“I think we should begin our morning meeting today with compliments,” Lanie said, passing the stick to another student, signifying that she was finished talking. The compliments volleyed back and forth for a while. Twenty minutes later, the students finish with a group reflection about how they’re hard workers but still need to practice lining up at the door.
I wasn’t sure I had time in my week for a morning meeting. But my school principal decided each Wednesday would begin with one. So with the freedom her decision allows, after just a few of them I’m thrilled with how sacred they are becoming.
Here’s what I mean: Morning meetings consist of the students discussing whatever feels important with each other. They grow through sharing their feelings, their challenges, and through supporting each other by close listening and careful responses. This is empathy exercise, well worth the 20 minutes we spend to grow a classroom culture of trust and respect.
Here’s what I did to begin to incorporate class meetings into our weekly routine.
Week 1. I took five minutes for my students to watch the video from Teacher Channel. My students discussed in small groups what they liked and didn’t like. Then all together we created a list of must-haves for our meetings.
Week 2. We chose the first student facilitator, and she or he begins the meeting. The first meeting allowed us to work out many potential disruptions, such as making jokes and talking out of turn.
Week 3. I established a set or norms, a standard operating procedure, for the meetings: a) only someone with the talking stick may speak, b) always be respectful, and c) stay on Task. Students completely led the meeting this time. I only had to monitor the time.
Week 4. By the fourth week my students completely led the meeting with me only participating. They kept track of the time and made sure others were following the procedures.
I still sometimes hear giggling and silly comments now and then during the meeting, Of course, right? They’re children. But what I also notice is how they help each other more, both in class and on the playground. And one boy who had confided before only in me about his parents’ separation, revealed to his classmates how he’s happy his parents are back together.
20 minutes weekly devoted to encouraging trust and support is making a real difference in both my students’ education, and their lives.