Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Shannon Juenger. Juenger attended the New Professional Training Camp last summer and agreed to write an article about a strategy she uses to build community in her classroom at Jackson R2 South Elementary. You can watch a video interview with Shannon about Morning Meetings here

Our classroom is based on an understanding that we are a family, and this is our second home. We use phrases like, “I feel…” when we are upset, and share joys and sorrow together. We see problems as an opportunity to work together to find a solution. Our classroom attitude and atmosphere is formed and refreshed each day in our morning meetings.

Every morning after we unpack, make lunch choices, and complete morning work, my 4th grade students gather in a circle on the carpet for 10 minutes to ensure the success of each day. We use this time to review expectations (when needed), share schedule changes, but most importantly…share life.

At the beginning of the year we set simple expectations:

  1. We sit crisscross applesauce in a circle so that everyone can see each other.
  2. We listen and think about what is being shared.
  3. One person at a time may speak.
  4. If we are discussing a problem that includes someone in our school, no names may be used.
  5. We leave each morning meeting by greeting each other in a different way.

I have used this format for 2 years and have seen amazing results! Through 10 minutes every day, students learn to treat each other with respect, grace, and dignity. We use our words instead of hands to express emotions. We share and support during sorrow and loss.

I don’t have a specific book to follow, or a certain graphic organizer. Morning meetings tend to be more fluid and ever changing according to your classroom needs. This year alone, we’ve discussed losing a loved one, listening to our bodies and recognizing our anger triggers, and even what our Elves on Shelves did that morning! But, we’ve also had classroom problem solving sessions about problems in class, on the bus, or even at home. The trust and respect compound as the year progresses.

Because students have this time to share, they are more excited to participate at that time, and less likely to use instructional time to share. I have been able to have a more personal interaction with students, and understand their triggers much better. I, myself, have had to become more open to sharing (to set the model) as well. The key to a successful morning meeting and classroom atmosphere is that you affirm that each voice in your classroom truly matters. Morning meetings allow each child a chance to share in a safe environment.

So, my challenge would be to try a daily morning meeting for a month. Don’t go overboard and feel the need to create copious lesson plans. Teach the 5 expectations, and choose a topic of conversation. Mine have been as simple as, “How do I know I’m upset/angry?” or “What do I do when I feel sad.” Although these are very basic statements, often students don’t know how to answer these questions right away. Allow them to discuss, listen, and then prepare a question for the next day. Just for a month. Then see what happens. What’s 10 minutes if it gives your students voice, and gives your better engagement and moral?