-based. Every single thing that is on Pinterest is an image. It is a visual medium that is meant to recreate a bulletin board of all of your favorite things. But then, you get to see everyone else’s bulletin board full of favorite things and then put them on your bulletin board of favorite things! And then, more people get to see your bulletin board of fav . . .

I digress. The point is — Pinterest is extremely visual. When you’re looking for inspiration to create something in a visual medium (like chalkboard drawing) Pinterest is basically the best search engine you could find. Go ahead. Type “waldorf chalkboard drawing” in the search bar on Pinterest. How much do you wanna bet you find something that makes you want to pick up your chalk and head to your board right away?

Well, okay, maybe not right away. But I bet it will at least make you want to pin it and save it for later. See how this thing works?

4. Expand your search beyond the Waldorf world.

Because, well, the world is not made of Waldorf teachers. But Pinterest is full of all kinds of teachers. Pinterest is for Waldorf teachers, but it’s for other kinds of teachers, too. I’ve found so many fantastic classroom management ideas that I really need to create a whole board for it. You might even want to create a board for every subject you teach. I’ve found fantastic reading program ideas, team-building exercises and motivational feedback suggestions.

5. Keep an eye on your feed.

Every time you repin something, follow a board, search for something or follow a user, Pinterest adds that little piece of information to their algorithm to determine what you’re going to want to look at next. All of that information comes together to create your home feed. My home feed is remarkably accurate at determining what I want to look at. Sometimes it even predicts my next great idea, hobby, interest, obsession. That home feed is pretty darn good and worth your eyeballs’ attention every now and then.

6. Pin your own stuff to document for next time.

So, I know it can be the last time-consuming straw on the camel’s back, but I hope that you’re doing something to document your work. I’m so grateful for my iPhone because it means that at least remembering to take a photo of my chalkboard is pretty easy for me to do. I also remember to take photos of student work every now and then, but deciding what to do with those images so they’re ready when I want them is another thing entirely. I try to use this blog as a chronicle of my journey, but we all know that my posts can be called intermittent at best. But if a blog sounds like a good idea for you, hit me up and I’d be happy to help you get started.

But, if a blog feels like more than you want to mess with, you can post your photos to your Flickr account. You can organize them there, but if you get yourself in the habit of checking Pinterest before every block to see what you’ve saved, it would be a fantastic idea to pin those Flickr photos onto your Pinterest boards. They’ll be there for you later, but they’ll also be there for other teachers looking for inspiration.

7. Find all kinds of DIY crafts and projects.

Pinterest is the DIYer’s dream. If Mod Podge, decoupage and hot glue guns are your thing, Pinterest is the place for you. I’m not so crafty, myself, so when it comes to finding crafty things to do with my students, I turn to Pinterest. You can find your typical handprint = Thanksgiving turkey, Kleenex = Halloween ghosts and tissue paper collages but there are also much better projects to be found. (Though once I brought a googly eyes/construction paper/Elmer’s glue Pinterest project to my students and they loved it. They’re still talking about it 3 years later.)

So, if you haven’t done it already, go and set up thyself a Pinterest account and get pinning.

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