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«Kendall Dawn Koontz A Thesis Submitted to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington in Partial Fulfillment Of the Requirements for the Degree of ...»

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Kendall Dawn Koontz

A Thesis Submitted to the

University of North Carolina at Wilmington in Partial Fulfillment

Of the Requirements for the Degree of

Master of Education

Watson School of Education

University of North Carolina at Wilmington


Approved by

Advisory Committee

______________________________ ______________________________


Accepted by ______________________________

Dean, Graduate School










Anticipated Outcomes




Responsive Classroom Approach

Foundational Theorists

Minor Theorists

Previous Research

Responsive Classroom Principals and Strategies

Morning Meeting

Rules and Logical Consequences

Classroom Organization

Academic Choice

Guided Discovery

–  –  –

Creating Community

Modeling Appropriate Behavior


Freedom of Choice



K.T. Murphy Demographics

Data Collection





Document Analysis




Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

–  –  –

Responsive Classroom (RC) approach to teaching is a specific type of character education program that incorporates a social curriculum. While many character education programs are “tagged onto” traditional academic curricula, RC places equal emphasis on enhancing social skills and enhancing academic skills. Responsive Classroom approach aims to teach children important values such as treating others with respect and care, taking responsibility for one’s own actions, and self-control. With high percentages of divorce and broken homes, crime rates on the rise, bullying, school shootings, and other social catastrophes taking place daily, proponents of the RC approach suggests that RC curricula offers teachers and administrators the opportunity to impact young lives by embracing the role of social educator.

This study aimed to describe and better understand the Responsive Classroom approach at a public elementary school in Connecticut. The overarching question that guided the research was: Does the RC approach promote caring and respectful behaviors among children? Through interviews, observations, and document analysis findings suggest that the social skills of children at that particular school exemplified caring and respectful behaviors. Implications of this study propose that the Responsive Classroom approach has a positive impact on the social skills and behaviors of students in RC schools.

–  –  –

I would first like to thank my thesis chairperson, Dr. Nancy Hoffmann, for all of her guidance and the time she spent with me during this process. She was truly a godsend with her patience and understanding during our meetings. I would also like to thank Dr. Edna Collins and Claudia Besmer for serving on my thesis committee and all of the time and effort they put forth towards this investigation.

Thank you to Sandy Smith for working so closely with me and being my connection at K.T. Murphy. I could not have asked for a more gracious and welcoming person to connect with. I also would like to thank Michelle Sabia for opening up her home to me while I was in Connecticut. Not only did it save me a ton of money in hotel fees!!!, it also helped me to feel a part of the everyday life of someone who works at K.T.

Murphy and observe firsthand the love and effort they put into making each school day run smoothly for the children.

A special thank you to all of my friends and family that sent prayers my way this entire past year. Your encouragement and strength (and coffee!) helped keep me focused and motivated during times of frustration and exhaustion. I love you all!

–  –  –

This thesis is dedicated to all of the teachers and administrators who believe that they can make a difference in the world by starting with the life of one child.

It is also dedicated to Heath Newton, who always looks past my façade to see the real me, and endlessly supports me no matter what direction life takes me in. I cannot express how much that means to me.

–  –  –

1. Kohlberg’s Three-Level Cognitive Development Theory Of Moral


2. Informal Observation Data Analysis

–  –  –

1. Responsive Classroom Mindset of Interviewees

2. Effect of Responsive Classroom Approach on Academics

3. Effect of Responsive Approach on Caring and Respectful Behaviors (CRB)............47

4. Effect of Responsive Classroom on Discipline

–  –  –

With today’s society becoming “increasingly more lawless, violent, undisciplined, and permissive” and with teenage drug use increasing, the use of manners decreasing, and violent crime on the rise, the need for character education in school classrooms is imperative (Straughan, 1982, 1). Creating classrooms that teach character education is equal to the hope of creating environments where negative behaviors are less likely to thrive. Supporters of character education feel that classrooms that encompass the values of caring, honesty, and respect (or similar values as such) are safe places for children to grow and develop into citizens. These environments stress what character education allies believe is important above all; heart (“The Role of Character Education”, 2000).

Children are born with an innate sense to care about others, known as global empathy.

Newborns will respond to the cry of another infant by crying themselves. If this quality is nurtured it will grow and bloom rather than diminish (Clark, 1999). Responsive Classroom (RC) is an approach that works to teach children positive social behaviors such as respecting and caring for others, taking responsibility for your own actions, and acquiring self-control (R. Lemons-Matney, personal communication, January 2003).

Definition Character education is a broad term that can be viewed from different perspectives. The word “character” in the English language is derived from the Greek word “charassein”, meaning, “to engrave” as if to engrave on a slate. From this classification, character became known as “a distinctive mark or sign”. Today’s definition of character as “an individual’s distinctive pattern of behavior” developed from these earlier definitions (Ryan and Bohlin, 1998, 5). The word “education” defined is widely simplified as being “the instruction of unknown subject matter”. To use these words in conjunction, character education, can be defined as “the teaching of a pattern of behavior”( www.dictionary.com).

Character education can become confusing to some people because of how it is defined in different ways by people. The character education approach that I am investigating for the purpose of this study, Responsive Classroom, considers that the key patterns of behavior that are appropriately labeled under the title of character education are: developing a respect for the people around you; taking responsibility for your own actions; and learning self-control (R. Lemons-Matney, personal communication, January 2003).

Character education and moral education have identical meanings to most people, but clarification of their exact definitions is regularly needed. Moral education, and the word moral, is often associated with religion. If a person’s morals are based on their religion then their education becomes religiously associated. It is true that having strong morals and being a moral person is a foundation of many religions. However, “moral education” most often refers to “Teaching or exhibiting goodness or correctness of character and behavior” (www.dictionary.com). For the purpose of this study the phrases “character education” and “moral education” can be used interchangeably because, in this case study, neither word carries religious undertones.

Purpose The overarching question that will guide my research is: How does Responsive Classroom usage at K.T. Murphy Elementary School affect “caring and respectful behaviors (CRB)” between children? To clarify, “caring and respectful behaviors (CRB)” in this study will be defined as “any behavior that shows concern, empathy, or kindness towards another person”. The word “kind” is defined as “of a friendly, generous, or warm-hearted nature” (www.dictionary.com). Some examples of actions I will be looking for could be using manners such as saying “thank you”, holding the door open for someone, acts of sharing, physical gestures of hugging or patting, or speaking a kind word. The purpose of this study is to explore the usage of Responsive Classroom at one particular school and it’s effect on positive interactions, specifically CRB, between students. RC is an approach to teaching that puts momentous focus on positive interactions between students; therefore, this study will help to prove its effectiveness.

The following secondary questions will contribute to my study: Does RC benefit the child socially? How does RC affect a child’s intrinsic motivation? Does the attitude of the staff pertaining to RC have an effect on the children? Have overall discipline referrals lowered at K.T. Murphy? How do the children benefit from the use of RC?

How do children in K.T. Murphy classrooms treat one another as well as the staff? Is student interest in academic learning high? Do parents extend the use of RC discipline techniques at home? How does RC affect teacher motivation, cohesiveness, and interdependency? Does the staff model “caring and respectful behaviors” for the children?

Anticipated Outcomes I expect that overall I will take from this experience a greater knowledge of how the Responsive Classroom approach works. I believe that because of the approach’s focus on treating others with respect and kindness that I will find there are high numbers of caring and respectful behaviors in my observations. I anticipate that children will be motivated to learn, and will show signs of outwardly enjoying being at school because of the concentration on building a community and environment where children are comfortable and accepted. I anticipate that RC will have a positive effect on discipline situations because the children take part in creating the rules and have a respect for them.

I also think that because of the community building within the entire school, the teachers at K.T. Murphy will have a sense of cohesiveness that is not found at Non-RC schools I have experienced in my past.

Limitations My personal opinion of the Responsive Classroom approach is a limitation of this study because I think it is a wonderful program and hope that it continues to grow. I strongly believe that character education is needed in schools and I like the fact that RC combines the social curriculum with the entire academic school day. My personal opinion is a limitation to the study; however, I am very aware of it, and will do my best to report the facts as they are found and keep my personal bias from intruding.

Another limitation of my study was having constraints on my time, especially while conducting the interviews. During my travel to Connecticut there was a snowstorm and school closed early during one day of my stay and opened late the next day. This caused the interviews at several times to be rushed as teachers had extra work to do to accommodate the unexpected change in schedule.

Additionally, several of my observations were at random during the classroom transitions and during hallway activity. They were not planned and therefore did not involve an equal amount of gender, race, and age groupings.

Another limitation was the sample size of parent interviews given that I was only able to interview three parents out of the entire school. It was not a broad sample and the parents interviewed were the ones that happened to be available and willing for interview during the days of my visit. Having only a small sample lowers the trustworthiness of my study pertaining to parent opinion.

A last limitation of my study is that, during my research time period, I was not able to observe behaviors of children at a school that did not use RC. Any type of comparison statement made in this paper is based upon information from my past

–  –  –

History When the American colonies were formed during the seventeenth century, the children of settlers were taught all of their lessons centralized around the Christian faith.

The settlers worried that their Christian values might not stay as strong in this new country and were avid teachers of moral conduct in the colonies. The moral conduct taught during those days was rooted in the context of the Scriptures and taught mainly by the mother and father. Puritans were the most devout, believing that teaching morals in education were the only way to keep social harmony and instill the value of hard work. It was written in the law that the nuclear family was to instill the understanding of morals to their children, as they were the primary teachers. The entire community supported the moral undertaking and privacy was short-lived because neighbors often kept vigil to make sure the education was being suitably carried out.

Throughout the late eighteenth century and into the early nineteenth century moral education stayed strong, yet some of the rigidness was lost and the tone became more relaxed. As this took place gender roles became prominent as the girls were educationally prepared for the maternal role of keeping the home while boys were schooled in taking care of business outside the home. Parents turned a lot of the control over to the churches and Sunday schools were structured to teach youngsters their role as moral beings.

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