Morning Meeting: A Powerful Way to Begin the Day

In the spring of my first year as a secondary school teacher, I got a letter from a student for whom I had a particular fondness, letting me know that she was dropping out of school. School wasn’t making much sense to her and little that she was being asked to learn held much interest for her.

She wrote, almost apologetically, that school just wasn’t a place she felt she belonged. More than twenty years later, her words still seem profoundly sad to me:

I will always remember how you said “Hi, Sue” as I walked into eighth period. It made me feel like it really mattered that I came.

It touched and pained me that something which seemed so small to me, an act I hadn’t even been aware of, had meant so much to her. I vowed to learn something from it and became more intentional about greeting my students.

I stationed myself by the door and tried to say a little something to each one as they entered, or at least to make eye contact and smile at every student, not just the ones like Sue for whom I had an instinctive affinity.

Gradually I realized how much I was learning at my post by the door. I observed who bounced in with head up and smile wide, whose eyes were red-rimmed from tears shed in the girls’ room at lunch, who mumbled a response into his collar and averted his eyes every day for an entire semester. I didn’t know what to do about much of it, but at least I was learning how to notice.

I have learned a lot since then. It is good for students to be noticed, to be seen by their teacher. But it is only a start, not enough by itself. They must notice and be noticed by each other as well.

Years after I taught Sue, I joined the staff of a school that used the Responsive Classroom approach. There, I saw teachers teaching students to greet each other, to speak to each other, to listen to each other. I saw students start each day together in Morning Meeting where noticing and being noticed were explicit goals.

Today, many children in schools around the country launch their school days in Morning Meetings. All classroom members—grown-ups and students—gather in a circle, greet each other, listen and respond to each other’s news, practice academic and social skills, and look forward to the events in the day ahead. Morning Meeting is a particular and deliberate way to begin the day, a way that builds a community of caring and motivated learners.

The Format

Morning Meeting consists of four sequential components and lasts twenty to thirty minutes each day. The components provide daily opportunities for children to practice the skills of greeting, listening and responding, speaking to a group, reading, group problem-solving, and noticing and anticipating. The four components are:

Greeting—Children greet each other by name, often including handshaking, singing, movement, or other activities.

Sharing—Students share some news or information about themselves or what they are learning and respond to each other, articulating their thoughts, feelings, and ideas in a positive manner.

Group Activity—The whole class does a short, inclusive activity together, reinforcing learning and building class cohesion through active participation.

Morning Message—Students practice academic skills and warm up for the day ahead by reading and discussing a daily note to the class posted by their teacher.

Teachers and students crave a certain amount of predictability and routine in the school day, especially at the start. The format of Morning Meeting is predictable, but there is plenty of room for variation. Meetings reflect the style and flavor of individual teachers and groups. They also reflect the ebb and flow of a school year’s seasons—August’s new supplies and anxious, careful faces; December’s pre-vacation excitement; February’s endless colds and coughs; April’s spring-has-sprung exuberance. The mixture of routine and surprise, of comfort and challenge, makes Morning Meeting a treasured and flexible teaching tool.

Morning Meeting sets the tone for learning

The way we begin each day in our classroom sets the tone for learning and speaks volumes about what and whom we value, about our expectations for the way we will treat each other, and about the way we believe learning occurs.

Students’ learning begins the second they walk in the doors of the building. Children notice whether they are greeted warmly or overlooked, whether the classroom feels chaotic and unpredictable or ordered and comforting. If they announce, “My cat got hit by a car last night but it’s gonna be all right,” they may find an interested, supporting audience or one that turns away. Every detail of their experience informs students about their classroom and their place in it.

When we start the day with everyone together, face-to-face, welcoming each person, sharing news, listening to individual voices, and communicating as a caring group, we make several powerful statements. We say that every person matters. We say that the way we interact individually and as a group matters. We say that our culture is one of friendliness and thoughtfulness. We say that we can accomplish hard work and make important discoveries together. We say that teachers hold authority, even though they are a part of the circle. We say that this is a place where courtesy and warmth and safety reign.

In order to learn, we must take risks—offering up a tentative answer we are far from sure is right or trying out a new part in the choir when we are not sure we can hit the notes. We are more willing to take these risks when we know we will be respected and valued, no matter the outcome. We must trust in order to risk, and Morning Meeting helps create a climate of trust.

Morning Meeting merges academic, social, and emotional learning

Morning Meeting provides an arena where distinctions that define social, emotional, and academic skills fade, and learning becomes an integrated experience.

Teachers have long known and researchers are now confirming that social skills are not just something to be taught so that children behave well enough to get on with the real business of schooling. Rather, social skills are inextricably intertwined with cognitive growth and intellectual progress. A person who can listen well, who can frame a good question and has the assertiveness to pose it, who can examine a situation from a number of perspectives, will be a strong learner.

All those skills—skills essential to academic achievement—must be modeled, experienced, practiced, extended, and refined in the context of social interaction. Morning Meeting is a forum in which all that happens. It is not an add-on, something extra to make time for, but rather an integral part of the day’s planning and curriculum.

A microcosm of the way we wish our schools to be

The time one commits to Morning Meeting is an investment which is repaid many times over. The sense of belonging and the skills of attention, listening, expression, and cooperative interaction developed in Morning Meeting are a foundation for every lesson, every transition time, every lining-up, every handling of an upset or conflict, all day and all year long. Morning Meeting is a microcosm of the way we wish our schools to be—communities full of learning, safe and respectful and challenging for all.

Morning Meeting Book

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.

(An adapted excerpt from The Morning Meeting Book, 3rd edition, by Roxann Kriete and Carol Davis, 2014)