Morning Meeting Begins at 7:15 p.m.!
It’s back-to-school night at Flanders Elementary School in East Lyme, Connecticut. As parents and guardians arrive at Andy Dousis’s fourth grade classroom, he welcomes them warmly and invites them to read the news and announcement chart that is addressed to them.
Once most of the adults have arrived and have had a chance to make nametags and introduce themselves to someone, Mr. Dousis rings a chime to get the group’s attention. “It’s time to come to meeting,” he says, and invites everyone to find a seat in a large circle of chairs he has arranged for them.
“I’m Andy Dousis, your student’s teacher,” he begins. “Thank you for coming. Tonight I want to share some of the things we’ll be learning in school this year and to give us all a chance to get to know each other a little better. We start every day in this classroom with a twenty-minute Morning Meeting. Tonight we’ll do our own version of a Morning Meeting so you can experience firsthand what this meeting is like.”
Teachers using the Responsive Classroom approach often structure family nights around a Morning Meeting format. This sets a positive tone for the evening, helps adults to feel welcomed and included, and gives families a first-hand experience of something their children do every day at school.
Whether it’s “back-to-school” night or one of the curriculum meetings her school holds each year for parents and guardians, Sarah Magee, a special education teacher at Regional Multicultural Magnet School in New London, Connecticut, says she always begins these evenings in a circle using a Morning Meeting format.
“It helps develop positive community relationships,” she notes, “and it lets families experience something their children take part in every day. After adults go through a Morning Meeting, they come to understand the importance of teaching social skills and they see how academic and social learning are woven together during this part of the day.”
Goals for the meeting
When teachers ask for guidance in planning a Morning Meeting for parents and guardians, I suggest they begin by keeping the following two goals in mind:
- To foster a sense of community and help people get to know each other. One important goal for these evenings is to set a friendly, welcoming tone that helps people feel at ease and included as members of the school community. We know that when children feel like they belong, they participate in more meaningful ways. This is true for adults as well. Teachers report that when parents/guardians know and feel comfortable with the school staff and with one another, they are more likely to get their children together outside of school, volunteer, participate actively in the life of the school, and seek help for their children when it’s needed.
- To share information about the classroom and curriculum in ways that are interactive, meaningful, and fun. The meeting can be used as an effective starting point for sharing information about the curriculum and events in the classroom. But more importantly, when parents/guardians experience a Morning Meeting—exchanging greetings, learning each other’s names, engaging in an activity together—they see for themselves the powerful social and academic learning that is happening during this time and the value of taking time to build a sense a classroom community.
Guidelines for leading a Morning Meeting with parents/guardians
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that some adults may feel awkward and unsure of what to do when they first enter the classroom. They may feel they have already taken a big risk in just coming for the meeting. Be sure to greet people at the door when they arrive. Provide nametags so people can learn and become comfortable using each other’s names. And have a message chart and a meeting circle ready and waiting for them.
Once the adults are gathered in the circle, introduce the meeting. It is usually sufficient to say that the students begin every day with a Morning Meeting—a fifteen- to twenty-minute routine that builds community, sets a positive tone for the day, nurtures confidence and excitement about learning, and improves academic and social skills—and that tonight the adults will have a chance to experience a Morning Meeting firsthand. Below are some additional guidelines for making the meeting successful.
Choose low-risk activities that help people get to know each other or that connect with the curriculum.
Especially at the beginning of the year, avoid greetings and activities that are too silly or require physical contact. It’s also important to avoid activities that could embarrass anyone or put an individual on the spot. A greeting in which two adults are partnered and then introduce each other to the group often works well: “This is Magda and her son is Issac. He loves basketball.”
Group activities that work well in this setting include “A Warm Wind Blows” and “I’m Thinking of a Number Between 1 and 100.” Both activities keep the focus on the group as a whole and are easy to teach and fun to play.
You may also ask students for suggestions of an appropriate activity for their families. Family members often enjoy learning a favorite activity of the students.
If you include sharing, keep it brief and focused. For example, you might ask people to share the names and grades of their children or one thing their child likes to do. A round robin format lets everyone say something (or pass) but does not require questions and comments. This saves time and avoids the lengthy introduction and teaching that other forms of sharing require.
Bring the message chart into the circle and use it to launch into the discussion of curriculum.
Just as it’s used in the classroom, the message chart can be used to shift the focus to the topic at hand. For example, the question on the chart might be, “Write one question you have about what your child will be doing this year.” Reading the parents/guardians’ questions provides a nice segue into the topic for the evening.
Teachers may also want to share a sample of a news and announcement chart from the classroom. Through looking at a chart that the students and teacher have already worked with, the group will see the wide range of academic skills addressed in this component of Morning Meeting.
Before moving on to the topic for the evening, take a few minutes to reflect together on the meeting.
After everyone has experienced the meeting, it can be valuable to ask them to reflect briefly on the experience. Some simple questions that work well are:
- How do you feel now compared to when you first entered the room?
- What social skills did we practice in the meeting? What academic skills?
- What are some of the ways Morning Meeting might help children feel comfortable, confident, and ready for learning?
Follow up with written information about Morning Meeting.
Because there will always be family members who cannot attend school gatherings, it’s a good idea to have written information about Morning Meeting and other topics addressed that can be sent to families.
Some teachers also follow up with regular newsletters to families. Along with updates about what’s going on in math, writing, science, and social studies, fourth grade teacher Mike Anderson includes a section on Morning Meeting in his weekly newsletter. Here’s one example:
“This week during the sharing portion of our meeting, we’re continuing to work on creating a good lead for narrative writing. We’ve also enjoyed using the group activity time to reenact scenes from the book I’m reading aloud. In addition to helping students learn to cooperate and work as a team, this activity has strengthened students’ comprehension of key scenes of the book.”
The benefits are multifold
Since Andy Dousis began holding Morning Meetings with families several years ago, he’s noticed a significant difference in his relationship with families. “Before, they used to question the value of Morning Meeting a lot. Now, more often than not, they want to tell me how much they appreciate what the students are learning in this daily routine—the social skills and the academic skills. Family involvement has also improved dramatically since I began using this structure for open houses. Now when I ask families for help with anything, they’re there.”Tags: Family Night, Sharing RC with Families