“Walk, please.” “Set a leadership example.” “Make an intelligent choice to walk instead of run down the hallway.” These are Responsive Classroom phrases I use in order to encourage safe school-wide behavior. The two students slow down, smile and say “Hi Ms. Robyne” as they pass by. I work as a counselor and dance/movement therapist at a Washington, DC public charter school. The school serves both special and general education K-8th grade students. In many of my sessions, I receive honest, humbling answers to everyday questions. For example, I casually ask a fifth grade girl (whose shirt has not been washed for days), “How is your Mom?” She turns her head away and responds softly, “Ms. Robyne, my Mom stays in bed all day.” I mention to a lethargic fourth grade student, “What did you have for dinner?” Her barely audible answer is “We don’t have enough food in the house.” I asked three sixth grade boys in a counseling session to identify male role models in their home life. They laugh and say “I don’t have any male role models at home.” When encouraging a seventh grader to think of times that she has been successful, she shrugs her shoulders and states “I haven’t had any.”
Clearly, one counselor cannot meet all of these students’ needs in one half hour or hour-long weekly counseling session. Fortunately, the students are surrounded by a caring staff of teachers and school administrators who provide a nurturing environment while teaching academics. The staff has been trained in the Responsive Classroom and PBIS approach. Responsive Classroom encourages self-reflection of students’ academic and behavioral choices, modeling classroom expectations and utilizing positive behavioral intervention supports (PBIS).
Implementing this progressive national program to promote a positive school-wide culture has begun to fill the gaps lacking in the social-emotional aspects of the students’ lives. In the above example, the students did not get in trouble for running down the hall. They heard a positive reminder from a caring adult and responded appropriately to the situation. All too often, students react to the negative cues in their environment with verbal or physical aggression. The goal of Responsive Classroom is highly compatible with the counseling profession. It is to build a foundation of success rather than one of failure. To learn more about Responsive Classroom and PBIS, go to the following websites: www.responsiveclassroom.com and www.pbis.org.
I appreciate the opportunity to share my work experience in the ACA blog. If you are employed in a similar setting, it would be valuable to hear both your struggles and triumphs. It is my hope that counselors who work with inner-city youth will feel more empowered and less isolated when reading our stories.
Robyne Stone-Davis is a counselor and a Dance-Movement Therapist. She currently works as a counselor at an elementary charter school for the arts in Washington, D.C.