(January 21, 2015) Getting back into the swing of school routines and rules after winter break can be difficult for children who have enjoyed two weeks of relaxed rules, later bedtimes, homework-free evenings and play dates.


Crystal Davis and Kayla Suing, fifth grade and third grade teachers, respectively, at Orchard Ridge Elementary School, know this all too well. They begin the new year by revisiting behavior expectations taught back in September using Interactive Modeling.


MMSD teachers Crystal Davis and Kayla Suing

Teachers Crystal Davis and Kayla Suing


Interactive Modeling is a straightforward, quickly paced, seven-step process that's effective for teaching children any academic or social skill, routine or procedure that you want them to do in a specific way. With Interactive Modeling, students:
  • Learn exactly why the skill, routine or procedure is important to their learning and the respectful, smooth functioning of the classroom.
  • Are asked what they noticed about the teacher's modeling (rather than told by their teacher what to notice).
  • See a few classmates additionally model the routine or procedure after the teacher's initial modeling.
  • Practice the routine or procedure right away.
  • Receive immediate feedback and coaching from their teacher while they practice.
– Responsive Classroom (www.responsiveclassroom.org)

Interactive Modeling is a key component of Responsive Classroom, an approach to teaching that involves proactively showing children behavior expectations, believing that they can and will learn to do things the right way, given the tools and leadership.


Used throughout the district in elementary schools, Responsive Classroom is associated with greater teacher effectiveness, higher student achievement and improved school climate.


Modeling behavior expectations in the fall

Back in September, using Interactive Modeling, Davis and Suing first taught their new students expectations for routines like lining up, sharpening a pencil and throwing away trash, focusing especially on routines new to the grade level, such as locker or desk etiquette. Suing’s third grade students, using classroom iPads for the first time, were taught the proper way to retrieve and return the tablets from the cart.


“We pick the routines we want to go through a full interactive modeling process," Suing explains. "We discuss the expectation, then have a few kids try it. I’ll ask what they noticed about the way the students did it. Another group of kids will practice it again, and we’ll discuss what students noticed again. Finally, we’ll all practice it together.”


Kayla Suing and her students at morning meeting at MMSD's Orchard Ridge Elementary School

Don't wait for the new year to re-set

Kayla Suing notes that the process of "re-setting" in the new year went smoothly because she was expecting her students to need it. More challenging, she describes, is remembering that a lot of little re-sets should be happening throughout first semester.


"They are kids and they forget." – Kayla Suing


“We talk a lot about teacher expectations at the beginning of the year and winter break. But it’s the middle part that’s hard. They are kids and they forget,” she says, while also acknowledging that teachers have a lot to do. "But when I see a large percentage of my class getting out of their seats during reading, I know that I’m going to have to teach a whole lesson on it the next day.” Suing finds that this is a good time to reflect, Did I not teach that?


A window of opportunity

This year Suing noticed a pattern. The first or second day after re-teaching a behavior expectation “goes great,” she says. “The kids are all using a two-hand grip on the iPads. But the fourth or fifth day, you have to watch them so closely. If you can get them in that time frame and catch them slipping, you might not have to revisit it in another month.”


Positive Behavior Support Coach Julie Traxler at Orchard Ridge Elementary School in Madison Wisconsin

Positive Behavior Support

Julie Traxler, Positive Behavior Support (PBS) Coach at Orchard Ridge, supports teachers in their use of Interactive Modeling and other Responsive Classroom methods. Re-modeling, she points out, not only shows follow-through, but it’s also part of self-reflecting: “What can I do as the teacher? What’s my role in this? How am I enabling this behavior? It’s a dynamic.”


A former kindergarten and first grade teacher, Traxler also encourages teachers to look at the start of the new year as an opportunity to revisit not just rules, but also “hopes and dreams,” which are goals students set for themselves, including the steps they must take with behavior to meet them.


“It’s a new start, a chance to go through some of those rituals again,” Traxler says. “That concept of starting fresh is still felt by kids of all ages.”


Supporting teachers with professional development

Traxler also holds monthly, school-wide PBS professional development (PD). In one recent training, they explored the role classroom environment plays in supporting positive behavior, with teachers giving one another tours of their classrooms for feedback. “I can walk into a room and think, kids know what to do in this room,” Traxler says.


A recurring training theme is how to hold effective morning meetings. “Just like you revisit the same things with kids, we routinely come back to morning meeting,” she says, pointing out that even though it sometimes feels like it’s getting old, “It’s the most basic component of a functioning classroom. Having one and planning it as carefully as you would reading instruction are key.”

Responsive Classroom one-day workshops, being offered this spring, are a wonderful opportunity to introduce elementary school staff to Responsive Classroom content, or to allow staff to dig deeper into their skills. Learn more.


Crystal Davis' fifth grade class at Orchard Ridge Elementary School in Madison Wisconsin

Positive Behavior Supports super-user

Crystal Davis, a first-year MMSD educator who teaches fifth grade, found the professional development around Positive Behavior Supports very helpful.


“Even though I received the protocol on paper, it was totally new to me. It was so helpful to hear that this is how morning meeting is supposed to go, to participate in how an effective meeting should go,” she says.


Julie Traxler believes Davis' use of Interactive Modeling and other Responsive Classroom approaches is highly effective.“She has a signal for everything,” Traxler says, referring to visual or auditory cues like hand signals or rain sticks, tools for classroom management.


Crystal Davis' fifth grade class at Orchard Ridge Elementary School in Madison Wisconsin

Davis rattles her signals off: “One finger: I need to sharpen my pencil; two fingers: I need to use the bathroom; three fingers: I need a drink of water; hand over nose: I need a tissue. I don’t have to stop what I’m doing to say, ‘Yes?’”


"It’s knowing your kids so well and knowing that everyone’s in on the expectations so much that they can’t fake it." – Julie Traxler


Traxler tells Davis that she can tell that routines and expectations have been modeled again and again with her students. “I was in your room and you left your small group to go redirect some kids. An untrained eye might have thought that no one was off task. You knew they were off task, even though they didn’t look like it. It’s knowing your kids so well and knowing that everyone’s in on the expectations so much that they can’t fake it.”


It’s “very nuanced,” she continues, recounting an exercise in which Davis’ students were asked to give just one answer each. When one student broke protocol and gave two, the rest of the class, surprised, let out a discernible sigh of disappointment, but then quickly moved on.


Kayla Suing and her class behavior expectations

Re-committing to behavior expectations

One thing Crystal Davis' class did to re-set after winter break was return to their classroom expectations and make adjustments. For each one, she asked, “Do you think this is something we still hold as a top priority, or do we need to revisit or reword it?”


Kayla Suing’s third grade class re-visited their expectations, too, featured on a poster that every student had signed at the beginning of the year.


To re-commit, each student drew a star by their name. It was then that it occurred to Suing that a new student who had started mid-semester had never had behavior expectations modeled for him. It was a good reminder.

Worth the time

Teachers new to the district might be surprised at the amount of time dedicated to proactively teaching positive behavior. It is a shift, but one that is well worth the time and effort, Davis, Suing and Traxler agree. “What’s good for every kid is if every teacher is good at Interactive Modeling,” says Traxler. What might seem like minutiae turns out to be anything but. “I just modeled how to get a pencil," she says. "It’s not about the pencil, but it’s all about the pencil.”