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How Morning Meeting Can Become a Sacred Space



You've been thinking about it, planning for it, and executing it for weeks now. Some of you have literally been working on it all summer. Your classroom. It's one of your sacred spaces. A space that is of high importance to you. It's not home. It's not the mall. Not the forest. Or the beach. It's a space in which the things that happen and the thoughts that you and your students have are very important to all of you. In your mind, the way you set up your classroom right now will set the tone for your entire school year. 

Certainly prayer rituals in all religions can be considered as sacred space. To many of us, commuting time with our coffee in our cars is sacred space. Time spent with a pet, loved one, or special friend, can also be sacred space. Those few quiet minutes at the end of a teaching day after the busses have pulled away and the car pickup line has vanished can also be sacred space. You are sitting at your desk or table or even on the floor and no one has come through the door to talk with you. Yet. You know the time. Bet you can even recall how it feels right now!

Your classroom as sacred space. Sacred space is time and space we set aside to create a transition from our fast moving life. Morning Meeting can be an important part of that space. IMO it is a sacred space all on its own. It is a time to pause, to think, and to get in touch with our emotions. It's a time to grow and develop compassion and empathy as we listen to others. It's a time to develop confidence as we share ourselves and our own thoughts. 

Morning meeting sends a clear message to all: 

  • We are not at home right now.
  • We are not outside right now.
  • We are in a space that is important to us as a community.
  • We will learn and grow in this space.
  • This is how we do things here.


This is how we do things here. Probably the most important message you will try to send to your students all year. It's the culture of your learning community. Having a Morning Meeting (or any variation of it that you are comfortable with) is an important part of building your classroom culture. 

According to Responsive Classroom, Morning Meeting consists of four basic activities: greeting, sharing, group activity, and a message. It can take anywhere from fifteen minutes to a half hour. I really recommend using the full half hour in the early days until the "this is how we do things here" part of your class has been established. You can whittle it down as needed throughout the year. The time it takes can be adjusted through the sharing component. Create a system together with your students for deciding how many will share at a particular meeting and how the sharers will be selected. (Draw sticks, pass a ball or talking stick, drop name cards into a bucket, etc.) Some days you will have time for more sharing and even questions or comments about each story, and some days you won't. When it becomes "how we do things here", all variations will be accepted.

As you are setting up your classroom and deciding how to fit in all the academic components, it's important to consider how you will get the attention of your students for the the lessons and standards. If you've got a group that loves to talk, why not direct that in a positive direction, and give them something positive to talk about? Instead of fighting the talking, why not try a Morning Chat? I've written about something I tried in my own classroom called Morning Tweets. Kids came in and wrote what was on their minds. Those tweets could be used as the basis for sharing. While students are chatting or "tweeting", you can get all the housekeeping duties out of the way: lunch count, attendance, notes, etc. Find a specific piece of music that all will recognize as a transition to Morning Meeting time, and you shouldn't need to say a word. If introduced and practiced, kids should be able to come to your sacred space (Morning Meeting space) when they hear the music. 



Greeting
I like to keep this part short and simple. My students would usually turn to the person on each side and hand shake, fist bump, or nod. They would say "Good morning!" to each other and say their name. You can get as fancy and/or silly with this part as you and your students agree on. We sometimes greeted each other in a language other than English, and sometimes as a Shakespearean character might have said it.

Sharing
My favorite way to choose who would share was by assigning a number to each student. I used calendar cards that already had numbers 1-30 printed on them. Students were assigned numbers (like their address, I told them!) at the beginning of the year, and added that number to all papers. It was also a good way to make sure that everyone had an equal chance of being called on. Choosing a few numbers to share each day will allow all who want to share a thought or a short story a chance to do so sometime during the week/two week cycle. As each shares, their number is then placed at the bottom of the stack of numbers.

Activity
This can be any whole group energizer that you think is fun and beneficial to your students. A dance move, a song, a poem to recite together are some ideas that we have tried. My newest idea is to use Morning Meeting Yoga as a way to include a short yoga practice (one pose and one breath) for the activity. It's short, sweet, and builds a practice that students can use throughout life as an emotional support tool. Adding a themed thought for the day can be in addition to or instead of the message. The thoughts in each set (Ten sets available in all!) will build character traits such as empathy, friendship, gratitude, kindness, caring, goal setting, collaboration, growth mindset, good character, and lifelong learning. The sets are interchangeable. Some contain a few partner poses to try as well!

Message
The message can be a simple thought for the day, or a longer message about what students will be learning that day. I recommend doing both. The yoga thought can be a silent meditation for kids to use through the day, and the academic message can be a great transition to the first lesson of the day. 

Wishing you the best teaching year ever, and hoping that your classroom becomes a true sacred space this year for all who enter! 

Click here for more Zen Classroom resources from Rainbow City Learning! 














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Teaching the Importance of Belonging


The 90s called and they want me back! Back in my classroom, back with those amazing 90s kids in Rainbow City, and back to the warm and fuzzy classroom learning community that we all were back then. What?!? You didn't teach in the 90s? Well, good news! All you've missed is the big hair! You can bring that 90s feeling back to your classroom and to your students this year. Here's how:


My podcasting besties (We Teach So Hard) and I were recently talking about all kinds of belonging, and how to nurture feelings of belonging in our classrooms. I had a list of books that I wanted to suggest when I felt the strong and unavoidable pull of the 90s. The music in my head switched way back to Sheryl Crow's "It Takes All Kinds of People", the song that I found in The Marlo Thomas compilation of songs, stories, poems, and essays called Thanks and Giving. Marlo edited two other volumes as well, Free to Be You and Me and Free to be a Family. These books, published from the 70s through the 90s, informed my teaching practice during the 90s and right up until the day I retired several years ago. They were about all those qualities of character that teachers today are always saying that they are trying to instill in their students.

These three books (available dirt cheap on Amazon, Ebay, and used bookstores) are also available in your local libraries. But trust me, when you start to explore, you will want to own them. Get yours now! (But wait until I grab my backup copies please! 😏) I receive no associate benefits anywhere from telling you that you need these books. The only benefit to me is that I can feel that I've paid it forward to future students of yours.

There are all kinds of belonging. If I learned anything from my thirty - six years in the classroom, it was that strong, confident children who feel secure and safe in their environment are welcoming and inclusive to others. You can't make belonging happen without building those kids up from the inside first! Let Marlo Thomas be your guide in this process. You're welcome.


Before I get into the highlights of these amazing volumes, I want to recommend a little adult reading. Becoming by Michelle Obama is my current pick for a book about belonging. The most important takeaway for me from Becoming is the importance of telling your stories. Lucy Calkins does it. It's the piece that trips up many teachers. "How do I get through these voluminous 'mini-lessons'?" Easy. the voluminous part is her stories. Substitute your own stories and voila! Much easier to remember and teach.

Whenever I told my own stories in class (hopefully with a purpose), I used them to segue into nudging kids to tell their own. And, as I said earlier, kids who feel safe and secure in sharing their stories can welcome other kids into their circle. They are interested in hearing the stories of others as well. The Marlo Thomas collection serves that tell your stories function in bite size, easily digestible pieces. So much of it can be found on YouTube and Spotify, if you'd like to listen with your kids. I love owning the books.


A TV Special of Free to Be You and Me. Marlo discusses why she started to collect the stories, songs, poems, and essays. The title song by The New Seekers is awesome! "Take my hand, come with me where the children are free."

Panel discussion on 40th anniversary.

A classic is "The Day Dad Made Toast" (on You Tube!). I used that for years to encourage kids to write a "small moment" story. We would discuss ways families are different and all the ways different family members take different roles, but remain important members of the family.

"Boy Meets Girl" - all about gender identity. Sound pretty current? Two babies meet in the hospital nursery and discuss their futures.

"The Southpaw" Found this online. I used to cut this pdf up into separate notes, put on a baseball cap, and head into ALL the classrooms with another teacher dressed similarly in a baseball cap, for a little Reader's Theater demo. We were quite in demand as actors at all grade levels. Pretended we were actually writing and passing the notes! All about a note-passing frenzy between two "former" friends, Janet and Richard. Perfect for a discussion on collaboration and choosing teams. Also great for a writing prompt. Kids clamored for the chance to act out this Reader's Theater themselves, and any were inspired to write their own about other conflict situations.

My all-time favorite nugget from Marlo is the Sheryl Crow song mentioned above, "It Takes All Kinds of People". I bought this one from iTunes and loaded it on my classroom computer. When we played our weekly review game on Friday mornings, "Are You a Smart 4th Grader?", this was the "wait time" sound track while "contestants wrote their answers on their individual white boards. Semi techy, and semi old school. This was an activity kids looked forward to all week to earn those rainbow dollars (our class money). They really paid attention to lessons because the questions just might show up on our weekly game! I linked a science specific, but editable version for you in the link above, in case you want to try this game yourself. Change anything you like, but please don't change the master. Make a copy and then make it your own! Running the weekly game was actually a classroom job for three students. More about our class economy and jobs can be found in this resource that you might want to take a look at as you plan your year:



Teaching takeaways:

I used the Free to Be books as prompts for so many aspects of learning in my classroom. I used them mainly to encourage kids to tell their stories. To record those stories in their journals, to use those stories to keep building the kind of person they were becoming, and then to tell the new and changing stories. 
A favorite art project with pretty simple materials is a small moment picture.
  • Draw a "photo" of a small moment in your life. (Could be drawn using an actual photo as an example.) Use pencil and eraser at first.
  • Go over lines in "photo" with a fine point black sharpie.
  • Fill in background scene with watercolors.
I would love it if you send me photos of your "small moments" art, and I will come back to add them here as examples for future readers! You'll be famous, and you will win a free resource from Rainbow City Learning ($3.25 or less). Send photos to retta.london@gmail.com .

To win even more resources throughout the year, click and apply here to become a Brand Ambassador for Rainbow City Learning!


To hear more about belonging on our podcast "We Teach So Hard", click this image:
Wishing you the best teaching year ever, in a classroom where the children are free and where everyone feels that they belong!
To read the blog posts from my "We Teach So Hard" friends, click below!













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