Responsive Classroom

The Whole Child Wellness Team examined several anti-bullying programs in its’ comprehensive full year investigation.  While materials can be helpful in educating students about the harmful effects of bullying, the best and most comprehensive approaches were based on the systemic commitment to building strong communities and safe school environments for all.  Programs were examined based on selection criteria.  Responsive Classroom was selected for the Madison core program by unanimous selection from the committee.  Through a series of trainings (over several years for all staff members), the program is now adopted in all K-8 schools. 

Responsive Classroom


The Responsive Classroom approach is a way of teaching that emphasizes social, emotional, and academic growth in a strong and safe school community.  Responsive Classroom is one of the few programs with a strong research base in their approach to creating a culture of safe school communities.  The consistent language and the following components of the program were strengths in the selection criteria:

  1. Delivering Engaging Academics
    • Interactive Learning Structures
    • Small Group Learning
  2. Building Positive Classroom Community
    • Arrival and Welcome (Announcements)
    • Power of our Words
  3. Effectively Managing the Classroom
    • Interactive Modeling
    • Investing Students in the Rules
    • Logical Consequences
    • Problem-Solving Conferences
    • Space and Time
  4. Being Developmentally Responsive to Students
    • Brain Breaks

The Core Belief of Responsive Classroom is: In order to be successful in and out of school, students need to learn a set of social and emotional competencies—cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy, and self-control—and a set of academic competencies—academic mindset, perseverance, learning strategies, and academic behaviors.  The descriptions below offer greater insight into the development of these skills using a systemic approach. It is easy to see the relationship between the programmatic competencies and the SEARCH Institutes 40 Developmental Assets

Social & Emotional Competencies

Students’ ability to establish new relationships, maintain positive relationships and friendships, avoid social isolation, resolve conflicts, accept differences, be a contributing member of the classroom and school community, and work productively and collaboratively with others.
Students’ ability to take initiative, standup for their ideas without hurting or negating others, seek help, succeed at a challenging task, and recognize their individual self as separate from the circumstances or conditions they’re in.
Students’ ability to motivate themselves to take action and follow through on expectations; to define a problem, consider the consequences, and choose a positive solution.
Students’ ability to “see into” (recognize, understand) another’s state of mind and emotions and be receptive to new ideas and perspectives; to appreciate and value differences and diversity in others; to have concern for others’ welfare, even when it doesn’t benefit or may come as a cost to one’s self.
Students’ ability to recognize and regulate their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in order to be successful in the moment and remain on a successful trajectory.

Academic Competencies

Academic mindset:
Four self-perceptions influence a student’s academic mindset: 1) I belong in this academic community; 2) my effort improves my performance; 3) I can succeed at this work; and 4) I see the value in this work.
Perseverance is a student’s tendency to complete assignments in a timely and thorough manner and to the best of their ability, despite distractions, obstacles or level of challenge.
Learning Strategies:
Learning strategies are techniques, processes, and tactics a student uses to 1) learn, think, remember, and recall, 2) monitor their own comprehension and growth, 3) self-correct when they are confused or have an error in thinking, and 4) set and achieve goals and manage their time effectively.
Academic Behaviors:
Academic behaviors are the ways in which students conduct themselves that support their success in school, including such things as regular attendance, arriving ready to work, paying attention, participating in instructional activities and class discussions, and devoting out-of-school time to studying and completing assignments and projects.

Independent research has found that the Responsive Classroom approach is associated with higher academic achievement in math and reading, improved school climate, and higher-quality instruction. It has been described by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) as one of the most “well-designed evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) programs”.

The Responsive Classroom approach is one of only 23 programs included in Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs: Preschool and Elementary School Edition, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)’s guide to preschool and elementary programs that are “well-designed, evidence-based social and emotional learning programs with potential for broad dissemination to schools across the United States.”

CASEL is the United States’ leading organization advancing the teaching of academic, social, and emotional skills. The CASEL Guide draws on the organization’s work in social emotional learning (SEL) research and practice spanning nearly two decades.