Monday, April 17, 2017
"Everyone has highs and lows that they have to learn from, but every morning I start off with a good head on my shoulders, saying to myself, 'It's going to be a good day!'."
One tenant of our classroom routine has always been morning meeting. While I was doing my student teaching, my cooperating teacher introduced the idea to me. She said that she found giving them an overview of the day helped put their minds at ease and allowed them to focus on their work instead of wondering what was coming next. When I got my own class, I decided to continue with this concept. In years one and two, morning meetings were short - a brief overview of the day, followed by a reminder of the classroom expectations.
I changed things up in year three. I added some elements to make it into a more holistic experience. We still begin with the daily schedule, but then follow it with a page from Kid President's Guide to Being Awesome. This book was a gift to me from Greg Bagby and holds many snippets of wisdom that kids can relate to. After the page is read, the students reflect and do a "turn and talk" to discuss what they thought. Some volunteers also share their ideas with the whole class.
After that, we have time for open sharing. This might sound like wasted time, but think of how many times a kid can't concentrate on a math lesson because he wants to share about something he built on Minecraft. This five minutes in the beginning of the day helps save hours of time throughout the week.
Sometimes, this sharing time becomes a very deep experience for the students. This is the time I chose to share my cancer diagnosis with the class, but an even more powerful example comes from when one of my students decided to share about her disability. She led a great discussion about why her bones formed the way they did and how it impacts her life. It was her choice to do this and helped the class understand her better.
Following sharing time, I say the first part of our classroom motto ("We don't make excuses,") and the class finishes with "We make changes." The students are then dismissed to their table groups to begin working for the day. In total, morning meetings last from 5 to 15 minutes, but can run longer if the sharing time becomes something especially meaningful.
Mid-way through year three, I wanted to make it a student-led experience. We had already done student-led conferences so I knew they were capable of being leaders to their parents. Being a leader in front of all your peers is another valuable skill and this was a perfect opportunity to do so.
Since we had been doing Mr. B-led morning meetings in the same routine for a few months, the students knew what to do. My lesson plans are posted on the classroom website, so they can read the schedule to the class. We've worked on having the students share the specific activities we are going to be doing ("Today, we'll be playing Quizlet live to review the American Revolution") versus "We have VA Studies today" (of course we do, we have it every day!)
Each day, the next page of Kid President is read and discussed, and the student places the bookmark on the next page for the following day's reading. Some leaders choose to have a turn and talk, while others call on volunteers to share thoughts. It's a great way to throw in some extra fluency and public speaking practice for the morning meeting leader.
Last year, I had a student who had difficulty decoding words on the fly due to a reading disability. Knowing that he was sensitive to this, we figured out which day he was going to be the morning meeting leader and photocopied that page from the book. He and I rehearsed during lunch and he practiced at home with his parents. When it came time to read from the book, he did so with flying colors and no one was the wiser. Those little tweaks are needed to make sure each student feels successful in their leading experience.
The class decided that we would limit sharing to four sharings per morning meeting. As the students in the audience share, the leader is tasked with responding to the comment either with more questions or something to acknowledge the thought (beyond "okay"). This helps to build a stronger sense of community and conversational skills. It makes the person who shared feel valued and respected.
After sharing time, there is a time in which I get to speak to the class. I share anything that may have been missed from the lesson plans, remind them of upcoming important dates, or reinforce any improvements that need to be done. I try to keep my part short, because I want the focus to be on the leader instead of me.
I also provide specific feedback to the leader, highlighting things they did well during morning meeting and what they could improve upon for their next cycle. (We just go in reverse alphabetical order, so each student will get numerous opportunities each year. Now, I start student-led morning meetings within two-three weeks in the beginning of the year after I have led some morning meetings so they understand the routine.)
One thing I would love to see improve (and welcome suggestions on) is getting the students to share "real" things. It's great to hear that Johnny had soccer practice, but after hearing it twelve times, it loses its luster. I want my students sharing momentous accomplishments and what challenges they face, either individually or as a class. It's hard to prompt them into doing that without making it feel forced or fake. Let me know in the comments below how you accomplish this in your class.
Since transitioning to a student-led experience, I've seen students flourish in this role. It ensures every student gets many opportunities to be the leader and helps them to overcome any "stage fright" they may encounter. They clearly take my feedback to heart, because students do a much better job of sharing detailed lessons and responding to sharing comments than they did in the beginning of the year.
We have roughly 36 days left in the school year, which means each student my class will be able to be a morning meeting leader at least one more time. I'm looking forward to their personal best from each and every one.
*I don't really think Ms. Lohan is a good role model for education, but this quote works pretty well here.