Morning Meetings: The Heart of Our School Community

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  • Public PreK-5 in Waukee, Iowa
  • Implementing Responsive Classroom since 2016

In a normal year, teachers at Grant Ragan Elementary in Waukee, Iowa, would have been welcoming students back from spring break. But this was March 2020. Like many other places around the country, schools were closed statewide and educators were scrambling to reinvent education. There were decisions to make, learning templates to design, and technology to deploy. Most important, though, was that we needed to meet the social and emotional needs of staff and the school community, which needed to gather together, experience empathy, and laugh. To no one’s surprise, and without hesitation, we scheduled a virtual staff Morning Meeting.

We planned a time to greet, share, and participate in what we called a “build a social distancing stick out of household items” activity. There were much-needed laughs, and our staff experienced the belonging, significance, and fun that each Morning Meeting usually brings. That first virtual Morning Meeting was an opportunity to share and to understand one another’s feelings, the very definition of empathy.

Soon our teachers scheduled and began online Morning Meetings with their students. Teachers and students both described these Morning Meetings as the highlight of each day. We returned to the basics, to a practice that has been at the heart of our school for the past four years: the familiar Responsive Classroom Morning Meeting structure as the foundation on which to build our virtual classrooms.

As in many Responsive Classroom schools, Morning Meetings permeate much of what we do at Grant Ragan. Each year we commit to building a schedule for our related arts staff that leaves space for them to be included in Morning Meetings during the first 20 minutes of the day. Related arts teachers and associates participate alongside students, building relationships and strengthening connections. In fact, many of our related arts teachers go to Morning Meetings to learn more about students and their lives outside of the classroom in order to build empathy for those that have shown undesired behaviors in their classroom. Students, in turn, learn more about the related arts teachers, and behaviors often improve.

We know the importance of Morning Meetings in the classroom, and with this in mind we’ve carried over this practice to our staff. Most professional development sessions begin with a staff Morning Meeting. We understand how busy everyone is but we believe these 20 minutes provide the opportunity for us to connect with educators across the building. We build empathy for one another as we share about our personal and professional struggles and joys while growing stronger as colleagues and friends. These meetings also serve as a reminder about the value of creating a safe, inclusive, and joyful environment with our students.

As they experience the power of Morning Meetings year after year, our students recognize their importance. Aubrey, one of our fifth-grade students, comments, “I’ve been doing Morning Meetings since first grade, and every year it’s been my favorite part of the day.” Jack, another fifth-grader, adds, “We learn skills that I think will be important in real life, such as speaking with a strong voice, and listening to others.”

To some, when it seems that there is never enough time to fit everything into a school day, Morning Meetings could be seen as just something nice to do. But the Grant Ragan staff would instead argue that they serve as the springboard for the rest of the day. Teachers are able to teach social competencies and model empathy in a fun, meaningful way. Morning Meetings are indeed an investment.

If you’re interested in hearing more from Grant Ragan teachers and students about our Responsive Classroom journey,