What is a Responsive Educator?

The school year is underway! From the schools that I’ve been in this year and the administrators I’ve spoken with, it seems we are moving into a more consistent feel of “normal” than we have been in several years. My question to you is what are you seeing on your campus? Are students in engaged? Are teachers able to plan for aligned lessons? Is instruction scaffolded to bring struggling learners along? Are students being challenged? Do you hear academic language in the classrooms?

Are teachers glad to be there?

Are students glad to be there?

If you are reflecting on the first 6 weeks or so of this school year, and you’re not liking what you’re seeing, it’s time to get responsive and proactive. Now I know these terms can seem a little counterproductive to each other, but I want to take just a few minutes to clarify what it means to be a responsive educator.

Being a responsive educator simply means we take into account our students – their cultural, economic, and situational backgrounds – and then design instruction that moves all students towards academic success in the first teach. It’s a whole-child approach that is centered on building alliances with the students and their families, and then building a learning environment and instruction that meets the students where they are and moves them into where they need to be academically. It doesn’t “dumb down” material or expectations, but instead provides the supports and scaffolds needed to move the students into being independent learners – capable of problem solving and thinking at higher levels.

Imagine your students operating at this level!

The why

Now, we know that we inevitably have teachers who may ask why this is a need – why they can’t just teach the way they have always taught and put the sole ownership of learning on the students.

I think a good visual of the need for culturally responsive teaching is this – my kid is in 8th grade. He plays sports, attends church, goes on family vacations, has a set bedtime, is expected to read for 20 minutes on school vacations, has limited time on his phone, and has 3 meals a day. He has a friend in his class. We’ll call him J. J has moved apartments twice this year. He doesn’t live with his mom. He doesn’t know exactly where is his mom is. He stays up late playing video games and doesn’t have any books at home. His only set meals are the ones he gets at school. He is athletic, but has never played organized sports until middle school, so sometimes he struggles to be coached. He helps care for his younger siblings in the evenings. Both boys are 13 years old.

Both are sitting in the same ELA class. Both have the ability to have opinions, make predictions, recognize inferences and understand imagery. But if they are both taught in the same way, with the same texts, one will do well, and the other won’t. Enter responsive teaching.

Why is this so powerful?

Well, if you are new to me and our business, The Responsive Classroom, I have a book I’d be honored if you grabbed called, “Building a Bridge from “I Can’t” to “I DID!. In the book and book study, we take a deep dive into several important factors that go into being a responsive teacher. Now, I want to clarify something. The subtitle of the book is Creating Independent Learners through Culturally Responsive Teaching. The responsive teaching that we talk about now is still culturally responsive teaching – I just found that this phrasing caused confusion and was misrepresented, and so we dropped the term. However, culture is the lens through which we look at and process the world, so being responsive is absolutely being culturally responsive.

Why Responsive teaching works

Here are a few reasons why responsive teaching works:

1.) Teachers gain a better understanding of their students’ perspective when they understand their deep culture (collectivist or individualist), and move into an alliance.

2.) Teachers can design their first teach, or Tier 1, instruction based on the deep culture and background knowledge of their students.

3.) Teachers can identify their dependent learners and intentionally move them into being independent learners by providing language supports, environmental supports, scaffolds, systems, and alliances that move the students into independence.

4.) Teachers have high expectations but provide the scaffolds and language instruction in the first teach that are needed for students to move to the higher level.

5.) Teachers can create Tier 1 instruction that is relevant to their students.

6.) Teachers can respond appropriately and effectively to students who need redirection because they have an understanding of the behavior they may be seeing in class.

7.) Teachers can create instruction and environment that works with the brain by understanding how the brain operates.

These are just a handful of the reasons that being a responsive educator is the solution for moving students into success.

Planning for content and activities, doing instruction “the way we’ve always done it”, basing instruction on the teacher and not the students, having a teacher vs student mentality, and looking at all negative behavior as rebellion isn’t working. These practices only increase the academic gaps. They also increase teacher and student overwhelm, and keep the education system in the downward spiral it is currently in. Students deserve better, even when they are having a hard time.

Teachers work hard. Some of them need to be encouraged, inspired and reminded of why they are so important.

I love this Todd Whitaker quote:

The best thing about being a teacher is that it matters. The hardest thing about being a teacher is that it matters every day.

Benefits of Responsive Teaching

So in a nutshell, responsive teaching:

  1. focuses on the first teach (we cannot lean on re-teach or intervention to move students along),
  2. is a whole-student approach,
  3. is possible when teachers understand the different lenses and perspectives from which their students come from,
  4. is highly effective and is done in the planning of instruction, and
  5. provides a plan for struggling students but propels the on-level students forward as well through best practices.

Everyone wins. Teachers are working more effectively in planning and less in the classroom. Students are becoming independent. Alliances are built.

Resources for you

There are so many more reasons to move your classroom and/or your campus into responsiveness. We are here to help! To start, you can download our free Culturally Responsive Checklist and take inventory of your campus. How responsive are your educators? Where can you focus support? Click here or head to www.theresponsiveclassroom.org and download your checklist today.

You can also grab your copy of Building a Bridge from “I Can’t” to “I DID!” on Amazon, or email jenn@theresponsiveclassroom.org to get purchasing information for your campus. For a limited time, if you purchase 10 or more book and book studies, you’ll get free shipping!

And as always you can get all the information or set up a time to visit about PD for your campus at www.theresponsiveclassroom.org.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: