Everybody Grows with CPR

Inclusion and relationship help students overcome differences

For Middle Level

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.

Here are some of my reflections on the impact of our work.

All in this together
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 level.

Improved teacher-student relationships
Exchanging 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 students.

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Benjamin began the year as a shy, defensive, and withdrawn young man.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 He sat slumped at the edge of our circle like a turtle withdrawn into its shell.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 growth.

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.

Ellen Fisher teaches social studies to 6th-8th graders at Rivendell Middle School in Orford, New Hampshire.

Published January 2011

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