Friday, June 23, 2017

Our Morning Meeting: Community Matters

Creating a classroom community is important to getting the school year off on the right foot and making the school year more joyous. I feel there are so many ways to instill that classroom community within your classroom. Many teachers, especially in the the primary grades, use their calendar or carpet time as a great way for students to share and learn from one another. Students need to make those connections and have their chance to share their stories so they know that they matter. It also allows students to realize all the things they have in common with each other. Recognizing and seeing similarities can help create a family atmosphere in the classroom cutting down on so many behavior issues. I have had the opportunity to teach primary and upper elementary and students regardless of age just crave the time to communicate, share, and have fun with one another.

When I started teaching 5th grade three years ago I wanted to find a way for my students to create bonds and for me to learn more about them. I knew that the calendar time that I did with my 3rd graders would not be the right choice for fifth graders.  So I did a lot of research. I picked up the Morning Meeting Book by Roxann Kriete and Carol Davis. I also talked to a fellow teacher who did Morning Meeting in her classroom to get ideas. I ended up with a hybrid that worked for me and allowed me the chance to build a community while balancing curriculum time that always seems to be cut down. I wanted to try and keep as much teaching time as possible because my students truly needed it, but I recognized the need to build a caring and respectful community. So I decided every morning for the first quarter we were going to have a Morning Meeting.

Within the first week of school I started teaching my students about Morning Meeting expectations as well as the schedule of things so that I could have student leaders. I realized very quickly that the Morning Meeting Book had some great ideas, but I knew that some of them were not going to work for me. I wanted my Morning Meeting to last between 15-30mins tops. I also wanted it to be more open and fluid for the students to have the opportunity to share at will. I went with a schedule that worked for me:

  • Good Morning Greeting
  • Teacher's News of the Day
  • Student Check-In & Share
  • Activity or Game
I really chose to focus on the students having the ability to share their life with others and the chance for students to bond over games or stories. I think student voice and movement in general is a great way to start the day. It gives students the time they need to settle in and get ready for the day.

Now before I get into my morning meeting schedule I want to preface this by talking about rules. Every year when I'm introducing Morning Meeting to my students I talk about what it is, why we do it and the schedule of things we do. Following that discussion we create a list of rules. Students share what rules they think will be important to follow during Morning Meeting and I write them on a big piece of chart paper. Everyday, for the first few weeks we start our meeting by reviewing the rules. During the meeting time I give reminders or talk to the students about what rules we need to work on and we work towards that goal. It's important that the students have a voice in the rules so they take them to heart and monitor themselves as well as one another.

A fellow teacher's Rules and Expectations 

My Morning Greeting changed daily but revolved around the students learning each others names, greeting one another in different ways, and working on acknowledging one another. I had simple things such as shaking hands and saying good morning to people by name. Yet, I also have them high five as many people as they can in 30 secs saying good morning. I try to switch it up as much as possible to keep my students on their toes. I also want them to recognize each other and realize that we are family here. My favorite greeting is when the students pick a name from a hat and say good morning to that person, but also compliment them on something they have notice they have done in class. Students acknowledging other students allows them to build a bond between each other that that means more than any that come from me. It also helps the students see the good in others and feel personally recognized.

Teacher's News of the Day is just a chance for me to share with my students all the different things that are going on that day or later that week. I let my students know all of the school events, share any national holidays, or even promote any new books being placed in my classroom library. I try to use this as a quick time to share with my students and get them excited about anything going on in our classroom or in the school. You could use this time differently such as focusing on a classroom standard, review a skill, or sharing a challenge of the day.

Student Check In & Share is of course the favorite time of the students. During this time the students check in with me about how they are feeling that day. They rate themselves on a scale from 1 to 5, 5 being super excited and happy, while 1 is seen as having a rough day. This is a tremendous opportunity for the students to reflect on their feelings and for me to gauge how my students a coming into the school day. When I say "Check In" the students hold up their rating using their fingers. I take this moment to scan the room seeing everyone's rating before asking if anyone wants to share their reason why they are feeling that way. This is the moment that students love. They get to explain that they went to Fun City last weekend and had a great time swimming or that their birthday is coming up. You also have students who share that they had a hard time sleeping because their baby sister cried all night . In these conversations students laugh together, ask questions, and share common experiences making them feel connected. I  often  tell the students I am only going to call on 5 people to share, but then I call on different students the following day. It saves time and provides some restrictions. I spend time at the beginning really coaching my students on proper ways to share and proper ways to respond. We want everyone to feel included and that if they do share they won't be disrespected. In adolescence students number one fear is not fitting in or just being made fun of so sharing can be hard, but with the right coaching and rules students will surprise you.

One thing that the Morning Meeting Book really helped with was all the different games. I had a bunch from my time as a camp counselor, but this book has so many other ideas that I just loved using with my students. Games seem to some teachers to be a waste of time, but truth be told that is where students engage the most, especially when it comes to building on teamwork and communication skills. Now at times I subbed my games for more educational ones or stem activities that still brought students together. Regardless of what you choose the key is to sell it. You have to make it fun and don't be afraid to play along with them. Students regardless of age will look to you and will have so much fun if your playing along with them.
If you are looking for activity ideas, games, or projects there are so many free ideas online. Check out  Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers for some ideas.

Students Working on the Perfect Student Activity
Students Final Stem Project
What I have realized is there is no one way to do a Morning Meeting. That as long as your giving students a chance to form a community by interacting with each other  you are doing it right!

What are your thoughts on Morning Meeting? Do you do one in your classroom? How do you run yours? What are your favorite activities?

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