Morning Meetings - Planting Flowers of Peace
by Marty Kirschen
Inspired by the works of Ruth Charney and Jean Gibbs
I have found that classroom meetings - ones in which the teacher and all the students come together - are usually for one of two purposes: to build community at a relatively peaceful time or to resolve a conflict that is occurring. I refer to the former as "planting flowers" and the latter as "putting out fires" (of course - when fires are put out, the earth becomes ever more ready for renewal). In the discussion that follows I will share more on the ways of planting flowers. Dealing with brewing conflicts will be shared more in the months to come. If you wish to read more on conflict solving meetings at this time you can refer to "Schools without Failure," by William Glasser, "Positive Discipline," by Jane Nelson. and "Educating for Character: How Our Schools Can Teach Respect and Responsibility" by Thomas Lickona.
Planting flowers... There is a concept of a morning meeting, a community circle in which children come together in the classroom and sit in a circle (sometimes on the floor, sometimes on chairs) and do activities together that help build caring within the group, and individual caring between students. This daily routine may have elements that occur each time, and become rituals that the students look forward to. They may also have certain activities that are done from time to time.
The morning meeting provides a common ground where the children come to understand the truest meaning of "finding common ground." Through endeavors such as interactive games or sharing for example, children begin to build relationships.. They come to see, tolerate and appreciate the ways of each other. The most basic element of caring which aids this process is the genuine willingness to attentively listen. When this occurs, the students cannot help but learn something about each other that is likable.
The meeting - anywhere from twenty to forty minutes in length may include each student greeting the student next to him or her in an agreed upon manner. It may also include going around the circle and answering a single question put forth by the teacher or designated leader. By answering the question, "How are you today?" a good indicator of the emotional state which the children bring with them is expressed (students have the right to "pass" and may respond when their turn comes the second time). All this gives opportunities for bonding, empathic growth and alternative perspective taking.
Another activity can be for students to pay complements to one another... and the receiver of the complement to show appreciation. Sharing is also often done. Two or three students can sign up to share each day (in words or show and tell). There is then a proscribed way that other students are called on to make comments or ask questions. Usually the number of comments/questions is set at about three. Also they are supposed to be directed toward the presenter and not be a reference back to themselves (Oh, I have a Pokeman toy too!).
Teachers usually have guidelines created for the smooth functioning of meetings... anywhere from how students transition to and from the meeting to.... and most importantly... how students are encouraged to listen to one another. I like to say, if we are attentive - listening with our eyes, our minds, and our bodies - then, our hearts will follow."
Another element often used is activities and games that are fun and cooperative. Two examples are telephone (whispering a message around the room to see see if it gets back as it started) and muck - using pantomime to get another student to laugh.
Lest you think that the morning meeting is all social, all meaning, all play and... "no academics! -- there are ways that curriculum content are interweaved within the framework of the meeting. The teacher can do this either in words, activities or with posted written materials that the students can refer to as well."
I will mention two leading resources in this area that I am aware of... The Northeast Foundation for Children http://www.responsiveclassroom.org/ and Tribes http://www.tribes.com/program.html. The Northeast Foundation for Children provides many books and workshops that include as a pivotal element of their work - "the Morning Meeting." Their basic work "The Responsive Classroom , Teaching Children to Care" by a co-founder of the foundation, Ruth Charney is an excellent work. "Tribes" by Jean Gibbs, is used by many teachers to help them start the day by building community within a community circle.