George Lucas Educational Foundation

Schools That Work | Practice

Symonds Elementary School

Grades K-5 | Keene, NH

Morning Meetings: Creating a Safe Space for Learning

At Symonds Elementary, teachers use morning meetings to develop valuable social-emotional skills, create a culture of respect and trust, and prepare students to learn.
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Morning Meetings: Creating a Safe Space for Learning (Transcript)

Alli: Anybody want to share about how they're feeling today? Evan, how are you feeling?

Evan: Hungry!

Alli: You're feeling hungry. Big surprise, right? Owen, how are you feeling today?

Owen: I'm feeling sleepy, excited and fine.

Alli: Wow, you're feeling lots of emotions today. And finally, Chloe.

Definitely noticed a change in some of my shyer students. At the beginning of the year they're really kind of clammed up, and they're nervous. But then as the year progresses, they really open up and feel comfortable sharing things about their family or things that might not be so comfortable to share. And we become a support system for each other.

No matter what kind of morning they had at home, they're going to come into my classroom, they're going to sit in a circle and be with their friends. Just having that kind of clear structure and expectation just puts them at ease.


Student: And I hope you have a great time.

Molly: Thank you.

Alli: In order to get any kid to learn, they really have to feel safe. They have to feel respected. Without that, you're not going to accomplish much academically.

The greeting part of Morning Meeting, it really changes day-to-day. Sometimes we'll do a Mingle Greeting.

So today I'm going to hand you one card. And your job is to try to find your match. You want to find the person who has the improper fraction to match your model, or if you have a model, you want to try to find the person that has the matching improper fraction. You're going to make eye contact. Give them a little fist bump to say "Good morning." And the question I want you to ask today is just, "How are you feeling?" Mingle.

Student: How are you feeling?

Student: Okay.

Student: How are you feeling?

Student: Okay, thanks.

Alli: The more that you can make the behavioral stuff for your entire classroom, instead of just focusing on individual kids, it really helps those kids not feel so isolated, for things that they're trying to work on.

Today is?

Students: Wednesday!

Alli: And then I typically move into Calendar. That's where I really get a chance to go over their day with them, so they know what to expect. They don't have to be on their toes. And then we move into sharing.

Student: This is a very special fan, and I can really do this. You can pick up the--

Alli: Some parts of Morning Meeting may be longer in certain grade levels, but every Morning Meeting really has the same structure to it.

Elliot: Good morning, Harrison.

Harrison: Good morning, Elliot.

Elliot: Hope you have an amazing day.

Harrison: Thank you, you, too.

Mia: I hope you have a stellar day.

Student: Good morning, Jason.

Jason: Good morning, Mia.

Student: Hope you have an extraordinary day.

Calvin: Hope you have a great day.

Student: Thanks, you, too.

Gretchen: A lot of times, we'll include some sort of a question with our greeting, and so the kids are sharing a piece of themselves. They want to be heard.

They want to be heard. They want to be seen. They want to make those connections with each other.

Student: If you could go to any State in the U.S., which State would you go to?

Student: Probably Alaska, 'cause they have a lot of cool fish there.

Harrison: I would probably go to Hawaii, because I like flowers.

Alli: And then finally, and probably the most famous part of Morning Meeting, is the activity. We tend to work a lot on teamwork.

It's important that we always know how to be kind to each other, how to work together. We're going to try our best to work together as a team, so that we can maybe exceed our goal of 19.

In the teacher role, you're also making sure that the kids understand, if the tower falls, how can we support the person who's putting that block on?

Alli: Nineteen blocks! Excellent! Okay.

Students: Yay! [cheering.]

Alli: This is a safe zone.

Audience is nice and quiet.

If the blocks fall, life will go on. We will be okay.

Students: Ohhhhh!

Alli: Oh, that's okay. That's okay! [applause.] Give her a hand. That was awesome.

Gretchen: We try to include some leadership activities and group challenges with the 5th graders. So we try to raise it up a level, to think about how are they communicating with each other? How are they solving problems as a group?

With Group Juggle, we're trying to safely get our birds to each other, and not touch the ground. What's your strategy, Mia?

Mia: Sometimes if you say their name, it helps them to join in a little if you're about to throw to them.

Gretchen: And Calvin, what do you think?

Calvin: If somebody misses, don't start laughing, because it kind of gets you all wound up.

Gretchen: All right, here we go.

It builds as they get older and older, they're more comfortable with it. It helps them with public speaking. They're not stressed out about sharing their ideas when they're right here in the classroom.

Alli: I love it. I can see right away by looking around my circle who's in a good space, who's not. So I really use that information to help with the kids be ready to learn.

Gretchen: We hold each other accountable. If I'm going to listen to what you're sharing in the morning, you're going to listen to what I'm sharing. We're going to do it in a respectful way and a caring way. And that respect carries out throughout the school, and also out onto the playground. And ideally, out into their community.

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Creating a Safe Space for Learning

Morning meetings at Symonds Elementary are a school-wide practice that originated from the Responsive Classroom model, which is based on the idea that students' social-emotional growth is just as important as their academic growth. Symonds teachers adapt the Responsive Classroom model of a morning meeting to fit their classroom needs, using it to create a classroom culture where students feel safe, supported, and ready to learn.

How It's Done

Four Key Components of Morning Meetings

Every day at Symonds Elementary starts with morning meetings. Teachers use their first 20-25 minutes of class time to check in with their students, develop their social-emotional skills, and prepare them for the learning ahead.

Developed as a part of the Responsive Classroom (RC) model, morning meetings have four key components:

  • Greeting: Students and teachers greet and welcome each other.
  • Sharing: Students share something about themselves or their lives, and the rest of their peers listen, then ask follow-up questions or offer comments.
  • Activity: The group completes an activity that encourages teamwork while re-emphasizing social or academic skills.
  • Morning message: Students read a short message from their teacher, usually describing what is to come in the day ahead.

According to Responsive Classroom (PDF), the goal of these four components, and the meeting as a whole, is to "set the tone for respectful learning, establish a climate of trust, motivate students to feel significant, create empathy and encourage collaboration, and support social, emotional, and academic learning."

"The reason these. . . techniques are exceedingly effective for us is because they are followed in every classroom every day," Principal Richard Cate says. "All school staff are involved in morning meetings, so that everyone has a similar baseline for the management of their instruction. Kids become used to being listened to and teachers to 'whole body listening' themselves. This forms the foundation of our respectful community and creates a positive school culture."

Laying the Groundwork for Success

1. Adapt It to Your Classroom

While the RC model lays out a clear structure and order to the components of the morning meeting, Symonds teachers adapt the practice to fit what's best for their classrooms. Third-grade teacher Alli Carr found that she needed to change the morning message to fit the needs of her students and her schedule. She now goes over the calendar during the meeting instead, and puts the message on what she calls the "Learning Board" so that her students and other staff members know what the objectives are for the day.

Fifth-grade teacher Gretchen Hoefer decided to move the sharing section of her meeting to another time in the day, because she had limited time in the first part of the morning before students left for extracurricular activities like music or art. To make it work, she simply moved that component to a time later in the day when she knew that she would have everyone back in the classroom.

Teachers can also adapt on the fly if they see a need, such as choosing an activity that might calm students down if they come in energized, or choosing an energetic activity if there will be a lot of sitting that day in class.

2. Ensure Structure

But while teachers adapt the meeting to fit their needs, maintaining a structure is important. "The order of the meeting is set by me, but I never change it during the year," Carr says. "I think the structure is super important. . . it also allows the kids to know what is coming."

3. Set Expectations

Teachers hoping to start using morning meetings in their classroom will need to spend some time setting expectations. "You do a lot of modeling at the beginning of the year," Carr says. "Everything from how to greet each other, how to ask questions and how to respond to questions. Sometimes you feel like you are being a stickler on the little things, but in the long run, it really works." And taking the time to teach students those social-emotional skills, she said, ultimately means that teachers "will have more time to teach as the school year moves forward."

Scaling to Encourage Growth

Once the groundwork is laid, students are comfortably and successfully participating in morning meetings, and the classroom community is established, teachers at Symonds often scale the activities or greetings to be more challenging.

"As the kids get older, you can challenge them a bit more with your expectations," Carr says. Instead of a typical greeting such as, "Good morning Alli, I hope you have a great day," she might ask them to use an adjective other than great or good, or ask them to ask a question as a part of their greeting. Then, to add another challenge, Carr might have the questioner ask a follow-up question once he or she gets a response to the initial greeting question. "Adding these little tweaks can help promote good listening skills," she says.

The morning meeting also scales across grade levels, so that the higher grades are building upon the foundation laid in the lower grades. Fifth-grade teachers like Hoefer work to raise the bar and introduce new greetings and activities that their students haven't yet experienced. Teachers in the higher grades also start incorporating new skills, such as leadership and public speaking, by giving students the opportunity to lead morning meetings either by themselves or with a partner.

The sample greetings and activities below are from fifth-grade teacher Gretchen Hoefner.

Sample Greetings and Activities for Fifth-Grade Students

Simple Good Morning Greeting

One student starts and greets the student next to them by saying, "Good morning, _____." They make eye contact and face each other when doing this. The next student returns the greeting and then greets the person on their other side. You can add a handshake or high five to the simple greeting.

Different Languages Greeting

Same as above, but using a greeting from a different language.

Introduce Your Neighbor

Each student interviews a partner by finding something out about them (favorite book, favorite food, favorite activity) and then sharing that with the rest of the class. "This is my friend _______, and his or her favorite activity is _______."

Ball-Bounce Greeting

Everyone stands in the circle. Using a 10-inch inflated ball, the first student says, "Good morning, ______" to another student and then bounces the ball to them. After they have greeted someone and passed the ball, the student sits down.

The Warm Wind Blows

Each person needs a clearly marked spot in the circle (rug square or chair). One person starts in the middle of the circle and completes the statement, "The warm wind blows for everyone who likes to __________ " (play soccer, eat pizza, go skiing, etc.). Everyone who agrees with this statement has to find a new spot in the circle (including the person in the middle). They cannot move to the space right next to where they were standing. Whoever is left without a spot in the outer circle stays in the middle of the circle and is the next one to say, "The warm wind blows for. . ."

Group Juggle

The goal of this activity is to pass an item around the circle with as few drops as possible. Start with one ball. I have used four-inch Nerf balls or stuffed Beanie Babies. Set up a passing pattern for the ball/item so that everyone in the group receives it once and then passes it on to someone else. Pass to someone across the circle, not right next to you. One person starts the sequence and will get the ball/item back after everyone has had it. Once you have your order, start at the beginning again and see if you can pass the ball/item around to everyone without dropping it. You can add in more balls/items to increase the challenge of the activity.

Colored Dot Game

Put a colored sticker dot on the forehead of each student. The child does not get to see what color it is. Have four or five different colors of one-inch dots available. Without talking, each student needs to find other students that have the same colored dot.


One student volunteers to be "it" and leaves the circle to stand in the hallway for a minute. Another student is chosen to be the leader. The leader leads other students in different movements (hand clap, foot wiggle, head nod, etc.). The students watch the leader closely and imitate his or her actions. The "it" person comes back into the room and has three chances to guess who the leader is.


Comments (5) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

judyd123's picture

This a great approach. I firmly believe the day should be started with a group meeting. Students need to talk with one another as well as the teacher before academics. I like how they talked about team work. This helps students to work together better and be more respectful and aware of each other. I can see how this can help academic learning at all grade levels.

EmilyyRowe's picture

I love this morning approach! I believe that everyday should be started in a large group arrangement where everyone can see each other and can interact. This gives the students time to reflect on the day before and what is going on that day. Students need to be able to communicate with one another and the teacher.

Lori Lukasezck's picture

So great to see the RC spotlighted! It is a phenomenal way to begin your day- it really sets the tone. We also have a closing circle, to wrap things up at the end of the day. So worth the time!

Emily Zunk's picture

It's ironic and disappointing that an article about social emotional learning refers to art and music as extra curricular. Art and music are not extra curricular.

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