I remember my senior year at Hicktown High School I was both shocked and thrilled to be voted “Most Outgoing” by my fellow classmates. (We won’t mention the year.) I might have been even MORE thrilled had I been voted Most Beautiful or Most Likely to Succeed, but was thrilled and surprised nonetheless. I like to think that I received this honor because of my happy nature and my ability to make friends – two characteristics that I owe to my upbringing as a “Navy Brat.”
My father, a JAG officer, brought us up with some very strict rules. You treat your elders with respect, you respond when people greet you and you listen when spoken to. Some days I feel that these very basic rules of courtesy have been somewhat neglected in the busy-ness of our lives. (I’m just as guilty as everyone else.) The one rule that really sticks out to me is very basic. When meeting someone, or greeting a friend, you look them in the eyes and shake their hand. That is a rule that many teachers have incorporated into the beginning of each day with something we call “The Morning Meeting.”
Morning Meeting, a crucial part of my day, is a great way to build community, set a positive tone, increase excitement about learning and build those basic social skills. It’s founded on the principles that each child is important and should be given some time and attention each day. Let’s just say that some very important people doing very important research have published very important papers on this very important topic. Teachers incorporate Morning Meeting into their daily schedules not because research tells us to, but because we know in our hearts that it is essential to build community.
During sharing time we get a peek into their lives, and give them a peek into ours. We hear about pets being naughty, a skinned knee, brothers being bad, visits fromthe tooth fairy, and remote trips to Africa. Most of the time this sharing can snowball into a chain reaction. Here’s an example of a recent “sharing” episode:
“I went to Egypt last night.”
“Last night my mom and date had a date in the bathroom.”
“Last night my mom let my dog poop in the house.”
“My dog ate my dads chips while he was watching TV.
"Oh… one time I ate potato chips!"
"My dad got poker chips for his birthday"
"Hey, my mom's birthday was last week!"
"When’s my birthday?
“Hey, my birthday is in the next season.”
“Today is the second day of the season of fall.”
“Fall? I falled off my bed last night.”
Yeah, our morning routine is made up of many ordinary moments. We greet, we share, we play a community building game and go over the schedule of the day. But, sprinkled throughout this routine is often an extraordinary moment. The morning that our precious girl Julia, who had been a selective mute most of the year, decided to greet her neighbor Hailey, and then turned to greet Ben. That was a moment I’ll never, ever forget. It brought tears to my eyes and cheers to the mouths of her fellow students. Had we not spent many a day laying the foundation of trust, compassion and “sharing” we might have missed this special moment when Julia felt safe enough to say hello.
We know tests are important; we know kids need great scores to for college and schools need high test scores to maintain funding. (Thanks George.) We also know that parents want to be proud of their children’s achievements. But, as teachers, we never, never forget one of our most important jobs, helping EACH child feel important and valued. When we teach each child that caring about their fellow classmates and their community is an important lesson, we are helping them, their classmates, and ultimately their community.
(And a little funny story never hurts.)