Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Our Mornings

This morning we played a game of Charades. Jasmyne acted out a “puma,” not a mountain lion! However, she looked more like a dying turtle in agony than a “puma.” It was hilarious, and the kids ate it up. We followed this activity with a game of Telephone. One student starts the conversation and whispers the massage to the next person and so on until it gets back to the originator. Usually the message is about Mr. Moore’s hairy knuckles which the kids always seem to crack jokes about and today was no different. But again, the students laughed with one another. Our last activity this morning was a game of You Can’t Make Me Laugh. One student stands in the middle of our circle and with much effort tries very hard not to laugh as another student does everything in their power to make that student crack-up while the rest of us are doing our best not to giggle ourselves. Not always possible. Today, Jakelin was doing her best to make Lesly laugh and was just about out of time and in a panic when she grabbed her cheeks and proceeded to pull and push them back and forth while cross-eyed and made everybody bust up. I think the most amusing part of it was the panic in her expression.
We start every morning this very way. There are things we do that precede and follow these activities, and we have many different, fun and stimulating ones, too. But the goal during this time is not only to stimulate the kids’ minds, but more importantly, to build community. Many educators call this time “Morning Meeting,” and there are several publications on Morning Meetings which is how I learned of this activity. I urge all teachers to look into this activity and consider incorporating it into your classroom.  Our Morning Meetings consist of what most Morning Meetings do: a greeting, a couple quick activities, and announcements. We do all of this at the start of every morning in about 15 minutes.
Our greeting hasn’t changed that much since the beginning of the year. The first greeting I taught my students as they first introduced themselves to each other was a firm handshake and a good look in the eye. So every morning since then, my students circle up around our classroom, and I go around to each student and greet each of them aloud coupled with a firm handshake and a good look in the eye. After I greet each student, the rest of my students chorally greet that student, and then I advance to the next student until everybody has been greeted. Here’s was so great about it. Now, after months of us doing this every morning, every time we have a guest in our classroom, my students don’t hesitate to greet our guest, shake their hand, and introduce themselves. Also, my students are now eager to shake my hand at the end of the day on their way out the door. It has become part of our classroom culture.
Next to come are the activities such as the ones I have mentioned. Students love and look forward to this time. Our class uses these activities as a time to stimulate minds and get the blood pumping, but as mentioned earlier, these activities are really to build community and friendships in our classroom. It’s a time to laugh, and learn from one another and gain an understanding of one another. During this time everybody enjoys the company of each student and they are happy at the start of the day.
The last thing we do to complete our Morning Meeting is announcements. This time is used to communicate with the students and inform them of any school activities, events, or guests. I then give students the opportunity to announce things to the class that they are excited about. However, announcements aren’t all we do. I take the opportunity at the end of announcements to let my students know what they did well the day before, compliment them and encourage the same behaviors for the days and weeks to come. I set the behavior and learning expectations at this time for the day, have the students reiterate them to each other and to me. We say the pledge (only once everybody is standing tall, quiet and respectful and addressing the flag) and we are ready to begin our day.
I firmly believe that the community we have built and the respect that my students have developed for one another through these activities not only help them grow socially but assist them in their academic growth as well. It’s great to see and hear the students respect one another and help each other out. Of course we have our spats and disruptions, but over the months they have declined greatly and the students have learned to handle these situations and almost continue seamlessly which allows us to focus on learning.


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  2. Zach,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog about morning meetings. While I am not in a classroom this year, this is something which I would like to implement in the future. I like the fact that you focus on the positive behaviors of the students at the end of your announcement time and I also like that you have taught the students to make eye contact and to have a firm hand shake, it sounds like they are now confident in greeting others which will benefit them in our Western culture. However, I do have a question. Do you have Native American students in your class? In the Native culture a firm hand shake can be viewed as a sign of aggression and making direct eye contact can be viewed as aggressive or rude. There are many other differences between Western and Native culture but this difference can have an impact on making a good first impression. In the military, I had friends that were Native America, but never noticed differences because we had a common culture in the Marines. I feel that your morning meetings have, as you said, provided a classroom culture for your students. I was just wondering if you were faced with this difference or any other culture differences where you teach?. Thank you, April

    1. Hello, April. Thanks for your input. I currently teach at a title 1 school of 500 students. I do happen to have a Native American student in my classroom, ten Hispanic, two deaf children, two homeless students and a total of four kids on IEPs. The remainder of my students are white for a total of 25 students. My classroom is very diverse, and in such a diverse classroom, we have learned to respect one another regardless of background or ability. One way we have done this is through our morning meetings. Where I do teach my students to shake hands firmly and look somebody in the eye, I am also very culturally sensitive, and if there were a need to make adjustments, I would be the first to do so and share any new cultural knowledge with all of my students because their understanding is just as important as mine. However, all of my students' parents are aware of my teachings and our classroom activities, and not one parent or student has objected to our classroom culture. As a matter of fact, every one of my students is excited for this time of day. I have also developed a great rapport with the parents, and I have never had so many parents thank me for what I do in the classroom with their children and have been encouraged to keep doing the same thing by parents and administration alike. Parents tell me that they see a positive change in their child's attitude both towards school and at home and they greatly appreciate it.

      Further, where a firm handshake and look in the eye may be considered an act of aggression in some cultues and especially in nature, so is a show of teeth. So should everybody stop smiling? My point is, if we can be culturally sensitive, so can everybody else. I totally understand that some cultures may not have the same views I do, but I still respect them and make every effort to understand their culture. However, I would never force somebody to do something that they or their parents were not comfortable with. At the same time, if we can be understanding of others' culture, all other people around the globe can be understanding of others' as well and realize that a firm handshake means I am involved in this meeting and I respect you and myself, and I am here for you. A look in the eye, lets a person know that I am engaged and focused on them and what they have to say is important to me. When I smile, it is a warm greeting letting people know that I am happy. While different cultures may show these actions in different ways, I believe that everybody wants these things from others regardless of their culture.

      I make every effort to be very respectful of others' differences. In fact, I enjoy the differences among people, learning and understanding them. But as teachers, we are so much more than arithmetic or reading teachers. Our students are with us far more during the school year than they are with their own families. When a group of children comes to me and the only way they know how to greet one another is through name calling, kicking, or punching and no matter how innocent it may be, I step in and teach them the best way I know how. Regardless of how it is displayed, I teach them to respect one another.

      I teach all of my students that we are equal. Not one person is better or worse than the next. I include myself in this judgment. I am color, ability, and background blind. I would do anything for my students.

      The semester is almost over, and the past two years is getting ready to culminate. I am so excited. We have worked very hard. I hope all is well for you and yours. Good luck the rest of the semester. See you in May!

      Take care,

    2. Zach,

      I had never heard about the teeth, there are many things that we might do which can create an offense. We do have to be ourselves and work with our students. It is great that you have parental support and communication.
      Since I work with adults in alcohol and drug addiction recovery we are trained in cultural differences as not to offend the students. An offense can create budding (building up to drink) plus it shows that one is trying to understand and respects another cultures. I have enjoying about learning about other cultures.
      With elementary students, where I work as a RtI volunteer, I have noticed that if I am directly questioning or making direct eye contact with some students, they shut down. However, if I am indirect, share stores, and make casual eye contact, these students feel more comfortable and will engage in small group communications. Had I not learned about cultural differences I might have thought a student unwilling to make eye contact with an adult was shy or possibly being disrespectful.
      I feel what you are teaching your students will benefit them for a long time. Thank you for your information and sharing your mornings, April