I was concerned that my new 6th graders were going to start out divided, based
on the various elementary feeder schools they came from, the divisions between
townships, and the socio-economic divisions that are so apparent in our school
community. But because my school’s teachers worked as a team to develop a
community-building Circle of Power and Respect (CPR)—a daily meeting with
greetings, interesting sharing conversations, and high-energy
activities—students have gelled into a cohesive and supportive community,
leaving the divisions that characterize the community at large far behind.
are some of my reflections on the impact of our work.
All in this
I’ve noticed in our advisory that no one is consciously
excluded. When implemented properly, CPR makes it hard to exclude anyone.
Greetings, shares, and games are for everyone. The circle itself is also
conducive to inclusion. No one can hide off to the side or in a corner, as they
can with the traditional classroom arrangement of desks in rows. And since we’re
all seated in chairs, everyone, including the leader, is at the same
Improved teacher-student relationships
greetings, playing games, and asking and responding to questions during CPR have
helped students feel more comfortable around me. Consequently, our
teacher-student relationships are much better. This improvement has spilled over
into academics as well. Whereas previously student may have floundered rather
than ask questions for clarification, they now request my assistance with
confidence. Also, in the interactive portion of the daily news chart or during
sharing, I’ve taken mental notes of some of the responses. Having a few tidbits
of information about the students has helped me draw out our more quiet
Helping those who need help most
Benjamin began the
year as a shy, defensive, and withdrawn young man. He had been diagnosed as
emotionally disturbed, and there was a history of abuse in his home. On the
first day of school, he wore a hooded sweatshirt. The hood was pulled up over
his head so we couldn’t see his face. He sat slumped at the edge of our circle
like a turtle withdrawn into its shell. In our advisory, Benjamin rarely
participated, never smiled, and seldom made eye contact with anyone. During the
first month, Benjamin’s behavior didn’t improve. Gradually, however, he began to
emerge from his shell. Our advisory’s daily greetings and consistent routines
offered him a safe environment, conducive to his establishing trust, perhaps for
the first time, with adults. Slowly, his body language changed; sometimes he
would swing into class with a twinkle in his eye and joke with me. Finally, the
hood disappeared. He participated in the greetings, shares, and games of CPR. He
opened up to our student teacher and completed a personal learning plan with
her. I felt a quiet leap of joy when Benjamin volunteered to raise and lower the
flag, one of the responsibilities of the 6th grade advisory.
Developmental Designs strategies have been particularly
successful with students like Benjamin, who come from homes where violence,
fear, and neglect prevail. Benjamin’s ability to build positive connections with
peers and adults and develop self-confidence has been an important factor in his
Since I’ve employed Developmental Designs practices, I’ve been more confident as a
teacher and have felt a higher degree of engagement and responsiveness from my
students. They understand and respect my expectations during CPR, and I’ve
noticed students starting to gently and respectfully regulate each other, thus
taking on some responsibility for their learning environment.
Fisher teaches social studies to 6th-8th graders at Rivendell Middle School in
Orford, New Hampshire.
Published January 2011
Is your advisory the best it can be?