It’s always important to create a sense of belonging in the classroom, but it’s never been more important now in the age of COVID. As students ended last year abruptly and were sent to their homes for remote learning, they not only lost the end-of-year traditions, they also lost their classroom and school community. School serves many important purposes, but one that cannot be ignored is the sense of community that school provides. We have an innate human need to connect with people. Recently, this human connection has been taken away from most of us, in the form of social distancing and remote learning. When students start back at school this fall, creating a sense of belonging must be top priority.
Here is our number one easiest strategy to build a sense of community with students this fall: morning meeting.
A morning meeting (or morning circle, circle time, community time, or whatever you choose to call it) is a dedicated time each day for the class to connect and start the day together. This is a non-negotiable event that happens no matter what else may be going on during the day. There are countless ways to do a morning meeting, but we recommend keeping it short (especially for young students). With early childhood classrooms, they should be under 10 minutes – even shorter if done virtually.
We suggest including just three important elements: greeting, sharing, and breathing.
Greeting: Have students greet each other. Typically, this should involve eye contact and saying each child’s name. For example, greetings can go around the circle with each child saying hello to the person on their left. In a virtual space, feel free to be creative! Allow students to air high-five or fist bump the next student through the screen!
Sharing: Next, allow students to share a very brief response to a question. For young students, you may choose to do half the class and save the other half for the next day (keep track of who hasn’t shared yet so no one is overlooked!). Explain that sharing is a chance for students to get to know each other better. When they are not sharing, they should be listening to their peers. In a classroom setting, students can respond to each other with respectful, caring comments. In a virtual space, you may wish to teach them how to use reaction buttons or the chat feature to respond.
Questions for sharing can include:
What is the best thing that happened to you yesterday?
What are you looking forward to today?
What is something you’ve always wondered about?
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
What is something you used to find difficult, but now can do easily?
If you could make a wish – for someone else – what would it be?
What was the most challenging thing you did in school yesterday?
If you had to eat only one food for a week, what would it be?
Breathing: Finally, explain that breathing is a helpful tool that allows us to control strong emotions and focus attention for learning. There are countless breathing strategies here on our blog (LINK).
After wrapping up these three parts, you can dive into the daily agenda or instructions for the day.
Morning meeting is an easy tool that can get your day started on the right foot, and more importantly, build connection and a sense of belonging in your classroom… even if your classroom is spread out in homes across the city.
P.S. Here are a few additional tips for virtual morning meetings if you’re school year is starting remotely.
Pre-record any messages you want to share as part of the morning meeting and send those out in advance. Get students excited by providing a little tease to encourage them to hop on the call. Something as simple as, “We have a fun science lesson today!” or, “I’ll bring my cat to morning meeting today so you can meet her!” can get kids excited.
Assign parts of the morning meeting to different students. You can change it up every day or send out a list in advance so they are prepared, but make sure every student has a chance to lead at some point. For example, a student can lead the breathing portion by coming up with their own breathing strategy, or another student can think of a fun greeting for the class.
Bring home into the morning meeting. Try something like a scavenger hunt where students leave their computer and find objects around the house and bring them back. For example, each student finds an object in their home that can be recycled, or finds an object that begins with the same letter as their first name. There are countless other ways to make the home environment a part of the classroom, such as having students show their favorite item in their bedroom, their pet, or one picture that is hanging on a wall at their home.