As a teacher, one thing that I love at PNA is the mission statement the school has: We educate students to be exceptional learners and independent thinkers of vision, courage, and integrity. This statement is frequently discussed among staff members, and it is at the heart of the training we receive and the lessons and activities we plan for our students. But what I love almost more than the mission statement itself, is the approach which we use to strive to accomplish our mission, and the way it builds community in the classroom!
At PNA, the educational approach we use is called Responsive Classroom. It is defined as “a student-centered, social and emotional learning approach to teaching and discipline. It is comprised of a set of research, and evidence-based practices designed to create safe, joyful, and engaging classrooms and school communities for both students and teachers” (see responsiveclassroom.org). Because of this exceptional approach, every teacher at PNA (even us in Preschool!) has the goal of establishing expectations, rules, and routines which will enable us to build a cooperative and supportive learning environment in each classroom. While we work on this all year long, there is a special focus on building a classroom community during the first six weeks of the school year.
One of our most important practices for building community in the classroom is our morning meeting. This meeting is where everyone in the classroom gathers in a circle for twenty to thirty minutes at the beginning of each school day and proceeds through four purposeful components: greeting, sharing, group activity, and morning message.
- Greeting: Students and teachers greet one other by name. We do this in lots of different ways, and even when children are shy, they generally like to hear their name and be wished “good morning”. It’s also a quick way for the teacher to get a sense of how each student may be feeling that morning.
- Sharing: Students share information about important events in their lives. Listeners often offer empathetic comments or ask clarifying questions. Sharing is a very big part of our morning meetings. Preschoolers love to share what is going on in their lives, and they generally all want to do it at the same time! A preschool child is not too young to learn how to be a good speaker, as well as a respectful listener, but it takes lots of practice. Daily opportunities during sharing time in our morning meetings is just what they need!
- Group Activity: Everyone participates in a brief, lively activity that fosters group cohesion and helps students practice social and academic skills. Group activities are also a big part of our morning meetings. For preschoolers these activities may include singing, dancing, finger plays and reciting nursery rhymes, or playing a game together. Often we have more than one activity because they help us start out our day with a good dose of fun!
- Morning Message: Students read and interact with a short message written by their teacher. The message is crafted to help students focus on the work they’ll do in school that day. In Early Kindergarten, most students aren’t yet reading, but through daily group interaction with print, they soon begin to recognize sight words and other structures of written language. They get very excited about this too!
I love how quickly and easily our morning meetings build community in our classroom, but it is also such a fun way to begin the day — for students and teachers alike!
To get more information about Morning Meetings and Responsive Classroom, visit https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/what-is-morning-meeting/.