Employees might groan at the thought of the dreaded morning staff meeting, but Carus Elementary students and staff have nothing but good things to say about their daily morning meetings.
"The goal is to create emotional safety for kids right off the bat." -Sam Thompson
The school implemented the morning meetings for this first time this year as a school-wide event. Each day when the bell rings, the entire school engages in classroom gatherings based on The Morning Meeting Book.
The idea came about as a result of Carus Principal Sam Thompson attending a summer conference led by Eric Jensen. Some teachers at Carus were already using The Morning Meeting Book to help them start their days, so implementing the program was a good fit.
"The reasons we're implementing the morning meeting structure are to increase the teacher-student relationships…increasing classroom behavioral climate, and teachers being in sync with their students' states," Thompson said at the Dec. 14 school board meeting.
He continued, "The goal is to create emotional safety for kids right off the bat."
All of the classrooms follow the same structure for the meetings, starting with a simple greeting.
"Every student is greeted every morning by name," said Carus Counselor Stacey Ackerman.
In Kathie Hamill's fifth-grade class, that greeting involves a healthy dose of special handshakes.
"I greet them at the door, and they all have their own individual handshake, and we do those when they come in," Hamill said at the board meeting. "And then when we come to morning meeting, what's happened over the year is that they've all established different handshakes with different friends. They've started building different relationships that weren't there at the beginning of the year."
After the greeting, the meetings move into a sharing time, during which the teacher engages students in conversation, which may have to do with news that students may want to share, change that's happening in their lives or even things that might be hard to talk about.
"...We're doing some social skills teaching and modeling during that time as well." -Stacey Ackerman
"The students respond to each other, show empathy, articulate their feelings and ideas—always in a positive way," Ackerman said. "So, we're doing some social skills teaching and modeling during that time as well."
The meeting then shifts to a group activity to reinforce classroom learning or offer a team-building or culture-building opportunity.
The meetings end with a message that the teachers have prepared for their students regarding academics or to reinforce the school's character traits, which are carefully selected focus words such as "cooperation" and "forgiveness."
While individual teachers might naturally begin their days in a similar fashion, Carus students and staff have noticed the impact of making the morning meetings an official event at their school.
Thompson pointed out that behavioral problems have decreased. The school utilizes two types of discipline forms: contact forms (lower level) and referrals. The number of contact forms disbursed at this time last year was 217, and that has gone down to 79 this year. Referrals have gone from 30 to 10.
"That was an unexpected outcome," Thompson said, "but something we really think is an outcome from part of our morning meeting structure."
The meetings have impacted the students on a personal level as well. Four Carus Elementary fifth-grade students attended the Dec. 14 board meeting to share on the topic.
"So morning meeting has affected me a lot because I've transferred schools a lot," said Neveah, a Carus fifth-grade student. "I've been to about three different schools. And once Ms. Hamill was talking about morning meeting…I was like, 'Oh, this is new.' So I've made a lot of great relationships with people like Brooklynn, and Gracie, Mady and one of my best friends Dennis. He's really funny. He's always there to support me too."
That's part of Neveah's story, and in Hamill's class, she has emphasized to her students the idea that everyone has a different story when they walk through the door. With the morning meetings at Carus, students have the freedom to bring those different stories with them and they have an outlet to share the stories before they move into a day filled with academics.