I hear and see joy from the students and faculty first thing each morning as I walk by or drop into the classrooms. I hear laughter and see students making connections with one another. When kids feel connected to their peers, teachers, and community, it allows them to feel safe. When kids feel safe they’re able to learn at their best. - DJ Thistle, Head of Lower School
This past summer 13 of our faculty members attended a 4-day Responsive Classroom training and had the opportunity to learn how to build a supportive and positive community for our students. Mount Tamalpais School has implemented Responsive Classroom as part of the broader Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Program, to help students develop belonging, self-awareness, empathy, and conflict resolution skills. Responsive Classroom is an evidence based education approach associated with greater teacher effectiveness, higher student achievement, and improved social climate.
A key aspect of Responsive Classroom is Morning Meeting. Lower school students spend 30 minutes with their homeroom teachers and fellow classmates every morning, five days a week, playing games, laughing, and sharing. Morning Meeting gives students the chance to connect socially before starting the academic day. It’s an opportunity to check in with one another and practice using language tools for expressing emotions, thereby building a foundation that they can take with them throughout the day, out on the playground, and beyond when they leave campus. The idea is that they are able to internalize and utilize the tools, always building empathy.
By establishing the morning meeting, we are creating a forum to have community and kindness built into our day, as a core part of our curriculum, our culture, and our philosophy. When speaking with faculty to find out if they are already seeing a change in students since we introduced Morning Meeting in the 2017-18 school-year, DJ Thistle notes that he’s seen changes especially with students who were having a hard time connecting. The Morning Meeting allows these students to connect with their peers relieving any social anxiety so that they can focus on learning. All students benefit when they understand more about their classmates. Whether it is finding a new person to play with at recess or understanding that a classmate’s over-reaction during a playground game is connected to that student’s sick dog. Morning meeting strengthens community, and it makes for a more forgiving community.
Ally Svirsky, fifth grade teacher, says that in her class this year she’s already seen a lot of growth with students who started out very shy at the start of the school year and who are now completely comfortable sharing with their classmates. Aileen Markovich and Rachael Olmanson who teach 2nd grade homeroom note that it has made a big difference in developing their own personal relationships with the students, making them more effective teachers. Knowing what a student did over the weekend with their families, for example, can help guide teachers in their approach. It provides a different lens to understanding the full lives of our students and makes us better teachers.
Morning Meeting consists of a greeting, a sharing circle, a game or activity, and a morning message. The greeting may encourage practicing eye contact, or saying hello in another language. During the sharing portion, students might say how they’re feeling, “I feel X today because…” or simply share a favorite animal. Activities are done with the entire group, including the teacher, and may involve singing, games, chanting, or poems. The morning message may revolve around a theme for the week, such as Respect or Meaningful Apologies. Teachers and students alike draw from the “emotional toolbox,” developed by Dovetail Learning, which consists of 12 tools (such as Breathing Tool, Listening Tool, Empathy Tool, etc.). Teachers have noted that students often refer to the tools later in the day when something comes up, such as “I need to use my Empathy Tool.”
Keeping kids young, while also emotionally mature with a clear sense of self, is key to what makes MTS special. Responsive Classroom has been an important element to the School’s curriculum in teaching our students about life skills, so they can be even more successful in academics and life. Morning Meeting helps us continue to Build with Kindness on our campus and in our community. It also helps to have every day begin with laughter.