One of the most important ways to build community in the classroom is to make each student feel wanted every single day. Every morning should start with a smile. This is one of the simplest things to do as a teacher, yet it is sometimes the hardest to do consistently.
I have had so many mornings when I am running around before school starts trying to finish the five million things I still need to do. Copies. Arranging shelves. Desperately gulping down coffee. It is so easy to let the overwhelmed feelings affect your morning. You have to remember your students. They do not know about the things you have to do. They do not need to know. What goes on behind the scenes should not affect them.
So how do you present an outer sense of calm even when stressed? Take a few minutes right before letting students in and destress. Meditate. Read an inspirational message or prayer. I like to write a personal teaching goal for myself on a sticky note. Drink something. Breathe. If you still feel stressed, bring out your acting skills! If I am really stressed I will go into the closet, say "SCENE" and come out with a big smile ready for my opening number.
Then go to the door and open it. Have a big smile and greet each student by name. If you have younger students, you might want to sit down to be at eye level. Many teachers shake every student's hand. Some hug. One teacher I know gives each student a choice: "Handshake, Hug, or Hi-Five!". It doesn't matter which way you choose as long as you personally greet each child. "Good morning!" Just remember to smile.
Starting the Day Right
I have been in education for over fifteen years and I can tell you there is nothing better than starting the day with a morning meeting. I know I am not sharing a new groundbreaking idea and many Montessorians know this is part of their every day classroom routines, but this time of year, educators tend to feel the pressures of testing season and stray from what they know works best. When teachers begin to have behavior problems or classroom management issues, the first thing I ask them is: "Are you still doing your morning meeting?" The normal response is just a head shake gesturing no. This is when we know it is time to get back to our roots.
So why a morning meeting? What is the importance? A morning meeting is a routine put in place that sets the tone for the day and allows time for the chaos of school starting to settle. Students enter the classroom with a handshake from the teacher and take a spot at circle (or at tables for upper elementary and secondary students). Once all students are settled and the day is about to start, the teacher takes his/her place in the circle. I like to add in a brief moment of quiet time or guided meditation to let us all settle and relax. After which, the teacher tells the students the expectations for the day. Who will have a lesson, what works have been added to the shelf, any resources that may take place, and any special announcements. I have also seen where teachers give time for students to share events or to give classmates positive comments as well. This is where the teacher can sprinkle his/her creativity on the morning meeting.
Once the morning meeting is over, this is where a strong routine is pivotal. I have made this mistake before: "Ok class, get your workplans and start working." Enter complete chaos, sabotaging all of your morning meeting efforts. Again, your routine to dismiss after circle is all your own, but I would suggest not letting them start working all at the same time. Instead, you can release two to three students of your choice at a time (maybe you have an alphabetical system or classroom leader who chooses).
How you start your day matters. It sets the tone and expectations for the day. Just ask any teacher who has skipped the morning meeting for one day and hear his/her reply- the day was a mess and they played catch-up all day (not to mention answering the- "What resources do we have today?" question over and over).
Give it a try or if you have strayed, get back to your roots! Feel free to share pictures of your classrooms in the comments.
I have included a sample morning meeting video from a very precious public Montessori school here in Jacksonville, FL.
The greatest sign of success for a teacher... is to be able to say, 'The children are now working as if I did not exist.'
Stephanie Stephens and Holly Fitzharris are both Montessori educators- collectively with over 30 years of experience in education.