Classroom as Community

September 30, 2019

With terms like “growth mindset,” “restorative justice,” and “positive behavior interventions and support” permeating schools across the country, educators continue to be dually tasked with adopting new approaches to classroom behavior management while also ensuring the growth of each individual.

At Green Chimneys, and through professional development workshops, staff keep current on the issues faced by children with special needs and acquire tools and techniques to assist in student healing and growth. Customized education and individualized treatment have long been part of the Green Chimneys tradition, as has providing an inclusive learning environment. Seeing how staff embrace these principles for the benefit of students is inspiring.

Green Chimneys School bulletin board displays the message, "This school is better because you are in it."

One such example is Melissa Massari’s second grade class. In partnership with teaching assistants Elaine Kushner and Gina Sweeney, Melissa sets out each September to build a team among her students. “Community begins in the classroom,” she explains. “We create a nurturing environment with clear expectations and respect for one another.”

Simple at Start

The classroom starts out bare at the beginning of the school year. Toys are stored out of sight. Few visuals are hung with the exception of class rules. Games that reinforce positive behavior are introduced to the class. Students come together every morning for a community meeting to “check in” and share feelings. As the team builds, so does the classroom environment. Desks are brought together in the shape of a circle. More games and tools fill the walls. Colorful toys remain on display.

Rewarding the Positive

As time passes, students are engaged and motivated to earn rewards for positive behavior. Melissa and the teaching assistants consistently address behaviors and choices. As a result, students know what to expect when poor decisions are made. They know the procedures and the consequences; and staff are there to help them. The best part: students often offer up a solution, too.

Celebrating Student Growth

“Last semester one of my students asked to meet with each classmate when he knew his recent behavior was preventing him from succeeding outside of the classroom. He wanted to explain his intentions to do well on an upcoming class trip and asked his peers for permission to join them for the trip,” explains Melissa. “It was his idea! And it’s because of the community we built together that students are taking ownership of their actions and proposing solutions on their own. It’s so awesome to see.”

“We’re helping children develop lifelong skills. When they feel safe and welcome to express their feelings, we’ve done our job,” says Toni DeMato, Clinical Coordinator for Green Chimneys School. “When children take ownership and self-identify as being a part of a team, are willing to collaborate, and feel empowered to solve problems collectively, then we have really succeeded.”

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