Cultivating Classroom Community: A Teacher’s Approach to Maintaining Morning Meetings

If you travel the hallways of the lower school immediately after carpool, you will observe in each classroom a beautiful practice of community building through daily Responsive Classroom Morning Meetings.  During these challenging times filled with COVID-19 mitigation strategies and remote learning, teachers have utilized a variety of creative approaches to hold these important class meetings in a safe way.  Whether streaming your live morning meeting for different cohorts or trying to foster a community while fully virtual, this practice has been a challenge.  Mary McCall McArthur, 1st grade teacher, shares her strategies for continuing morning meetings even in crisis and reminds us how important it is to prioritize this community building time now more than ever.

How have you seen morning meetings benefit and positively impact your students?

I find there are many benefits to having a consistent morning meeting, but one of my favorites is the community respect. In the beginning of the year it sets the tone for a safe space where students’ voices are heard and respected. This pattern of listening and sharing not only further develops their social skills, but also infiltrates other parts of our day, too, making the learning experience smoother since children have learned to respect one another’s opinions

Describe a typical morning meeting in your classroom.

During “normal” teaching times, MM procedures are pretty textbook: greeting, share, activity, message. I’ve found it’s a much more meaningful time if the MM has been planned. Miss. Doggett keeps the first grade team’s document up to date with MM lessons, too, which is super helpful. Children sit around the carpet, in an assigned spot, and greet one another by name. This year we’ve invented silly ways to say hello that stay compliant with COVID guidelines. A couple of their favorites are “air knucks” and “rollercoaster waves.” Next, we take turns sharing. Children love “Would you rather” prompts, so I try to incorporate them weekly, usually a Wacky Wednesday question, encouraging them to support their answers with reasons (can I get a what-what for a writer’s workshop plug?). Often they get excited so I remind the listeners to use the nonverbal “me too” signal. Other times, I’ll incorporate a social-emotional skill, an academic riddle, or a joke of the day- basically trying to keep children engaged in a light-hearted, fun way but with an academic or SEL goal at the forefront, just like other instructional parts of our day.

Describe how you adapted your morning meeting during times of virtual learning this year while still fostering a classroom community. 

When planning a virtual morning meeting, I liked to create a Google Slides presentation to show during our Meet. Often I would present my screen before others joined the meeting with a prompt. This prompt would use their white board and dry erase markers, which have been sent home each time we’ve been virtual, and would connect back to an academic or SEL skill- sometimes it was to draw an emoji for how you’re feeling today or to solve an equation. This connected back to how we sometimes “check-in” in the classroom before MM began. During full virtual learning, we continued the hands-free greetings we started and practiced in the classroom. Something that came in handy was using our class numbers to say hello. We used the same order each time and the children became fluent and comfortable doing this virtually. It was a nice way for everyone to practice the computer skills necessary for our small groups later in the day, too. Each day we were virtual, I would present a “would you rather” question for sharing time. The children loved the frequency of them as well as the silliness. Giving them an anticipatory activity kept them in high attendance for our Morning Meetings, too! I let go of the academic and SEL topics I would normally grasp during this time because it kept things lighthearted and I was still addressing those other things with whiteboard check ins.

Any practical tips for those who stream virtual students into a morning meeting that’s happening on campus?

For my Saints@Home students, I’ve tried to communicate with their parents what we’ll be doing ahead of time if children need to be prepared. This is another reason why I love to have a lesson plan for the week. I can easily look ahead to see what they may need, which helps them feel more involved and prepared. When streaming into a MM on campus, I like to prop the device on a chair and place that student in their spot. When we’ve had students quarantine, this was one way that made it feel more normal! I also had a buddy assigned to the device to let me know if the Saints@Home or virtual learner had something to share that I had potentially missed.

Mary McCall and June Newburger having fun while leading a remote Morning Meeting during quarantine. 

What is one tip you would share with teachers that has helped your morning meetings go well in different learning formats?

Staying consistent in my morning meeting routines in the classroom made the transition to virtual learning smooth. I kept the same predictable pattern so children would feel the sense of community and the safe-space-feel, even when we weren’t sharing the same physical space.

Click here to see an example of one of Mary McCall’s Morning Meeting Google Slides presentations.

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