“FREEDOM FIGHTER” everyone said in unison over Zoom. On the screen was written the definition our class had come up with: “A freedom fighter is someone who asks why, questions what they see around them, and asks if it is right or fair.” This is how our class begins the day: reading a new vocabulary word that connects to the morning message and the sharing question in our Morning Meeting. Then, just as I presented the morning message, I saw a word pop up on my screen from a student who had started using the annotation tool on Zoom. He was spelling “freedom fighter” in large letters across the screen.
I paused. “I’m noticing that you’re annotating,” I told him “Do you think it is unfair that I am the only one in the class who has the power to annotate?”
In an unsure voice, he responded, “Uh, yes?”
I asked what the rest of the group thought. All of a sudden other students were joining in and sharing their thoughts on whether it was fair that I was the only one who could annotate:
“I think we should definitely all be able to annotate.”
“Well, maybe we can all annotate, but it wouldn’t be fair if we wrote over someone else’s words”
“We should also wait until the person is done reading the morning message”
Right then and there, we changed our classroom agreements. Everyone now has the right to annotate in our class, just not while others are speaking!
This conversation happened during our third grade Morning Meeting. Our class uses Morning Meetings as a place to tackle topics such as identity, power, privilege, oppression, and resistance. Since we started doing this, I have come to understand that students are not only aware of these topics, they are eager to have a space to explore them.
Morning Meeting is first and foremost a space to build community. It is a space that roots the day in acknowledging and holding space for all of the individuals in the room. When I began Morning Meetings with my class, I utilized the traditional structure laid out by Responsive Classroom. A typical morning meeting is a full-class event in four parts:
The traditional structure is powerful in its own right, but for me, this year in particular, I felt like the conversations we were filling it with were lacking something. This hit me one morning as my students were sharing whether they would rather fight a five foot chicken or a five inch dinosaur and I asked myself, in the words of Dr. Gholdy Mohammad, “am I really unearthing their genius?” (2020). We had some creative debates and some good laughs based on ridiculous “would you rather” questions but while everyone loves a good laugh, it felt as though this roughly 30 minute structure was begging me to do more with it, begging me to honor the intellect of the 25 eight and nine-year-olds in the room.
So here’s my revised version of a morning meeting that honors a child’s intellect and curiosity about the world:
And here’s each part in detail:
Greeting (2-3 minutes)
Greeting is a time when every person in the room is acknowledged and seen through a greeting. This might look like singing a good morning song or saying good morning to each other.
Mental Health Check-In (2 minutes)
Mental Health Check-In is the time when the class and the teacher can get a sense of everyone’s well being and needs at the start of every day. Students might self assess how they’ve slept the night before, what they ate for breakfast, and how they were generally feeling. Students are also able to request a one-on-one check-in with me. This check-in supports teacher to student relationships, student to student relationships, and my ability to intentionally put supports into place. This might look like using the chat feature, sharing one by one around the circle, or filling out a Google form.
Class Agreements (1 minute)
Our Class Agreements are guidelines that students co-create at the beginning of the year and adjust throughout the year. This practice fosters a culture of partnership between student and teacher, and support and respect between the class. During this portion of our Morning Meeting, we read and review our class agreements, and share one or more that we want to focus on during the day. This routine serves as a strong foundation to not only our day but specifically the conversations we have during our morning message and sharing question. Our classroom agreements this year are:
Vocabulary Introduction (1-2 minutes)
The vocabulary introduction is a space for students to familiarize themselves with the words or concepts they will encounter in the morning message text. By introducing these words, students not only have a time to preview aspects of the text they will interact with, but they also have a time to build their phonics skills, expand their vocabulary and build on their prior knowledge. This was the part of the meeting where I introduced the phrase “freedom fighter” and its working definition. Some other examples of vocabulary words that we have introduced during Morning Meeting are “values”, “cultural intelligence,” “race,” “stereotypes,” and “identity.”
Morning Message (5-7 minutes)
Upgrading the content of my morning message has been the most meaningful change I have made to this structure. I use this time to use the strategy of “layering texts’’ which means I share excerpts from articles, audio and video clips, photographs, and songs. Layering texts has helped improve reading fluency, comprehension skills, content knowledge, and has increased engagement.
While the content of our morning message comes from a variety of sources, I aim to curate content that connects to the areas of identity, power, equity, and anti-oppression – which comes from Dr. Gholdy Muhammed’s Equity Framework (2020).
Sharing Question (8-10 minutes)
Following the morning message I ask students to respond to a sharing question. This is also an adapted portion of the original Morning Meeting structure. In our Morning Meeting, this is a time for students to reflect on the reading (and viewing, and listening) from the morning message, respond, and discuss with one another. I found that this is a place for students to practice listening to multiple perspectives, a place to respond and adjust, and finally a place to discuss topics that are relevant to students’ lives.
After reading our morning message about what makes a freedom fighter, our sharing question for that day was: Are you a freedom fighter? How? The answer was a resounding yes. We gave the original freedom fighter a cheer for leading the movement and making a change for the group. In 30 minutes students had learned a new concept, tried it on by sparking this movement together, built community through advocating for and supporting one another, took ownership over their learning, and went about their day feeling empowered.
For a list of morning message topics I’ve used with my class paired with sharing questions, see the table below:
|Morning Message Topic||Sharing Question|
|Values||Who and what do you value? How do you show your values in your choices and decisions every day?|
|Human rights||Some people fight to gain people more rights. Such as the right to housing and the right to free healthcare. What rights do you think we should all have? (Saunders et al., 2019)|
|Identity Development||Write down everything you can think of that makes you who you are. What has changed and what has stayed the same?|
|Power and privilege||What are some forms of privilege that you have? What is something you might be able to do that others might not be able to do?|
|Worldviews||People in the past held many views and beliefs that we disagree with today. Can you think of anything that people think is ok today but that people in the future may think is not okay? (Saunders et al., 2019)|
|Cultural Intelligence and Language||If you met someone that communicated in a way that was different from you, what do you think you could do? (O’Brien, Tabb, 2018)|
|Racism/bias||What can you do or say to interrupt racism?|
Of course this work cannot live and die in the twenty to thirty minutes of Morning Meeting, but since Morning Meeting is a structure meant to set the tone for the rest of the day, why not set a tone rooted in anti-oppression, building not only a community, but a community of learners? I know it feels like we just don’t have a spare moment but I was surprised by how much meaningful social studies and social justice content I was able to fit into this 30 minutes of time. You may still be thinking, “But I LOVE the questions about dinosaurs and chickens!” Yes, they are so much fun and definitely have their place in building comfort and trust while building up to or integrating some of that deeper content. However now that I have seen how these quick discussions that begin in Morning Meetings find their way into the conversations we have the rest of the day, I am never going back. I welcome you to join me.
You can see a video of one of Mara’s morning meetings here.
Gay, R., Saunders,C., G., Salami, M., Scarlet, M., Songhurst, H., Avelino, J. (2019). Power book: what is it, who has it and why? Ivy Group.
Muhammad, G., Love, B. L. (2020). Cultivating genius: an equity framework for culturally and historically responsive literacy. Scholastic.
O’Brien, N., Tabb L. (2018). Cultural intelligence: how people live, how you live. Teachers Pay Teachers.
What Is Morning Meeting? (2019, January 02). Retrieved May 14, 2021, from https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/what-is-morning-meeting/