Leader in Me Weekly: Morning meetings…would you say this is an optional activity in a leadership classroom or a “need to have,” and why?
Muriel: We’re certainly making it a part of every classroom at A.B. Combs next year as a result of the power and the impact we have seen in some of our classes this year. Amazing things come out of these 15- to 20-minute sessions when they are done masterfully. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen!
Right! Tell us more.
Morning meetings allow children to gain a whole new level of understanding and empathy toward their classmates. When they find out that a classmate’s dog passed away the night before or their grandmother is very sick, it builds community, a sense of belonging, and feelings of safety, trust, and acceptance. It’s about lifting someone up by finding ways to help and support them. Children won’t divulge something very personal until they feel that there is a climate of trust and support.
This climate of trust and support communicates to students that no matter how bad it may be outside of school, they have a classroom of friends that are going to listen and support them. I have data to support that classrooms that do this on a consistent basis have an increased level of happiness, engagement, and community. Plus, discipline issues greatly diminish or go away.
That’s key right there.
That is key.
So, are you saying, “Hey, these need to happen in the morning.” And then maybe following up on that, are you suggesting that this is a daily activity?
Oh yes. I think it should be a daily activity. Having it first thing in the morning sets the tone for the rest of the day. One teacher described it to the students as, “You may be coming in with baggage. And we may need to leave the baggage at the door, but we’re going to talk about it first. We don’t want you dealing with whatever it is that you’re carrying right now.”
What would you say to a teacher that asks, “Is there a curriculum I should follow?” or “Where do I find the time?”
Well, I would suggest stepping back and reading the research on morning meetings— there’s a lot out there (We’ve got some articles linked at the bottom of the article to help you get started).
The classes that do morning meetings extremely well begin with a motivator—a leading question, video clip, quote, or something else—very carefully selected by the teacher. The effectiveness of the morning meeting lies in the skill of teachers to know their students so well that they know what to present to evoke these kinds of discussions.
Have you seen students lead a morning meeting? And even if you haven’t, what would you advise in terms of having students play a more active role?
I have seen it. The teacher must first model the behaviors and the routine—ideally during the The First 8 Days. The classes that do this most effectively at Combs are now being led by the students, and the teachers feel strongly that they should be. Of course, the teacher must share the outline of the meeting and do some planning with the student. Certainly, in the upper grades, middle school, and high school it would be wonderful to see children actually doing the planning themselves.
Twenty years ago, the advisory movement began to help every student feel connected through a trusting relationship. So, what would you say to a middle or high school teacher who asks, “How can I help students have these types of discussions when they are so concerned about what other people think?”
I’ve seen it done successfully, but there has to be a level of trust. I do think that middle and high school students will open up when they feel their voice matters and that their opinions are valued, heard, and respected. I love watching students have very deep and meaningful conversations, but I think that perhaps we don’t give them nearly enough opportunities to do so.
So morning meetings work for older students for the same reasons they work for younger students.
It’s important to say again that morning meetings give students an opportunity for their voice to be heard, for their opinions to matter, and to develop empathy, compassion, and love for one another. When students know one another’s stories, they are kind and empathetic to each other. It gives us hope—hope that deeper and more meaningful understanding will lead to deeper and more meaningful relationships. I can only imagine the impact this will have on a school if it’s done every day.
From what you’ve seen and what you know, are there key pieces that teachers should have in place as they start morning meetings?
You have to make it a priority.
It’s also critical to create a physical environment for meaningful conversation to happen. Based on my observations, this does not happen with students sitting in chairs or in rows—it happens in a circle.
You also need to create the emotional culture. You need to know the dynamics of what’s going on in your class and the problems that may be surfacing. The most meaningful morning meetings take place when the teacher really thinks about the motivator. You also need to be prepared for uncomfortable pauses, and that’s hard for us as teachers. But when you give children time, that’s when the beauty of the meeting starts to happen.
In summary, make the time, make it a priority, implement it with fidelity, create the physical and emotional environments, plan according to your students’ needs, and empower children to eventually lead these sessions.
Fantastic! As always, thank you for your time, Muriel.