George Lucas Educational Foundation

Schools That Work | Practice

Mount Desert Elementary

Grades K-8 | Northeast Harbor, ME

Getting Students Ready for Learning

Responsive Classroom techniques, such as relationship-building morning meetings and engaging student-led activities, get students focused and ready to learn.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

How to Get Students Ready for Learning (Transcript)

Scott McFarland: Hi guys.

Scott: I was a student that probably could have fallen through the cracks pretty easily and I always vowed that if I was ever into education I was going to create a school in which all kids counted and that we did everything in our power for kids.

Scott: How are you?

Mom: Good how are you? Come on, kids!

Scott: Look at you go, Girl!

Mom: I know, we're workin' it!

Scott: There is no stopping you!

Scott: I just really believe that more than ever before we need to teach kids the skills of self-regulating their emotions. We know that they're going to benefit from dealing with social-emotional components. They're going to perform academically and they're going to perform very strongly.

Rebecca Heniser: The social-emotional learning allows me to be a teacher. The students are motivated to learn and to have that leadership role within the classroom to have that sense of community and a sense of family.

Rebecca: I would like someone to choose how we're going to transition from our desks to the rug. Emeris?

Emeris: Thumb walk.

Rebecca: Thumb walk? And can you tell the class your expectations?

Emeris: Quiet and don't talk.

Rebecca: One of the things that's crucial with a Responsive Classroom is allowing the kids to take the leadership role. They made a list of how they would like to transition from one activity to the next. Doing a thumb walk where they walk slowly and basically twiddle their thumbs.

Julian: The transitions make me feel relaxed and they help me calm down.

Rebecca: We are going to start morning meeting with what we did this weekend. I know a lot of you had some great stories to share so we will start with Jacob.

Jacob: I saw the ice boats just fly and that was really, really cool.

Elizabeth: When people share things I always get a little picture in my mind of what they're doing.

Rebecca: This is our family time. We come together as a family and from here we talk about any successes, accomplishments students have had, and it just sets us up for the day.

Rebecca: We are going to do yoga this morning and we are going to transition from the rug down to the forum. When you're ready you may start your stretch walk.

Rebecca: Usually every day try to do some type of yoga, whether it's just a couple of minutes a day or twice a week I do a full blown 40-minute yoga class.

Elizabeth: The yoga and the transitions, it's helping me also when I'm at home I'm also calming down more too.

Rebecca: This is something that I can't start my day without. Oftentimes with kids they don't realize that their body will tell them how they are feeling before their brain does. With yoga we get that out of them and it's a way for them to release all their energy, get them ripe for learning.

Rebecca: How do you think that doing yoga in the morning especially before writing is helping us?

Jacob: I feel much more relaxed and more focused.

Student: All the yoga that we do helps us do more writing time in the small amount of time we have.

Rebecca: The advice that I would give to a teacher about wanting to implement social-emotional learning into their classroom is that it's easy. It's easy and it's something that comes natural to all teachers. It's incorporating the movement, incorporating a voice for our students, incorporating that community, that sense of family.

Scott: Once you have a culture where staff are committed to kids, it spreads like wildfire. All of the things that we do have been teacher-initiated. I'm smart enough to know as the leader of my school is I'm not the expert. My teachers are the experts. A key mindset I think is for leaders of schools to feel empowered to give their teachers a license to do these types of things.

Get Video
Embed Code Embed Help

You are welcome to embed this video, download it for personal use, or use it in a presentation for a conference, class, workshop, or free online course, so long as a prominent credit or link back to Edutopia is included. If you'd like more detailed information about Edutopia's allowed usages, please see the Licenses section of our Terms of Use.

  • Director: Alyssa Fedele
  • Editor: Daniel Jarvis
  • Associate Producer: Douglas Keely
  • Camera: Mario Furloni
  • Sound: Douglas Keely
  • Graphic Design: Jenny Kolcun
  • Web Producer: Lora Ma Fukuda
  • Senior Manager of Video: Amy Erin Borovoy
  • Executive Producer: David Markus


Building Positive Relationships

At Mount Desert Elementary School, all K-3 classrooms use the Responsive Classroom approach, and many Mount Desert upper-grade teachers also employ this technique. Key elements include:

  • Every morning, the entire class comes together as a community to greet one another, share news, and warm up for the day ahead.
  • Teachers use positive words and tone to promote active learning, a sense of community, and self-discipline to achieve goals.
  • Teachers also carefully model expected behaviors.
  • To make learning active and engaging for students, and to promote autonomy, teachers provide students with structured choices in their activities. 

The Responsive Classroom approach is established at the beginning of the school year, when teachers and students work together to co-construct expectations for a positive learning environment and create rules that connect expectations to their learning goals.

How It's Done

Responsive Classroom Techniques

At the beginning of each school year, teachers and students collaborate on a list of the expected behaviors for that year along with rules that connect their expectations to their learning goals. The following tools support the Responsive Classroom model:

Effective Transitions

Students help decide how to transition from one learning activity to another without losing focus, for example, by using tools such as “hook ups” stretching exercises designed to increase blood flow to the brain (see Brain Gym at, yoga stretch walks, sun dances, step counting, or crab walks. This not only helps students to regulate their energy levels but also cuts down on time the teacher has to spend at the beginning of class to refocus the students. The transitions are not considered addendums but part of the actual learning activities that help students produce higher-quality academic work.

Morning Meetings

In their regular morning meetings, students are encouraged to share personal feelings and their profoundest thoughts with their classmates and teacher to build a culture of respect and to help them regulate their emotions and diminish their impulsivity. Every morning, the members of the class take time to sit in a circle and greet one another, share news, and check in with each student. Then the students perform a warm-up for the day.

Positive-Behavior Models

During the year, the teachers model positive language and tone to promote active learning and self-discipline. Teachers also carefully model the previously agreed upon expected behaviors to help the students practice regulating their own behaviors.

Logical Consequences

The use of logical consequences for behavior further helps to create a Responsive Classroom environment. When a student misbehaves, the teacher makes it clear to that student that it is the misbehavior that is the problem and not the student. As a consequence for misbehavior, the teacher helps the student find ways to fix or resolve the problem rather than simply scolding or handing out punishment.

Comments (3) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Tim Martinez's picture
Tim Martinez
4th grade teacher

I have found that supporting the autonomy of my students helps them to develop intrinsic motivation towards self monitoring their behavior. I have always done this rather instinctually, but after some research, I want to try to use it to have them promote their own academic progress. This video demonstrates what I would consider a whole child approach. You've presented a door to me and I'm going to pursue further research in bringing these techniques into my classroom.

I am Bullyproof -Lessia Bonn's picture

Doesn't it all boil down to respect? Respect for each other, respect for learning, respect for our bodies, our own inner compasses?

Somehow we seem to have lost a bit of all that respect in this brave new world. This video illustrates how easily we can bring that focus back a bit. YAY! What great news :-)

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Edcamper, Former @Edutopia, Founder of Social Media Marketing Consultancy aimed at helping educational orgs.

Lessia -

I had the pleasure of visiting this school and it was refreshing to see this school bring back respect to the forefront. I LOVED how respect was everywhere. Parents with teachers, teachers to teachers (working hand-in-hand), students with teachers, and principals with teachers. The principal in this school was someone that really stood out for me. He got that his job was to make the teachers job easier or as he put it "get out of the way so they can do what they're great at" and support them when they struggle.

It's an inspiring story that we hope will inspire others. Thanks for your comment.


Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.