I remember during my senior year at Clearfield High School, I was both shocked and thrilled to be voted “Most Outgoing” by my fellow classmates. (We won’t mention the year.) I might have been even more thrilled had I been voted “Most Beautiful” or “Most Likely to Succeed,” but I was thrilled and surprised nonetheless. I like to think that I received this honor because of my happy nature and my ability to make friends — two characteristics that I owe to my upbringing as a Navy brat.
My father, a JAG officer, brought us up with some very strict rules. You treat your elders with respect, you respond when people greet you and you listen when spoken to. Some days I feel that these very basic rules of courtesy have been somewhat neglected in the busy-ness of our lives. (I’m just as guilty as everyone else.) The one rule that really sticks out to me is very basic. When meeting someone or greeting a friend, you look them in the eyes and shake their hand. That is a rule that many teachers have incorporated into the beginning of each day with something we call “The Morning Meeting.”
Morning Meeting, a crucial part of my day, is a great way to build community, set a positive tone, increase excitement about learning and build those basic social skills. It’s founded on the principles that each child is important and should be given some time and attention each day. Let’s just say that important people doing important research have published important papers on this important topic. (Just ask Jim Nolan; he’ll give you the nitty gritty details. He’s up at the College of Education at Penn State.) There you have it. (You’ll have to trust me on this.) Teachers incorporate morning meetings into their daily schedules not because research tells us to, but because we know in our hearts that it is essential to build community. We want to get to know the kids and have the kids get to know us and each other.
During sharing time, we get a peek into their lives and give them a peek into ours. We hear about pets being naughty, a skinned knee, tree forts, fights with siblings and remote trips to Africa. Most of the time, this sharing can snowball into a chain reaction. Here’s an example of a recent “sharing” episode:
“I went to Egypt last night.”
“Last night, my mom let my dog poop in the house.”
“My dog ate my dad’s chips while he was watching TV.”
“Oh … one time I ate potato chips!”
“My dad got poker chips for his birthday.”
“Hey, my mom’s birthday was last week!”
“When’s my birthday?”
“Hey, my birthday is in the next season.”
“Today is the second day of the season of fall.”
“Fall? I falled off my bed last night.”
Yeah, our morning routine is made up of many ordinary moments. We greet, we share, and we play a game and go over the schedule of the day. But sprinkled throughout this routine is often an extraordinary moment. The morning that our precious girl, Julia, who had been a selective mute most of the year, decided to greet her neighbor, Hailey, and then turned to greet Ben. That was a moment I’ll never, ever forget.
That (extra)ordinary moment brought tears to my eyes and cheers to the mouths of her fellow students. Had we not spent many a day laying the foundation of trust, compassion and “sharing,” we might have missed this special moment when Julia felt safe enough to say hello.
Debbie Marsh is a first-grade teacher at Easterly Parkway Elementary School. She can be reached at email@example.com.