Volume IX Issue I
Heather Clayton, the author of Making the Standards Come Alive!, is the principal of Mendon Center Elementary School in Pittsford Central School District, New York. She is also a co-author of Creating a Culture for Learning published by Just ASK.
“That’s the beauty of education, kids taking lessons out of the classroom and back into their own world where they can positively affect their family, their friends, and their greater community.”
Just as we explicitly teach academics, we also need to teach the skills necessary for social emotional learning and development. Learning is a social experience that happens in all parts of the brain, where we think, feel, and survive. To foster learning, we need to honor our students’ need to connect to both the content they are learning and the people with whom they are working. Our students need quality relationships where they feel supported and capable.
One high leverage practice for helping students to form strong relationships and to foster a sense of community and belonging in the classroom is through class meetings. Class meetings often take the format of a Morning Meeting at the beginning of the school day and a Closing Meeting at the end of the school day.
Class Meetings Are Important Because They…
- Build trust among the adults and students in the class.
When adults participate and share in class meetings, students recognize they can be trusted to be thoughtful, supportive, and interested in what each student has to say.
- Establish an environment of respect and an appreciation of differences.
Students can count on being heard and seen as important for what they bring to the classroom.
- Create a sense of belonging and are all inclusive.
Interacting as a group and ensuring that all student voices are heard sends a message that every individual matters.
- Set a positive tone for learning
Students see that the adults think they are valuable, which builds their confidence and motivation to learn.
- Lay a strong foundation for student collaboration
The modeling and structure provided through class meetings helps students learn to develop productive and appropriate relationships.
In structured Morning Meeting, for 20 to 30 minutes a day, students learn how to greet one another, listen and respond to their peers, solve problems, and appreciate what each class member brings to the conversation. The Morning Meeting has four, sequential components that are predictable, yet allow room for variation.
Morning Meeting opens with a greeting, where students greet one another by name. Each greeting may be accompanied by a gesture, handshake or some other acknowledgement. Morning gree:tings, while only taking about three minutes, are a powerful way to guarantee that every student hears his or her name spoken in a positive way each and every day. It also helps each student in the classroom to learn and use the names of their peers. The greeting should be done every day and never be omitted from the meeting.
The links below include sample greetings and ideas to keep them fresh:
During the sharing portion of the meeting, students engage in meaningful conversation while demonstrating care and respect for their peers. Students may share personal stories or news they have, or they may share in response to a question, sentence starter, or topic the teacher has identified. Sharing time develops students’ oral communication skills, and involves all students in one of two roles: the sharer or the responder. The students sharing need to practice using a strong and clear voice and a focused message. The students listening then practice responding with thoughtful questions, comments, and acknowledgement.
The following links include ideas for the sharing portion of the meeting:
- www.responsiveclassroom.org/sharing-idea-my-favorite-season-and-heres-why/ (ideas for grades K-2)
- www.responsiveclassroom.org/sites/default/files/pdf_files/80MMI_3_6_sharing.pdf (ideas for grades 3-6)
The whole class engages in a short and fast-paced activity that may include academic skill building or social and emotional skill building with a greater focus on listening, teamwork, direction following, and self-control. All activities are designed to build a sense of community, foster engagement, and encourage cooperation.
The following links include ideas for the activity portion of the meeting:
To mark the transition from the Morning Meeting to the instructional day, students read a message that has been written by the teacher. Typically, messages are shared on chart paper, a Smart Board, or some other projection tool so that all students can view it simultaneously. As teachers craft their messages, they base them on what is relevant for their classroom at the time. Messages may relate to the curriculum, special classroom or school events, the weather, or any other relevant topics. Most messages are a few sentences long and pose a question for the students to consider.
The following links include ideas for the morning message:
- www.responsiveclassroom.org/morning-message-idea-favorite-numbers (morning message ideas for grades K-2)
- www.responsiveclassroom.org/morning-message-idea-what-do-you-know/ (morning message ideas for grades 3-6)
Time spent in Morning Meeting provides students with a sense of belonging and builds the skills of attention, listening, and cooperation all of which yield high gains when applied to academics.
Closing Meetings are used to end the school day on a positive and peaceful note. The length is shorter than a Morning Meeting, lasting only five to ten minutes. Even though the meeting is short in duration, the benefits are long lasting. Using a Closing Meeting enhances classroom environment in the following ways:
One important way for students to solidify learning and deepen understanding is to repeat back, in their own words, what they have learned and the connections they have made.
Allowing time for celebration
Helping our children to slow down and recognize all of the good things that happen in a day not only builds a positive classroom environment, but ensures that we are paying attention to our students’ victories- large and small.
Creating a sense of purpose
For many of our students, facing a new school day can be a daunting and anxiety provoking experience. When students end the day on a positive note and leave with something to look forward to, it makes the transition into the next day easier.
There are a number of different things students may share during a Closing Meeting:
- Something new they learned
- A wondering they have
- A goal for the next day
- A closing song
- A closing game
The goal of the Closing Meeting is for students to leave school feeling calm, positive, and upbeat about the next day. It is not a time to do any class problem solving or start something new, but rather a time to reflect, celebrate, and look forward.
Tips for Conducting Meaningful Class Meetings
For any type of class meeting you may choose, adhering to the following guidelines will boost the quality of meetings and strengthen the classroom community.
Create an environment conducive to sharing
Invite students to an open space in the classroom where they can comfortably sit in a circle, facing one another, with nothing in their hands. Some teachers teach their students in ways to move their desks or tables if necessary to make space for the class meeting.
Help students understand the “why”
Openly share with your students the purpose for class meetings. Share with them that class meetings allow them to get to know each other, openly share their thinking, figure things out together, take risks, and really listen to one another. Class meetings are a time for everyone to feel included, valued, and safe in their classroom.
Participate in the meeting
The power of the class meeting comes from the participation of everyone in the classroom, including the adults. The adults serve as models for the students, while also sharing with students in a way that builds trust and connection.
Establish norms and teach routines
It is important to identify the routines necessary for carrying out the meeting, then model and practice them before expecting students to follow independently. Some common routines students need to follow include forming the circle, engaging with their classmates in a supportive way, responding to signals, and making transitions.
Norms are critical for articulating how everyone is to look and act when in the class meeting. For example, students are expected to listen to one another, wait their turn, practice self-control, use appropriate body language, and communicate clearly. Other norms may reinforce that mistakes are okay, students should be supportive of one another, and they always need to show respect for themselves and others.
Dedicate a consistent time to hold class meetings and build it into your schedule. Students count on this time and the class meeting will lose its effectiveness if pushed aside for other things.
In order for class meetings to enhance the classroom culture and empower students with the necessary social and emotional skills, they need to be held regularly. Outside of the meeting times, teachers also need to consistently model appropriate social and emotional skills and hold students accountable for respectful behavior and meaningful engagement.
Class meetings, in whichever format you may choose, are invaluable in building a respectful community of learners in the classroom. The skills taught are far reaching and impactful in all parts of a student’s day. In addition, class meetings promote a school culture that is welcoming, inclusive, and genuine.
Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this newsletter for non-commercial use only. Please include the following citation on all copies:
Clayton, Heather. “Classroom Meetings.” Making the Standards Come Alive! Volume IX, Issue I 2020. Available at www.justaskpublications.com. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development. ©2020. All rights reserved.