by Lynn Bechtel
In the days and weeks following the events of September 11th, many teachers and children around the country gathered each morning in the comforting routine of Morning Meeting, a daily ritual that can provide a measure of safety and stability in the midst of troubled times. No matter what children had heard outside school or what they'd seen on the news, they knew that when they arrived at school, they’d begin their day by gathering in a circle with their teacher and greeting each other, kindly and respectfully. They’d share, they’d do an activity together, they'd read the news and announcements chart and then, calm within the community of their classroom, they’d move into the rest of the school day. In order to find out more about classroom experiences with Morning Meeting during this time, we talked with several experienced teachers from various grade levels.
Deborah Porter, who teaches K–1 in rural western Massachusetts, said that some of her students had seen television coverage at home and had difficulty telling the difference between what they saw and the video games with which they are familiar. Morning Meeting gave Deborah the chance to present facts about the sad and real event. Although her students were shielded by age and distance, she made sure that each child in her class had an opportunity to share thoughts, feelings, and questions in Morning Meeting.
Gail Zimmerman teaches third grade in Boston. "We talked about this every day," she said. "I constantly reinforced that people were taking care of us . . . [and that this] was a time to think about others and how to help others." Rosalea Fisher, who teaches third grade in Stamford, Connecticut, said that she had three Morning Meetings on September 12th because the children had such a great need to talk. "The children shared their understanding of the events, their personal stories, and their feelings," she said. She also used the time to clarify information and interrupt stereotyping. During the rest of that week, Rosalea continued the discussions in Morning Meeting: "Each day I initiated an open-ended question. The more we talked, the more they wanted to talk. I know we will continue to dialogue in the months to come."
Crystal Cooper teaches fourth grade in Paterson, New Jersey. On September 12, she used the news and announcements chart to set the tone for Morning Meeting. "We are very saddened by the events that occurred on Tuesday in our country and we are very confused as to why this had to happen to us," she wrote. "Please feel free to list any questions or concerns that you have about this incident." During sharing, the children said they were scared and sad, and many were worried about family friends who worked in the World Trade Center. The group activity that day was a discussion based on the questions and concerns students wrote on the news and announcements chart.
Lourdes Mercado, a middle school teacher in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, met with her students on the afternoon of September 11th in a Circle of Power and Respect (CPR), the middle school version of Morning Meeting, and urged them to talk about what they were feeling. Most were scared and upset, but she discovered they also had inaccurate or partially accurate information. "I got on CNN.com and we reviewed the information that was available at the time. It seemed like for some of my students not having all the information was more overwhelming than finding out the facts." Students asked questions and expressed worries about their own safety. As Lourdes tried to answer their questions and shared some of her own concerns, the discussion shifted to the meaning of relationships and the importance of the community they had developed in their school. The next day, the students again used CPR to discuss their feelings of fear, anger, and confusion.
These teachers' experiences demonstrate that Morning Meeting provides a comfortable structure within which to talk about uncomfortable things. As Rosalea Fisher said, "Without the scaffold of Morning Meeting, all these conversations would not have been so easy for us." Gail Zimmerman echoed her thought: "The caring and sharing and empathy that was being developed in Morning Meeting made it so much easier to talk about this tragedy in a safe and supportive environment."
In many classrooms, the work begun in Morning Meeting continued beyond the fifteen to thirty minutes that everyone sat in the Morning Meeting circle. For several teachers, the discussions in Morning Meeting led to projects that helped children cope and begin to heal. In Rosalea Fisher's classroom, students wrote and illustrated thank-you cards to President Bush, Mayor Giuliani, the police and firefighters, and to the Red Cross. "Their letters were touching," Rosalea said, "but even more profound and moving were their pictures." Crystal Cooper's class looked through local newspapers, wrote summaries of the events that were reported, and posted the writings on their bulletin board. Lourdes Mercado's middle school students made collages as a positive way to express their sorrow and anger. "Some of them have pictures of airplanes, the White House, the president, the flag, peace symbols, explosions, children crying, and words such as 'faith,' 'scared,' 'breathtaking,' 'fear,' 'struggling for peace.' A lot of them were quite powerful."
For most of the teachers we talked with, the intensity and frequency of discussions about the terrorist attacks have diminished in subsequent weeks. "It seems like [the students] want to put it behind [them] and live their lives as normally as possible," Lourdes Mercado said of her middle school students. But even when students seem to have moved on, some teachers continue to check-in during Morning Meeting and provide a space for conversation, if needed.
In the coming weeks and months, every sharing or news and announcements chart won't be devoted to the serious news of the times. In fact, much of sharing will continue to be about the small items of "newsy news" that fill a child's day. But, Morning Meeting can continue to be a place to talk about "breaking news," explore ideas, answer questions, interrupt the rumor mill, correct misconceptions, counter stereotypes, and practice the skills that build a safe school community. Sharon Ketts, who teaches fourth grade in Florida, said, "I know that the times coming are going to be difficult for us all and if [the students] can feel safe in the classroom family, that’s going to help." Rosalea Fisher summed up the ongoing importance of Morning Meeting when she said that the skills learned during Morning Meeting—empathy, caring, sharing, and listening—become life skills, not just school skills.
To learn more about Morning Meeting, see The Morning Meeting Book, by Roxann Kriete
The essential guide. This comprehensive guidebook has helped thousands of teachers use Morning Meeting to launch their school days. Clear explanations of each component and its purpose, with sample greetings, activities, and message charts. Includes step-by-step guidelines for implementing Morning Meeting in any K–8 classroom.