Student-Led All-School Meetings Bring the School Community Together
In a school with over 500 students and more than eighty staff, it can be difficult to get to know one another. At K.T. Murphy Elementary School in Stamford, Connecticut, the staff and administrators addressed this by creating an all-school meeting format that uses the structure of Morning Meeting.
Every month, everyone in the school, including many family members, join for a meeting led by students. The different grades take turns leading from month to month. At one typical meeting in late winter, the first graders are leading. After a group of students welcomes everyone, one child takes the microphone to review the pre-arranged greeting for the day, in which each grade will represent a different insect. This greeting was chosen because the first graders had been studying insects in science. Every class in the school has had a chance to practice the greeting before this gathering. “Good morning, fifth graders,” say the fourth graders this morning, as they all make big biting motions in the air to represent mosquitoes. Around the room there are other greetings accompanied by gestures of stinging and flying.
Next, children from another first grade class get up to lead the sharing, calling up each grade to talk about what they have learned in science. Groups from each grade explain posters and projects they’re working on, some sharing in both English and Spanish.
After the sharing, children from another first grade class step forward to lead the activity. Continuing with the insect theme, the activity is a variation of “head, shoulders, knees, and toes,” only the words are “head, thorax, abdomen.”
Immediately the room erupts with children and adults singing, flapping their arms, and making antennae over their heads.
Finally, a set of first graders leads the news and announcements, using an overhead projector to show the chart so everyone can read along.
Before the meeting ends, there’s a drawing to decide which grade will lead the next month’s meeting. “Kids can’t wait to see who’s next to lead,” says Kim Moore, a first grade teacher. With 500 children beating out a drum roll on the floor, the student leaders draw an envelope. When the leaders are announced, the students pass a shield with each component of Morning Meeting represented on it.
The whole school as a community
Just like Morning Meeting, which happens in every classroom at K.T. Murphy every day, these all-school meetings allow students and teachers to build a sense of community. “Kids get to see other kids, teachers, staff, and families, and then people become familiar faces to them,” says third grade teacher and Responsive Classroom consulting teacher Toni D’Agostino. “It really makes the school a safer place.” Principal Kathy Pfister adds, “It helps us to know who we are and where we’re headed together.”
To enable the careful preparation required for these meetings to be successful, the grade level team is provided substitute coverage to meet and make initial plans. The teachers then meet with the students to finalize details and send out an agenda to other teachers before the meeting. If necessary, student leaders visit classrooms throughout the school to teach the greeting and the activity they’re planning for the all-school meeting.
K.T. Murphy and the Responsive Classroom approach
K.T. Murphy got involved with the Responsive Classroom approach nine years ago when the school district stumbled onto it in the process of working on a grant to explore differentiated instruction. Assistant principal Marilyn Armengol says the school’s teachers and administration embraced the Responsive Classroom approach, and it eventually grew out of the classrooms into a school-wide initiative.
Teachers at K.T. Murphy receive ongoing support in their use of Responsive Classroom practices. Coordinated by program improvement planner Michele Sabia, the support includes study groups, ongoing one-on-one coaching, and district-wide training.