I am a huge believer in Responsive Classroom, an educational philosophy that links academic performance to social-emotional learning. I see it every single day: students cannot learn to their highest potential until they truly feel welcomed, loved, seen, and heard in their school community. It is my job as a teacher to facilitate this community and to model to my students ways to treat each other.
One of the cornerstones of Responsive Classroom is the morning meeting. Morning meeting is a whole-class activity, and no one is excluded (so, for example, if Billy doesn’t finish his morning work, he takes a pause to come join us; if Sally is pitching a fit, she joins us on the carpet until her behavior there is a danger to herself or others). Morning meeting consists of four parts: a greeting, a share, an activity, and a message.
The greeting can be an elaborate song, or it can be as simple as children shaking each other’s hands, looking them in the eye, and greeting them by name. My assistant head of school at St. Andrew’s School taught me that many students (particularly those who live in poverty) don’t hear their name unless someone at school explicitly says it – or they only hear their name as they’re being fussed at. We need to make sure people hear their names in a positive way; the greeting helps us do that and helps build community by promoting friendship.
The next stage of the morning meeting is the share. Students each respond to a teacher-given prompt, which could be anything from “what’s your favorite season?” to “What goal do you want to set for yourself this week?” to “What is one thing you learned about fractions yesterday?” This can be either in a whole-group setting where the students speak one-by-one or in partners where students turn and share. This allows students to feel like their ideas are valid (because they are!) and to know that the classroom community is a safe place in which to share.
We then move on to the activity portion, everyone’s favorite. This is usually a short game that involves the whole class. I used to faithfully attend Monday morning first grade meetings, and the class loved what they called “the balloon game” where they worked together to keep it up in the air without standing or moving too far out of their meeting spot. Fourth grade liked to sing rhythmic playground chants (think Little Sally Walker), and third grade LIVED for Zumba Wednesdays. Many teachers write game choices on popsicle sticks and allow students to draw one out each day. This keeps the meeting fresh and is another way students build community through teamwork.
The meeting ends with everyone sitting down and reading the morning message aloud. Some people are all about cutesy questions in this part, but I see this as a direct link to the curriculum and a way to transition into the rest of the day. A sample morning message from me might look like this:
September 29, 2016
Good morning, imaginative fourth graders!
I am so glad you are here today. This week, we have been working on fractions. If 1/4 of our class wore pajamas to school today, how many students would that be? Write your answers on the bottom of the paper. Don’t forget that next week is conference week and we will go home early.
This ties in letter writing formats, punctuation, math, the habitude the school is currently working on, and a few classroom reminders. How great is that? Other grade levels could use the message to review things like tally marks or sight words or could ask deeper-thought questions. You could also review goals that the classroom has set or material from other subject areas, like character lessons from the counselor.
The kindergarten teacher at St. Andrew’s used to conclude every message with “I love you so much. You are so smart! Have a great day. Love, Miss Davis.” By the end of the first week of school, kids caught on to the pattern, so they were able to practice one-to-one word correspondence as she read the message with the pointer, and they grew pride in their reading.
Morning meeting is a great way to instill a sense of community, which I think is so valuable in education. It also allows a teacher to tie in some social-emotional learning while still meeting or reviewing some of the day’s TEKS, which supports students as they make goals.