Morning routines can make or break anyone’s day, especially a child’s. Countless studies shed light on the fact that children are more likely to thrive academically and emotionally when they feel safe, respected, and loved. As educators, we can’t harp on what occurs outside of school hours, because that’s beyond our control. However, we can focus on what is in our control by creating a safe and nurturing environment for students during school hours.
School administrators can encourage and empower students every day via morning meetings. Morning meetings that are led by administrators provide teachers additional time to prepare for student arrival while also allowing the administrator time to build rapport with students. Ultimately, morning meetings are powerful because they afford students time to socialize with their peers and give administrators time to engage students in daily affirmations and social and emotional learning (SEL) activities.
Children and adolescents especially need social interaction to thrive. Unfortunately, with demanding curriculum and testing mandates, there’s little time built into the school day for students to engage in activities that give them the opportunity to socialize about nonacademic topics of their choice. Students may have three to five minutes to socialize while transitioning to class and 30 to 45 minutes to socialize during lunch.
Administrators can address the lack of student socialization by leading morning meetings every day. This can be accomplished by creating an arrival system and structure that allows students to eat breakfast and socialize for 30 minutes. For example, if school begins at 8:30 and students begin arriving around 7:50, administrators could lead grade-level morning meetings from 7:50 to 8:20. This gives teachers the gift of additional time to home in on lesson planning and other action items.
Too often, school administrators are seen as disciplinarians who interact with students only when they have misbehaved. However, administrators can strategically change this dynamic by proactively creating time and safe space to get to know students before misbehavior occurs. Facilitating morning meetings has led to less misbehavior at our school.
In addition to morning meetings having a positive impact on my students’ behavior, my teachers say they’re thankful for the additional time. They appreciate the time to prep, collaborate with colleagues, and engage in daily affirmations of their own.
Daily Affirmations and Quality Time
You may have heard a little about author Gary Chapman’s five love languages: words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, quality time, and physical touch. The basic premise is that people experience love differently. Therefore, once we know someone’s love language, we are better equipped to choose the gesture that best suits them.
As educators, it isn’t always appropriate to engage students in physical touch, gifts, or acts of service. However, we can certainly shower our students with words of affirmation and quality time.
We have 163 sixth graders at our school, and I facilitate morning meetings with the approximately 100 students who arrive early. For the first 18 minutes, the students have time to socialize and eat breakfast. Then, we spend about eight minutes doing some sort of SEL activity, and we wrap up our time together with an affirmation that takes about two minutes.
From the beginning of the school year, I have effectively managed my students by setting and implementing clear expectations and guidelines. Mrs. Crusoe, a math instructional lead teacher, supports me in supervision. Students enter the cafeteria and sit at assigned tables. Once students sit down, they may not get up without permission. If they need to use the restroom, report to the nurse, or go to the main office, they signal that to me or Mrs. Crusoe by making the peace sign with their fingers.
I utilize an attention-getter when I lead students in an SEL activity and when it’s time to dismiss: If you can hear me, clap once. If you can hear me, clap twice. If you can hear me, clap three times. This attention-getter is magical because it allows me to quickly quiet the students down so that I am able to speak.
Affirmations are effective when they are student-led, positive, memorable, and no more than four to six sentences. My sixth-grade students’ affirmation is as follows: I am liked. I am loved. I am beautifully made. Oh so, beautifully made. Success and abundance flow to me. Affirmations are a free and positive tool that we can equip our students with so that they know how to speak kindly to themselves as well as how to speak kindly to others.
In addition to affording my students a daily affirmation, I give them quality time. I do this by being present and visible and by engaging them in intentional conversation about current events, emotional intelligence, and moral dilemmas. I allocate time to engage my students in SEL activities because many children are still recovering from the negative effects of social distancing.
Furthermore, when SEL is explicitly taught during school hours, students acquire self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship skills, which allow them to make responsible decisions. I also explicitly talk to students about maintaining a positive attitude toward themselves and others because their attitude determines their altitude. I remind students to go to class and soak up all the knowledge that they can because knowledge is power. I emphasize the importance of students giving each other grace because we all are experiencing some level of adversity. Lastly, I set a calm ambiance by playing soothing music.
If you are an administrator and you are fortunate enough to have the human capital to lead a morning meeting, I strongly recommend that you do. Your teachers will appreciate the additional prep time, and your students will benefit tremendously from the lessons that you personally plan and teach.