Friday Five: Building Community Through Morning Meeting

Kids standing together to build community in morning meeting

Morning Meeting- Building Community One Morning At a Time

One

Good Morning, Sunshine!

Morning meeting begins with a greeting. The greeting helps build community because it allows students to say hello to each other and to settle into the learning space for the day. We, as teachers at meetings, also like to have time to say hello to each other before we begin the work we have at meetings. Kids want the same opportunity, and it isn’t tough to facilitate it.  

Greetings can be opportunities to get silly with your class. Just a few weeks ago, we did a greeting in different silly voices, and some kids laughed so hard they cried. The greeting can also be a time to reaffirm one another through compliments or to catch up on our weekends. Coming together as a group is a great way to begin the day. 

On the first day of each new week, our class shares one smile and one frown from the weekend. These smiles and frowns help kids make connections with one another. Oh, you fell when you were skiing this weekend and hurt your arm? Once that happened to me. I went to a birthday party too! Did you eat cake? Through smiles and frowns, we build connections as a class. We also work to develop empathy as we hear about different events in each other’s lives. Now, not everyone is forced to share a smile and a frown because that would take away the safety of the space created through morning meetings. Kids may also share two smiles if they don’t have a frown. The rules are flexible.

Two

Routines Are Life

Kids thrive in routines. Kids knowing exactly what is going to happen first thing in the morning creates a calm start to the day. Usually, around October, kids in my class start to go through the motions of morning meeting all on their own. When I taught first grade a few years ago, a parent needed to speak with me at the start of the day. As I was in the hall, the bell to start the day rang. When I stepped back into my classroom a few moments later, the kids were just finishing up the greeting. Routines are life!

Three

Conflict Resolution

Morning meetings can solve so many of those little issues in the classroom. We frequently have community problem-solving time at the end of the morning meeting. Sometimes kids make small announcements like, I had to pick up ten pencils yesterday that kids just left on the floor. Can you please remember to put your pencils back? Other times I’ll use the activity time of morning meeting to build each other up when we’re having a tough time getting along. Doing a quick compliment chain can change up your classroom environment. Creating a strong community makes a world of difference in the classroom, and conflict resolutions is a large part of that.

FOur

Build Conversation Skills

During morning meetings, we don’t do hand raising (*usually*). We learn how to have conversations together. We’re learning life skills like two people cannot talk at the same time because neither one is heard. We learn how to add on to someone’s ideas. We learn what to happen when two people begin talking at the same time. Knowing basic conversation skills is essential, and morning meeting is the perfect time to practice them and work through the tricky parts.

Five

Do What Works For You

I know the morning meeting format is greeting, share, activity, and morning message. I don’t follow that format exactly. When I taught first grade, we did the greeting, School Tools TV, schedule, and Daily Dendrite Challenge. We also had a feeling word each week that we discussed in depth. Now that I am teaching third, we do it a little bit differently. We typically do a greeting, School Tools TV, and then an activity. On Tuesdays, we always have some sort of quick check-in or lesson on the Zones of Regulation. 

Don’t be afraid to customize morning meeting to fit your style. At the end of the day, our goal is to connect as a community and create a strong bond together. There are many different paths to the same outcome. Do what works for you! 

Do you use morning meetings in your classroom? What benefits do you see? Do you stick to the Responsive Classroom structure or make it your own? I’d love to hear more in the comments below! 

Weekly Wisdom

Weekly Wisdom

Masterpieces & Works IN Progress

You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress simultaneously. 

-Sophia Bush

Sometimes as teachers we don’t like to admit that we are works in progress. This Sophia Bush quote describes exactly what we are as teachers. We are both a masterpiece and also a work in progress. That’s what teaching is all about it. It’s about being a great teacher and looking to become even better at the same time. 

Our students are the same. They are both a masterpiece and a work in progress simultaneously. That is what makes teaching such difficult and rewarding work. 

Don’t forget the value in being both a masterpiece and a work in progress!

Friday Five: Back to School After Winter Break

Friday Five: Back to School After Winter Break

Going back to school after winter break can be ROUGH! We’ve all been there. Transitioning back into the new year can be tricky. The kids are still in vacation mode, and you might be too. Here are five tips to help reign it in and get back to business after a long break.

Getting Back to School After winter Break

One

Catch Up With Each Other

You just had a break! Take a minute to catch up and share all about your holidays. As an international teacher, students often travel to different countries and places over breaks. We usually get out the map and look where everyone went on holiday. This is a lot of fun. Kids also share what I call smiles and frowns. Smiles are those significant parts of vacation and frowns the not so great part. 


After a break ease back in and take a moment to check in as a community. Maybe that doesn’t look like getting down the map. Maybe it looks like enjoying a cup of hot chocolate or tea and talking about the best parts of our break. Maybe it means taking a moment to write a story about the break. Any way you do it is great. Isn’t the best part of coming back to school after a break catching up with your teacher friends? Let your kids enjoy that too.

Two

Get Back Into Routines

Routines are like the glue that holds all the learning together. I like to remind students of expectations and keep them to it after a break. We usually spend the first weeks back after break reviewing our routines and practicing them. Don’t wait too long to get back into them, or it might feel like you never will. Remember that time spent reviewing routines now will save you time later. Make sure you’ve all got your routines back down before diving too far into learning.

Three

Have some Fun

Joy and laughter are so important in the classroom. Don’t forget while reviewing those routines and diving back into content to take some time for fun. Fun can be anything! Maybe it’s a fun hidden picture, and perhaps it’s an extra Go Noodle video, maybe it’s playing four corners. Just make sure that there’s some fun and laughter in your classroom during your first days back as a teacher.

FOur

Take Time For Yourself

Don’t burn yourself out! Hopefully, you took the vacay to live your non-teacher life. So now, don’t spend the first weeks back living at school. Utilize those prep times and try not to stay too late. Take time to invest in your life outside of school as well. The more you invest in yourself as a person, the better you are as a teacher. Trust me.

Five

Give Yourself Grace

Wouldn’t it be nice if everything worked out perfectly after a holiday? Yeah, I can dream about that world, but realistically it doesn’t. Give yourself grace. Take that time away from yourself. Look into using Calm or another meditation app for those moments when things are too much. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done a quick emergency calm session when the kids went to specials. Remember, you’ll get there. You will get back into learning and all of the routines that make your classroom a beautiful place. Rome wasn’t built in a day. 

How do you like to set your self up for success after a break? 

Teacher Talk: School Tools TV

Teacher Talk: School Tools TV

Life Without A Guidance Counselor

A few years ago I was teaching and there was no guidance counselor… well there was but she had many many other duties at my school and guidance, it just didn’t happen. I was used to weekly classes taught by the guidance counselor where my students learned about how to get along, how to deal with problems, how to stay healthy, how to study, and so much more. To say I was dying without a guidance counselor would be an understatement. I knew that I had to reach my students with these topics but I just wasn’t trained and didn’t have the language and knowledge to do so. My talks were falling flat and I didn’t know how to become a more effective makeshift guidance counselor. Then I remembered a resource another teacher shared with me the year before- School Tools TV. This is in no way a sponsored post. I just love School Tools TV and wanted to share it will all of my lovely followers. 

Ok, So What is It?

School Tools TV is a website run by a man, who I swear is a genius, named Rusty. I believe Rusty is a former guidance counselor and is our virtual guidance counselor. He has a subscription website with quick little videos teaching social-emotional skills. He is the virtual guidance counselor we all need. Rusty is a real cool guy and the kids buy into him right away. He connects with them and speaks their language. Rusty has become another member of our classroom.  

There are three levels of subscription. My school pays for level 1 for me- it costs $75 per teacher and it wasn’t that hard of a sell to my administrator. I did work at a school where everyone used it and it was pretty cool. With my level 1 subscription, I get access to daily videos. These videos are so cool! Since using Rusty’s videos I’ve seen a decrease in conflict in the classroom and an increase in effective communication skills. Since I currently teach grade 1 I watch the K-2 videos but I started out watching the 3- 7 videos and they are just as great. 

How it Works in My Classroom

I decided to incorporate Rusty’s videos into my morning meeting. We start with a greeting, then we watch Rusty and for share, we discuss the prompt that Rusty has given us. Then we complete a class challenge and that’s our morning meeting! 

Here’s how one of his videos goes! It only lasts about a minute but that minute is one of the most valuable ones of my day! 

“Hi and welcome back little diamonds!” Oh yeah… he calls the K-2 kids little diamonds and I just find it so adorable. My kids identify as diamonds. This year they declared that they are not little, just diamonds. Last year one of my students shaved a diamond into his hair for Rusty. I mean that is how much the kids love him!

After greeting the little diamonds he gives a shout out to one of his classes. My classes have died when we’ve gotten a shout out. Once they tried to get me to email it to all teachers so everyone would know. One year I had to play it during an assembly so the whole elementary could know about Rusty and our shout out. 

After the shout out Rusty shares the feeling word of the week. We made the feeling word part of our calendar and it is listed there along with a picture of the feeling. This has not only helped kids identify their feelings but it helped them as readers identifying character feelings.

Then Rusty gets down to business teaching a new skill. He might teach about not giving up when you’re frustrated, or why we walk in the halls at school, or how to notice when a friend is feeling sad. Then he gives a small piece of advice that kids can try out that day and he asks a question to push their thinking further. 

His videos then end with a poem. A poem that is the first poem we glue into our poetry notebooks and one that my diamonds recite with him each and every morning. 

After the poem, the question pops up on the screen and we move into a circle to share. Sometimes we make a quick anchor chart to remind us of Rusty’s words. Sometimes we set up a little challenge for ourselves based on what was said. We might even try to do something new depending on the topic of the video.  

Try it Out

If you want to try it out or you want more information head on over to School Tools TV to learn more. There is a set of free videos if you want to try it out before diving it. I also just saw that there is a free 30-day trial. 

I know that you’ll enjoy your subscription as much as I have! 

Changing Our Thinking: Student Names

Changing Our Thinking: Student Names

There are many practices from long ago that we need to rethink as teachers. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer alternate ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. Today we’re discussing making fun of student names. 

 There is no such thing as a weird name. Names are names and they are important. Names are cultural no culture is weird. They should be honored and treated with respect.
 
If you follow Bored Teachers then you no doubt saw this now deleted post on Instagram.  At the time I saw it I was so sick I couldn’t even respond.  Hmm, I wrote last that sentence because at the time I was physically sick (fever, vomiting- the fun part of my summer) but you could also say I was sick to my stomach. I did manage to hit unfollow. I just saw it on Pinterest today so while it was deleted it is still floating around and people are repinning it.

The caption on the insta post said, “worse and worse every year.” This is not ok. Let’s talk about it. If you’re doing this, stop. This is disrespectful to students and families. 

Why We Mock Kid's Names

Let’s face it, many teachers are white. All of my elementary teachers were white women. The profession seems to cater towards women like me. Names are a very cultural thing. When I went to school I knew a lot of kids named Sarah or Mike. There were a lot of Ashleys. There were also a lot of people named Mary, Matthew, Luke, Noah, Ruth because I went to a Catholic school. Kids named after saints or biblical characters were normal. The names you hear day in and day out seem normal to you. If I ever met a Mike I wouldn’t think what a funny name. It would never cross my mind. I know a lot of people named Mike. 

When we hear names that are new to us they might sound different and sometimes we label that as weird. Different isn’t weird it is just different. It started to become common practice for teachers to look at their class lists and make fun of the names that were on it. Because white women have a large voice in elementary education and because white people are the majority race it meant that names that weren’t the majority were labeled weird. Teachers would gather around and laugh at kids names… I shouldn’t actually write any of this in past tense. Teachers gather around their list of students and laugh about student names. Who’d you get this year? Look at this kids name? Could this parent spell this name in a worse way? How do you even say this? What kind of name is ____? Who would ever name their kid ____? Oh gosh, look at these sibling’s names!

I’ve heard teachers laugh at a child whose name is Julia but the J is pronounced like a J in Spanish. I’ve heard teachers mock students named Princess, Precious, Destiny, Dymond, and I’cy. I’ve heard teachers laugh at the spelling of kids names Aimee, Jayson, Brookelynne, or Apryl. All teachers have heard of kids called L-a, or Lemonjello and Orangejello. Teachers friends love to hear of kids called King, Stormi (has this been normalized now because of Kylie Jenner?), Furious, Younique, or Thunder.

Please know that I am not coming from an almighty place of immunity. I have looked at my class list and done the same. I would argue that a lot of teachers are in the same category as me. It doesn’t feel good to admit on this blog that I have made fun of children’s names but I have to confess before we discuss why I’ve stopped doing this and why you need to do the same.

What's the Problem?

Naming a Child is a Labor of love

The problem is that first of all THESE ARE CHILDREN. Children who are going to walk into your classroom. They deserve love and respect. They deserve to be treated with kindness. They deserve a teacher who didn’t laugh at their name with their family and friends over the weekend.

Now, I don’t have any children so I haven’t been an active participant in the naming business. I do have many friends who have children. I have watched them make lists and discuss the pros and cons of every name. I have watched them consider what nicknames will be for name options. How the name sounds. I have listened to stories of the people children are named after. I am named after a woman near and dear to my mother’s heart. I have heard parents describe meeting their child for the first time, being filled up with love and just knowing that this child should be named ____. Naming a child is a labor of love. New babies fill parents’ hearts with hopes, wishes, dreams, and joy.

Can you imagine naming a child only to have people mock that name because it is different their whole lives? That is the exact opposite of what any parent wants for their child. I know parents who have kept their expected child’s name a secret because they don’t want people to make fun of the name before the child is even born. I’ve heard people tell stories of people trying to talk them out of a baby name in the hospital immediately after the baby was born. 

This isn’t ok. 

If you aren’t the parent of the child then you really have no say in the name. Unless of course your culture names children in a different way than my culture. I know that in some cultures the parents of the child do not name the child but the name is given in another manner. I guess what I should say is,  if it wasn’t your responsibility to name the child then you don’t get to make any comments on the child’s name. It isn’t your right. You could comment on the name in a positive manner. When people meet me and tell me I have a beautiful name, I like those kinds of people. When I meet people and they wrinkle their nose and ask if I was named after someone, I am very cautious around them. If they can’t even respect your name, can they be trusted? In my experience, usually, no. 

My Name Story

Now, I am a white woman so I have in no way faced the sort of name shaming that minorities have. That is a privilege I have been granted due to being white. People might have been confused by my name but it was still accepted. I never had to justify my name to someone twice. Ever. I would like to make that abundantly clear. Many people have name stories that are much worse than this. 

I have what some might consider a unique name. My name is Natasha Theodora Rice. My parents chose to name me Natasha because they liked the name. They read it in a baby book and connected with it. The name Theodora is a family name. My Great-Aunt was named Theodora. I believe that the name Natasha Theodora has a beautiful ring to it. I am passionately in love with my name. This hasn’t always been the case. 

Growing up I was frequently asked if I was Russian and if I was a ballerina. It didn’t bother me but it always confused me. When I would tell adults my name they would look at me with a confused expression and ask if my family was Russian. I didn’t get it. Now I do. They were trying to find the justification for my name. Why is this little girl from Wisconsin named this Russian name? When I would tell them I wasn’t Russian they would look even more perplexed. At one point my mom must have told me to tell people that my parents liked the name and that is why they chose it. I remember giving this response over and over. I still give this response today. She explained that people could pick any name that felt right to them. My mom constantly pushed me to advocate for myself as a child especially in regards to my name.

My middle name is Theodora. It is a family name. After I would confuse the adults with my first name they usually asked what my middle name was. Maybe they were hoping for a more “normal” middle name. When I told them, I would again see wrinkled foreheads and then, usually, the adult would say Oh, that must be a family name. I would proudly tell them that I was named after my mom’s Aunt Theodora. They didn’t have a lot of questions about that one but I could tell they also didn’t approve. 

My own family didn’t even pronounce my name correctly and still to this day does not. My uncles have always pronounced the Natasha part of my name like ash-uh when it should be pronounced ah-sha… I’m no pro at writing pronunciation guides but the point is that they pronounce it incorrectly. When I was a kid I heard my mom constantly explaining how my name was pronounced and then hearing them sometimes pronounce it correctly with her, only to tell her their pronunciation was good enough. My mom continues this fight to this day, 29 years after I was born. When I was younger, I remember overhearing her tell them that when they pronounce my name incorrectly they are disrespecting who I am as a person. I have taken this lesson to heart. If people are mispronouncing your name it is disrespectful. Everyone deserves to have their name pronounced correctly. 

As a child, I didn’t like my name at all. I learned from the outside world that my name was not on the acceptable name list. Through the constant reactions of the adults I met and my own family members who wouldn’t pronounce my name correctly, I learned that having a different name is not ok. I dreamed of changing my name. For a while, I never wanted to tell people my middle name and sometimes I even joined in as people made fun of it. As I’ve gotten older I have learned to embrace my name. I love it now and I think that it fits me perfectly. 

The lessons my mom taught me have stuck with me. When friends try to pronounce my name incorrectly as a joke, I explain that I don’t think it is funny. It isn’t that I can’t take a joke- something often said to people who take offense at their names being made fun of. My name has been made into a joke too many times by people who don’t respect me. I don’t need the people who love me also joking about it. Most people understand immediately, apologize and stop. Some people find it funny to keep going. I can honestly say that usually, those people seemed to fade out of my life fairly quickly. This my friends was always a red flag for me. 

Names Are Powerful

At my current school, we teach an American curriculum in English. I am once again in the majority at school- even though I am living in Poland and I am not Polish. People in the majority hold the power. How they use it tells a lot about them. I meet people from all over the world with beautiful names that I have never heard before. I ensure that I say every name correctly. I double check my pronunciation to make that I am saying it correctly and that I am respecting and honoring that person. Unfortunately, not everyone does the same.

In Polish the name Anna is pronounced like THIS.  If you click it will be written Ania which is the nickname for Anna and how most Anna’s ask for their name to be pronounced. A teacher at our school started using the American pronunciation. He was corrected several times but didn’t pronounce it correctly. He can pronounce it correctly and does from time to time- he just chooses not to most of the time. Getting real here, you also can pronounce all names correctly. I was once in a meeting with him and a teacher named Katarzyna. Kasia is sometimes a nickname for Katarzyna but this teacher doesn’t go by the nickname. In the meeting, the teacher called her Kasia, Katarzyna, and Katherine. This person Americanized every name. Piotr was Peter. Ania was Anna. Łukasz was Lucas. He refused to call his students the correct names and Americanized them as well.  

This teacher used his pronunciation of names to exert dominance and control. He knew how to pronounce names correctly but chose not to. He was proud of this behavior. A few other Americans noticed this and slowly more and more teachers began pronouncing names incorrectly- even when they knew the correct pronunciation. Fortunately, he has left our school and I hope to hear fewer teachers doing it this year. I will be correcting teachers who do this and, when necessary, explaining why. Names have been used to oppress people all over the world- it shouldn’t happen in schools. We should know better and we should do better.

What to do Instead

  1. Reflect– This isn’t the easiest place to start but I think this is where you must begin your journey. Think about your participation in this event. I know that I have made fun of student names. Like I said earlier, this doesn’t feel good to admit. But I must admit it in order to move forward with better understanding and more awareness. 
  2. Don’t participate– This school year, don’t do it! Don’t look for different names on your class list. Don’t listen as other teachers do it. Walk away. Do not make fun of student names. 
  3. Advocate for change– Just because I stopped doing the behavior doesn’t mean I’ve done my job. I have to advocate for change and educate others. Just this week I was Facetiming with someone from the US. They asked if I get any weird names over here. I explained that we don’t make fun of children’s names anymore. We know that names are extremely cultural so I have kids with names that come from their own culture. I have names I haven’t heard before but I don’t have any weird names. There are no weird names. The person I was talking to was really receptive. He said he didn’t know and what I said made sense. Not everyone will be receptive but we need to make this change. Kids should attend school and feel respected. This starts with correct name pronunciation.  
 

A Quick Word on Nicknames

You should not be giving your students nicknames. You need to call them by the name they ask you to use. If her name is Mary Elizabeth and she asks you to use Mary Elizabeth don’t just call her Mary. If his name is Matthew and he wants to be called Matthew don’t call him Matt or Matty. Sometimes people give nicknames to show love or kindness or friendship but unless the child has asked you to use a nickname. You probably shouldn’t. Especially with elementary kids.

If you start using a nickname some students might not feel comfortable to ask you to stop using the nickname due to the teacher/student power dynamic. I would never have asked a teacher to stop calling me by a nickname. Sometimes I didn’t even correct them if they called me Natalie. 

Please leave a note in the comments. Share your name story, questions you have, advice, comments… whatever it is that you want to share with me. I would love to hear from you!