We Know Our Students at McAlister

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Administrators, teachers, and staff at McAlister Intermediate School have been working hard to live and breathe the Suffield Public School District’s mantra this year of “Know Your Students.” My colleagues and I are inspired by the Responsive Classroom philosophy and how many opportunities it provides us with creating a classroom community and getting to know our students. Every single day students are greeted as they enter our classrooms, participate in a community building morning meeting to set the tone for the day, and are provided closure and reflection during Closing Circle at the end of the day. Even specialists and service providers join classrooms for Morning Meeting daily in an effort to connect with the students within our school, even if they don’t have the privilege of working directly with them.

Once a month certified staff is participating in a faculty meeting utilizing the Morning Meeting model to help build our own professional community and to improve our school climate by supporting the idea that “it takes a village” and we are all in this together. Various staff members take turns leading this Morning Meeting and sharing ideas that can be immediately implemented in our classrooms.

Staff members K-12 were invited to participate in a book club facilitated by our Director of Special Services Natalie Donais and high school psychologist Kelli Conroy focusing on the book, Lost in School by Dr. Ross Greene. This book follows the journey of a teacher as she starts to open her eyes and understand Dr. Greene’s philosophy of “children will behave if they can.” The book shares a research-based approach to learning the “reason why” behind a behavior and the concept that collaboration and connecting with students in problem-solving conferences is key in helping a student succeed. Many of us who participated in this book club implemented these strategies almost immediately and have found great success. The following quote resonated with those of us who participated in the book club:

“The reality is that well-behaved students aren’t behaving themselves because of the school discipline program. They’re behaving themselves because they have the skills to handle life’s challenges in an adaptive fashion.”

Ross W. Greene, Lost at School: Why Our Kids with Behavioral Challenges are Falling Through the Cracks and How We Can Help Them

Teachers at A. Ward Spaulding and McAlister were invited to an additional book club focusing on the book Sammy and His Behavior Problems by Caltha Crowe, a Responsive Classroom Consultant. Ms. Crowe’s “never quit” efforts to help Sammy gain control of his behavior so he and his classmates can learn are inspirational and relatable. Ms. Crowe taught us that the relationship and perseverance that she had with Sammy were instrumental to his success.

In October 2017, 11 teachers and administrators from both Spaulding and McAlister participated in the Responsive Classroom, “Responding to Misbehavior” Conference. Here teachers dove into eight areas of misbehavior, the factors that can cause those behaviors and how to address them with students and parents. Staff at McAlister who attended this conference led a faculty meeting focused on the areas that staff determined were areas of interest. Those areas were: Defiance, Listening and Attention Challenges, and Frustrations and Meltdowns. At this faculty meeting, the teachers became experts in one of these focus areas and shared their findings with colleagues. The team of teachers led by Mrs. Carpenter-Snow and Mr. Ferraro who attended this conference continue to meet monthly in an effort to plan and continue the momentum of Responsive Classroom.

The underlying theme of each of these efforts is how important it is for teachers to “know their students.” Our work together at McAlister has only begun, however, more than ever, the staff at McAlister is taking time out of their day to enjoy social lunches with students, facilitating groups such as a “Comic Group” and a “Newspaper Group,” providing opportunities to showcase student talents and interests, and getting to know students on a deeper level. Specialists, support staff, classroom teachers, and administrators at McAlister are making connections with students and are living proof that the philosophy of Dr. Green, Ms. Crowe, and many others is in fact, true. To quote Ms. Caltha Crowe, “There is one final most-important practice: forming a strong student-teacher relationship. The bedrock of my work with Sammy was our relationship… We didn’t achieve impossible perfection, but Sammy grew as a student and as a group member. He’ll go on to fourth grade, and another teacher will help him continue to grow. My other students grew as well, each of them in their own way. We cared about each other. We were a community of learners.”

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