I’m so glad to get to share my excitement about morning meetings with you. My friend, Susan Matthews, was kind enough to join us on the PODCAST to share her insight. She has so many practical ideas and recommendations that I just can’t wait to tell you about. She has taught for 11 years in several elementary grades, so she has the walk to back up her talk. Ready to put together a fantastic morning meeting for your class?
Why is morning meeting so important?
As Susan points out, it’s important for students and the teacher to start the day with a routine. A morning meeting helps get you focused and ready to think about school. It’s also important to start the day off on a positive note.
Whether you are virtual or in person, this is a great time to do a check in with your class about how they’re doing and how they’re feeling. Starting off with songs, being positive and happy, and letting them know you’re excited to be there sets the tone for the day.
It’s not only great for the kids. It’s good for teachers. We have so much lesson planning to do, but morning meetings become routine after the first week of school. You won’t have to have a detailed lesson plan; all you’ll need is to know what your focuses are for that part of the day.
Susan says she knows she always starts with two songs and then goes straight into the morning Word Work (which you can find on my TPT site for KINDERGARTEN or FIRST GRADE). Then she goes on to a little math with how many days we’ve been in school. Susan uses addition and subtraction, and sometimes multiplication, to find different ways to make that number. Students will actually build off other students’ answers. Talk about engagement!
This gives you a way to start the day knowing what you are doing without doing even more planning. It takes a lot of pressure off the first part of the day, which could be the hardest part, but morning meeting gives us and our kiddos something to look forward to.
If you’re ready to start building your morning meeting routine, or you want to fine tune the one you’re using now, here are the five components you need to make sure your morning meetings are epic.
#1 – Morning Meeting Needs… Hype, Excitement, and Joy
This is my favorite part of the routine! Some teachers find this area difficult. But it’s important because, as Susan points out, attitudes are contagious. Just like we emulate our role models, our students try to mirror what they see in us.
If students see you are excited and happy about school, they will share that attitude. If students see you stressed and worried, then that’s the attitude they will take on. However, if they come in and, no matter what is going on in the world, they see that their teacher is happy and excited to see them, it makes them feel loved and excited to be at school.
It’s really a selfless thing to do, because it means you have to put yourself to the side. You put on that excitement and joy no matter how you feel. Dr. Jean says, “Fake it until you feel it.” Sometimes that’s what I do. If I’m having a bad morning but I come in with a smile on my face, when I see my students’ smiling faces, it comes back to me.
Another reason this is so important is that primary grades really set the tone for students’ academic careers. Kindergarteners have 12 or 13 years of school ahead of them. Being a child and learning is supposed to be exciting and fun, and as primary teachers we help set that tone for the rest of their time in school. If we teach them that learning and reading is fun, they will carry that for years.
#2 Morning Meeting Needs… SEL
Whether you formally include a Social Emotional Learning component in your morning meeting, it’s very likely that you are incorporating it to a degree. Here are some more ways you can make sure that you address your little learners’ SEL needs.
Greeting and Feelings Check-In
Susan says that the first thing she does is ask the class to tell how they’re doing that day. Students can show this in person or virtually with a thumbs up, down, or in the middle. This gives you an opportunity to recognize students by name and tell them you’re happy they’re doing well or you’re sorry they’re having a rough morning. You can even ask if they want to talk about it, and if they don’t at the time, it gives you a chance to check on them later.
It’s so important to let students know that their feelings matter and you care about them. If a student shows a thumbs down, Susan says she doesn’t call on them for the first couple questions to give them a chance to settle in and warm up.
Sometimes there may be a student who shows a thumbs down every day as an attention getting behavior. Susan says she acknowledges this with something silly like, “Oh, I know you’re happy to see your favorite teacher!”
In second grade, I have students write their feelings check-in, and that’s part of their assignment for the day.
Another way to incorporate SEL is with a mantra (you can check out the SEL toolkit HERE). A mantra, or affirmation, is simply a positive statement that you say through the day. It can help you and your students stay focused and keep a good attitude.
Names are also important. There’s a whole post about that HERE. Especially when we’re virtual and students are feeling disconnected, using their names frequently is a great way to keep them engaged.
There’s a Dr. Jean song that Susan uses called, “I’m so Glad That You’re Here.” It repeats that several times in the song, but instead of saying “you” she uses a different child’s name and points to them.
Little Red Box
The Little Red Box is a Dr. Jean idea. Susan uses this in her classroom. She writes each child’s name on a sentence strip, asks each parent to send a picture of their child, and she laminates them and staples them to the top of the sentence strips.
At the end of every meeting she says she’s about to do her little red box. She picks two students a day and sings, “I wish I had a little red box to put my (student’s name) in. I’d take him out and hug, hug, hug. Put him back again.” She holds up the picture and name like she’s giving a hug.
If she forgets it or tries to skip it due to running short on time, her students remind her! Imagine how much students love a part of the routine if they notice it’s missing and ask for it.
#3 – Morning Meeting Needs… Singing and Movement
Susan says that when you’re writing a paper or story, you want your first sentence to be an attention grabber. She does the same thing with songs in the morning. She’ll use a morning welcome song that includes their name and one educational song, like Verbs Action Words by Dr. Jean, or a phonics song. She switches between a few, but not so many that they aren’t routine.
They all have movements, and she recommends teachers do the movements too to encourage students to participate. If they are doing alone, they feel more self-conscious and silly. I actually have some parents that sit with their children during virtual teaching who have messaged me and said that it’s entertaining, because I do all the things I ask the kids to do.
Regardless of if you’re a good singer or bad singer, your students will love it because they love to sing with you.
I believe that movement is key to engaging students in primary grades. With virtual teaching, which is just less engaging than being present in the classroom, it’s even more important.
With syllables, instead of clapping, Susan has her students jump out the syllables for bigger movements. When they are picking out verbs from a sentence, instead of shouting it out, she has her students act it out. Any way you can incorporate movement will help your students be more successful.
#4 – Morning Meeting Needs… Differentiation
I believe it’s important all the time, and it’s especially important during morning meeting. The biggest reason it matters during morning meeting is keeping students engaged. If you only ask questions that challenge the higher level students, you’ll lose the lower level students, and the other way around.
Think about being at a PD. If they’re talking about things that are just over your head, you start zoning out and planning what you’re going to do the next day in your classroom. Same if the PD is something you’ve already done. So it’s important to hit different levels to meet all your students.
Susan says that she uses Word Works to help with this, and she actually helped me design the program this way. She uses the example of how the first question might be to choose the correct punctuation mark for a sentence. By this time in the year, even her lower level students would be able to do that. The follow up question might be to turn that question into a sentence, which could challenge higher level students.
She also uses differentiation in talking about the day of the school year I mentioned earlier. Students are able to give her ways to make that number. Lower level students can provide simple answers (74 + 0 = 74). Each student can give whatever answer their ability allows them and be successful.
Susan also tells them after a few days that she is going to teach them multiplication, so they’re going to learn a third grade skill! If she gives them one candy 12 times, they understand they will have 12 candies, and 12 times one is 12. Over time, the higher level students will be able to provide simple multiplication options.
Differentiation allows students to show up being confident that they will have success. That’s how we want to start the school day. It gives them stamina to get through the harder parts of the day.
#5 – Morning Meeting Needs… Content Connections
Content is important to include in morning meeting as well. It needs to be intertwined in a meaningful way. Susan says that she looks ahead at what they’ll be learning that day. At the end of the morning meeting, she picks a skill and introduces it to get them excited. This helps build their background knowledge so that when they start to learn the new concept, they’ve already heard about it.
She sometimes calls back to the skill from the previous day. Everything is easier when we’ve heard it before. It gives students a confidence boost, and connecting it to that day’s lessons makes them more excited to learn new material.
Morning Meeting Final Tips
Keep morning meeting short. It should be 20 – 30 minutes. For that little bit of time, you want to get the most benefit possible in SEL and content. Susan likes to use a variety of skills during this time.
You may need to mix things up. Instead of using the same two songs every day, choose two from six or seven that they know. This way all the songs will be familiar enough but not boring.
Susan also mentioned a conference by Harry Wong she went to where she learned about the Teacher Toolbox. We all have tools that we’ve created ourselves or borrowed from other teachers. Have your toolbox ready so if your students aren’t engaged in part of the meeting you have something else ready you can substitute.
Grab your FREE Cheat Sheet Here!
Ready to make it epic? Print this free guide and use it on your way.
If you’d like to add more to your Teacher Toolbox, check out our growing community over on Facebook at the Primary Teacher Friends group!
Special thanks to Susan for sharing her insight on morning meeting. If you’d like to get in touch with her, her email address is susanmatthews @ johnston.k12.nc.us (just be sure to remove the spaces).
Difference maker, keep making a difference!