How We Make Sheridan Magic

Head of School Jessica Donovan speaks to the intentionality behind our students’ learning experiences and the use of Responsive Classroom.  

A parent recently said to me, “There’s some kind of magic that happens when you walk through the doors at Sheridan.” While I agree that the kind of joy and engagement we have at Sheridan does feel like magic, in reality, it is intentional work that is bringing that magic to life.

A big piece of our intentionality is our use of Responsive Classroom practices throughout the school. Over the last two years, I have set a priority that all classroom teachers have formal training in Responsive Classroom, the instructional method we use to address the social, emotional and learning needs of all of our students. Specifically, Responsive Classroom aligns with Sheridan’s core philosophy and helps us provide the engaging academics, effective classroom management, developmentally-responsive teaching, and positive community that are the “secret sauce” for enduring and enjoyable learning.

Tenets of Responsive Classroom

Responsive Classroom practices look different in different grades, but the basic tenets are the same — cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy, and self control all lead to academic competence. If the classroom environment is designed with these beliefs in mind, students are ready and able to learn. Just think back to your own education. Do you remember a teacher that you loved, a lesson that stuck with you beyond a test, or a time when you actually enjoyed working hard because the work felt meaningful? These are the kinds of experiences we work everyday to create for your children, and Responsive Classroom is a core part of the planning for these experiences.

At Sheridan, we know that culture, personality, and environment influence each child’s development. The drive to school may have been long and the child may feel tired, they may have fought with a parent or sibling right before leaving the car, they may be worried about a friend, pet, grandparent, or parent. As children get older, social dynamics, stress, perceived abilities and lack of abilities, and anxiety can all create blocks to learning. Our co-teaching and advisory system allows us the freedom to respond to individual needs, work with children and families, and incorporate coping strategies into the school day.

Practices align with developmental stages

Responsive Classroom guides our study of the stages of child development and we plan our work accordingly. While individual children develop at different rates, the key principles of child development remain constant. We can look at predictable developmental patterns to shape our instruction. For example, we know that third graders can get very excited about their work, but can tend to be impatient and sloppy. Consequently, we design activities to build their stamina around revising and introduce other activities that allow them to let their enthusiasm run free and not worry about neatness or revision. Additionally, we know that sixth graders like to argue and debate so we make sure there is room for this within the curriculum (sorry parents of 6th graders, they also like to argue and debate at home).

Teaching discipline

We understand that all students do better when they understand the rules of the classroom. Discipline needs to be taught as explicitly as math or reading, and when our students see their shared responsibility in the success of the community, they are more likely to follow rules and be prepared to learn. How we engage students in this work looks very different in first grade than it does in seventh, but the entire school is held to the same ideal. The collaborative creation of class rules or covenants which lead to the school-wide covenant is just one way that we hold students accountable to the whole learning community.

Responsive Classroom techniques look very different from what most of us remember about school. When I was a student, we listened to our teachers because we were told to and we didn’t want to get in trouble. Today, Sheridan teachers model what they expect from the students, thoughtfully plan lessons where the children can be successful, and build on mutual respect and common agreements to engage their students. Instead of calling out one student for behaving (which can cause negative classroom dynamics), we share our expectations for the class and expect the whole class to meet the expectation. We plan for movement within the lessons because we understand the developmental needs of our children. We model reflection by asking students why they think the lesson is important and what they learned. We connect the lessons to their lives and prior knowledge in order to scaffold their learning because we know this is how the learning will “stick.” It’s not Sheridan magic that makes students so excited to come to school and learn, it’s intentional, thoughtful teaching, and Responsive Classroom is an important part of that intentionality.

If you’d like to learn more about Responsive Classroom, I encourage you to browse their website here or chat with any of our teachers about their experiences.