Morning meetings aren’t as common in the classroom as they are in the office, but perhaps they should be. Many young students come to school feeling stress, anxiety or other emotions that may prevent them from fully participating.
Incorporating a morning routine can help foster social connection and empathy while calming students and preparing them for a focus-filled day. Here are some tips on creating effective morning meetings that get early elementary students engaged, happy and ready to learn.
A daily morning meeting creates space and time for each student to start off the day present and engaged. According to Responsive Classroom, morning meetings build a sense of community and set children up for social and academic success. They suggest a meeting that includes a greeting, sharing time, a group activity and a morning message. The greeting allows each student to be welcomed by their name, and the sharing allows students to express themselves and practice giving and receiving empathetic comments.
Fourth grade teacher Ashley LaGrow says morning meetings are important for setting an equitable social atmosphere in her classroom. “Ever since I started morning meetings, I have noticed the respect my students have for one another and their empathy skills are much higher than before.”
This environment reduces poor interpersonal behavior like bullying and gossiping, and creates more room for mutual respect, supportive interactions and collaborative learning.
During morning meetings, it’s essential that the teacher joins in the circle and participates in all of the activities, according to The Core Coaches team. “The teacher’s presence is crucial to ensure structure, build a climate of trust, make students feel significant, encourage collaboration, create empathy, and to support social and emotional learning.”
An example of a successful morning meeting is demonstrated at Highlander Charter School in Rhode Island. First grade teacher Valerie Gallagher says that this time allows students make the transition from home to school so that they can get ready to learn. She helps students focus on making eye contact, listening to others and staying present in order to truly connect to classmates.
Teacher greetings increase on-task behavior and make students more focused throughout the day, according to a study by R. Allan Allday and Kerri Pakurat published inThe Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. The authors note that morning greetings establish a positive climate where students feel a sense of belonging.
“This is particularly important considering the research demonstrating that achievement motivation is often a by-product of social belonging,” they write.
Once you have incorporated the morning greeting, you can add another element like music to make it even more engaging. One method is the call and response singing game, when the teacher sings something and the student answers in response, says third grade teacher Dyan Branstetter.
This approach can be used when taking attendance in the morning meeting. The teacher calls out a greeting with a student’s name, and that student responds. Once the children learn the pattern, everyone can join in on the call part together. Branstetter suggests collaborating with your music teacher to work on pitch, rhythm and posture if you don’t already have a strong grasp on these ideas.
First grade teacher Susan Jones takes this a step further by incorporating games and activities into her morning greeting. For example, she emphasizes student interaction by having the class shake hands and roll a ball of yarn to each other until there is a web of yarn connecting them all. She also places an emphasis on global greetings, which allow students to learn how to say hello in different languages. This broadens global perspective while making any students who speak foreign languages feel more welcome in the classroom.
Student Choice in Morning Greetings
Student emotions will vary from day to day. On some mornings, they may feel more excited than others about entering the classroom and beginning to learn.
That’s why first grade teacher Christina Winter developed a chart with various morning greetings to choose from. The chart is hung by the door, so when students enter the class so they can decide which greeting most matches their feelings for the day. Options include verbal greetings, hugs, handshakes and high-fives. This can help students feel like they have more agency in the classroom, which can in turn boost confidence when it comes to learning.
Personalized student greetings can also create a special moment between them and the teacher each day. Consider the secret handshake approach started by fifth grade teacher Barry White Jr. Each student created a secret handshake to share with only him in the morning before class. This is a positive way to start off the day and shows each student that their teacher recognizes and values their individual presence in class.
Taking time to be more mindful in the morning allows your students to feel more calm and centered before they start learning. It can also reduce any stress they may have carried with them from home. It’s much harder for children to learn when they feel stressed or anxious, says education writer Janelle Cox. In her own teaching experience, she has found that yoga is a great way to relieve stress while enhancing focus.
“By teaching students simple yoga poses each morning, I was able to help sustain their attention while relieving some pent-up stress,” she writes.
In addition to stress, many students also experience dysregulation issues. This is especially true in the kindergarten classroom, says Kids Yoga Stories founder Giselle Shardlow. She points out that many young students struggle to focus because they want to move their bodies and have a hard time sitting still and settling down. Doing yoga in the morning allows students to relax, unwind, move their bodies and express themselves.
Christie Burnett at Childhood101 compiled a large library of videos and resources for kids yoga. Whether you want a quick energizer or a longer 15-minute stretch session, there are endless options available for teachers. She also includes a morning yoga sequence which can be used to calm and relax students before the day gets started.
This video comes from Miriam Gates, the author of the children’s book “Good Morning Yoga.” The book details “a practice for kids and parents to greet the morning with joy and embark on their daily adventures with intention and confidence.”
Incorporating yoga into your classroom’s morning routine may also set them up for better mental health outcomes later in life, say Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. and Lisa Flynn at Greater Good Magazine. And this is certainly one activity that can benefit students of all ages. “Adolescents with unmanaged stress are at a higher risk for developing mental health issues such as anxiety disorders, which is why some researchers have explored whether school-based yoga might help reduce anxiety, tension, and stress.”
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