Teachers say a new philosophy has transformed Higley’s Gateway Pointe Elementary School.
Students show more respect toward one another. Teachers assign more high-level assignments.
In the lower grades “we see less discipline or behavior management issues, less inner class bickering, and we see more teamwork and camaraderie in classrooms,” said assistant principal Liz Wolf. “And because of that, their academics are able to really fly.”
The Gateway Pointe staff attribute the improvements to “Responsive Classroom” — a philosophy Wolf, as a teacher on assignment, brought to the school last year to help teachers struggling with classroom management.
Responsive Classroom combines social and academic learning, allowing teachers to teach the “whole child.”
Wolf used it for five years as a teacher, and in the past year, it has caught on at Gateway Pointe where more than 60 percent of teachers are now using it.
Allison Parsons, a seventh-grade math teacher, said she was skeptical of how the approach would work with middle schoolers.
“I thought, ‘You expect me to sit in a circle and sing Kumbaya?’” she said.
But she gave it a chance, and her students have responded.
“It creates an environment that kids are comfortable in,” Parsons said. “They know each other on a different level. ... They each bring a different set of gifts to the classroom.”
For 10 minutes each morning, Parsons’ homeroom students interact with each other in a “warm, comforting environment” called CPR — the “Circle of Power and Respect.” Elementary teachers refer to it as the Morning Meeting.
There are four components: greeting, a group activity, sharing and announcements.
One morning this week, with her students standing in a circle, Parsons tossed each one a beanbag, and said good morning, addressing them by name. The students continued tossing the beanbag, until each person had been greeted.
Then she taught the students a new game called “The Hitchhiker,” in which they sat in four chairs in the center of the circle, and each time a hitchhiker got in, everyone else in the car had to take on that person’s character — such as a valley girl or a surfer.
“It allows them a safe environment to take risks,” Parsons said. “It’s OK to be a little goofy, have fun and not be criticized for taking a risk.”
Wolf said the difference in the campus culture from last year to this year has been “monumental.”
“(Students) are clear about their responsibilities and expectations, because we’ve gotten to know them ... and they respond to that,” she said.