School days at Hoosick Falls Central School start with a greeting for each student as they enter the classroom and a chance to express themselves and share what’s important to them.
For elementary students in grades UPK (Universal Pre-K) to 4, the format is a Morning Meeting.
“Morning Meeting starts out with a greeting,” said UPK Teacher Sarah Bushey. “Doing so makes sure every child is recognized and spoken to. They can then choose to speak with others or not, depending on how they’re feeling.”
“There are so many distractions for children out there now with technology,” said Suanne McLenithan, a second-grade teacher at HFCS. “They are stimulated in so many ways. Having that time to stop and reflect in the morning, especially the mindfulness time, is a quiet time when there’s no distractions and that helps them relax.”
During Morning Meeting, students are sometimes given a topic to focus on or their teacher may bring up something they’ve noticed in students’ class interactions. The group then will have a discussion or do non-verbal tasks related to the subject, such as play a game, write about it, take a survey, or create art. While they’re participating, they’re also working on their language and thinking skills. It’s a chance to intersect social, emotional, and academic learning.
“We always talk about a social-emotional topic,” said Bushey. “I might ask them to share their opinion on something or to let us know if they’ve ever felt a certain emotion. We are helping them learn what that emotion may feel like and how they can properly work through it. Many times, I’ll talk about a positive thing I’ve noticed in the classroom.”
Students are also invited to share things which are important to them.
“One boy had his mom bring in little chicks to show the class,” said McLenithan. “Knowing his interest helped me plan a lesson for the day. We did a whole unit on chicken and hens. He also was a quiet student. That boy was so proud of himself. He felt safe within the structure of our Morning Meeting time and it was a great day for him to shine.”
“My favorite thing about Morning Meeting is getting to share with people and having them share things,” said one second grader.
“When I brought in my Pokemon cards, said another second-grade student, “I found out that a boy in my class also liked Pokemon. I felt like I found a new friend.”
“When they come in, if they’ve had issues on the bus, or walking into class, or at night, instead of having to hold that in all day, they have the Morning Meeting to get that out with their peers or their teacher,” said McLenithan.
“We’re like a family in our class and we support each other.”
“If someone has something that broke, like a favorite toy, and they share that with the class, it kind of helps me understand what’s going on in their day and how they’re truly feeling and how I can help them get over it,” said a second-grader.
“When people are brave enough to share something, it makes me feel warm inside to know that I helped someone,” said her friend.
HFCS uses the Morning Meeting model developed by Responsive Classroom. Responsive Classroom is an evidence-based approach to teaching that focuses on engaging academics, positive community, effective management, and developmental awareness. It involves four elements: The Greeting, Sharing, a Group Activity, and a Morning Message.
For HFCS students, it gives them a chance to be heard, to build empathy, and to be more aware of their feelings and the feelings of others.
“At this age [UPK], they’re feeling a lot of feelings,” said Bushey, “but they don’t necessarily know what those feelings are or what they’re called. Morning Meeting gives us a chance to help them reflect in an age-appropriate way and to model for them proper ways to express those feelings.”
“It builds their self-confidence in and out of the classroom,” added McLenithan. “I find that the skills they learn in morning meeting are very important for test-taking. It also helps them feel comfortable reading or speaking up in class.”
Added one of the second graders, “When we are doing school activities, sometimes it can be challenging and this helps.”
School teachers and administrators are also finding that the skills that students are learning are far-reaching and sustainable.
“My students tell me that they use the skills they learn here when they’re at home to calm down or cope with something that’s difficult,” stated McLenithan. They use the strategies to stop themselves from getting into an argument with another student. One student told me he goes to his room to do belly breaths when he’s upset. Another said he feels mindful when he’s sitting quietly on the couch with his pet.”
“If I said today that we’re not going to do Morning Meeting, or we’re not going to do mindfulness, my students would say, ‘Why?’ and insist that we do it,” said McLenithan. “It has become a really important part of their day.”