With Charters, Students Create a Positive Classroom Environment

Posted on Thursday, January 9th, 2020

Developed by the Center for Emotional Intelligence at Yale, RULER is a social-emotional program that helps students learn how to cope with their feelings, make decisions, and get along with others. Charters fit under this umbrella because they are documents that help to create a supportive and productive learning environment.

Gaynor has been incorporating charters for the past two years, not only in the classroom, but also with faculty and staff, thus furthering the integration of RULER into the curriculum. Through classroom charters, students work together to create common goals and hold each other accountable for creating a positive classroom environment. According to the RULER website, “Together, the community describes how they want to feel at school, the behaviors that foster those feelings, and guidelines for preventing and managing unwanted feelings and conflict.” This fall, author and illustrator Kathryn Otoshi visited Gaynor and talked to EC and Lower School students about finding value in themselves and others, as well as accepting each other’s differences. Inspired by this visit and Otoshi’s book Beautiful Hands, Orange Cluster Head Teacher Sarah Lewis decided to incorporate these teachings into her classroom charter.

Ms. Lewis had her students create a rainbow using their hands and different colors of paint. Inside the rainbow are five words the students voted on — welcomed, happy, brave, courageous, and comfortable — each representing how they want to feel and how they want others to feel at school each day.

Ms. Lewis said, “I think with a charter, it creates a sense of community and ownership in how they want to feel and how they want others to feel, because they picked the words out themselves.”

Other teachers have also incorporated classroom charters into their curriculum. The Green Cluster has all of their classroom charters hanging up, each listing the words that the class wants to feel when they’re in the classroom and at school.

Intermediate Division Director Michelle Fox said she views the charters, both for the faculty and the students, as a framework to reference when things are going well and when things are more turbulent.

Ms. Fox said, “I keep the Silver and Green Cluster agreements at the top of all our meeting agendas. If we’re able to do this and walk-the-walk as educators, then the students are able to do it, too.”

The Blue Cluster incorporates charters through the Blue Cluster Agreement. Upper Division Director Christine Karamanoglou said students first wrote down descriptive words in their journals that represented how they want to feel at school. They then chose two individually, and as an advisory, they picked 5-7 words to portray in a museum walk. The Blue Cluster as a whole then voted on the words and created the Blue Cluster Agreement.

Ms. Karamanoglou said, “We are trying to make it as student directed as possible.”

Gaynor will continue to develop all charters, starting with a deeper dive into the faculty and staff charter. In December, the administration looked at what it really means to have a school charter, which will then be reviewed with all faculty and staff this January. This will help to further strengthen the Gaynor community and set an example for how classroom charters can efficiently operate and positively impact students.