To give his students a sense of stability, an elementary teacher has shifted his morning meetings to asynchronous home learning.
In an ideal world, you could get all 30 second graders logged into Zoom at the same time, with everyone seeing and hearing each other and no students fidgeting with their keyboard, crunching pretzels, using the webcam to show their tonsils, or making fart noises. But who’s in that world? Not me. I’m still trying to get permission forms back to even try a Google Meet with my first and second graders.
Home learning is so different from being present with our students. Every day in the classroom, we notice little details as our students come in—we keep a finger on the pulse of our learning community. But from miles away it isn’t easy to know how students are truly doing.
At school you can observe kids’ lunch trays and see they’re getting enough nutrition. You’re able to send a student down to rest after not getting a solid night’s sleep. Or you notice when they fidget so much, they fall off their stool, so you give them a movement break to get focused.
So how can elementary teachers create a sense of normalcy in our chaotic situation? I’m resorting to what we know works—a morning meeting, where relationships are strengthened through interactive, engaging activities designed to help our students learn more about themselves and their classmates. Morning meetings are how we’ve started over 125 days this school year, and students need them now more than ever.
Incorporating morning meetings into our home learning plan can help in a number of ways. First, students thrive on familiarity, especially in challenging times. Next, morning meetings help develop or maintain social and emotional skills. They can help increase student motivation for learning and sharing in online discussions. Finally, morning meetings can help get our students ready each day to take on the academic challenges we’re sending home.
ASYNCHRONOUS MORNING MEETINGS IN HOME LEARNING
Ideally you can show students something familiar. If you’re still able to get things from your classroom or have pictures of your room, include those identifiable elements that make your classroom your own. I brought home several morning meeting items: the calendar, the birthday sign, and the place-value pocket chart so we can continue to count the days of the school year using straws. I also grabbed novelty items we use in meetings, like my stuffed taco and bird, and our movement break activity dice.
Greeting: I have many excellent greetings, but they mostly involve face-to-face, nonverbal communication, and often hands-on methods to be successful. They work best when you can see students’ body language to gauge how they’re doing.
Start a virtual morning meeting with elements that are simple for your students to do and not too complex for you to manage given whatever platform you’re using. Students will need time to figure out how to find and respond to the new virtual meeting elements.
I started with a Seesaw journal post and tagged all students so they could comment and see peer comments. In the video greeting, students were instructed to greet me back with a typed or voice comment. After students were comfortable with that, during the third week I added the following directions: The first student to comment greets me, the second student greets the first student, and so on. At the end, I greet the last student, mimicking a circle greeting.
Flipgrid is a great option for video greetings, and I’ve read that Nearpod, Padlet, and Google Classroom have varying capabilities of video, audio, or text greeting options.
Sharing: Nearly every morning in the classroom I had students at my feet asking to share. During home learning, I’m letting them share every single day if they want. It’s the one time I don’t have to say, “I’m sorry, we don’t have time for more shares.” I have my students share in Seesaw by taking a picture of something red, or shiny, or bumpy, or things like the family pet. Then they record their voice while sharing. It’s nice because now I don’t have to get permission for a student to bring in a pet snake or help a student carry in the 50 rocks in their collection. Sharing has many benefits, including academic ones.
Activity: This is the most challenging one. We plan so many awesome community-building games for the classroom that simply can’t be done online. How on earth could you get a hula hoop to pass wirelessly or do a group juggle virtually?
However, we can build community through the 4 Cs: collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. Try sending home a riddle or doing a read-aloud—anything from your meetings that you can do virtually.
Morning message: I send an announcement video to students about nuts-and-bolts items like our agenda, daily activities, birthdays, the date and weather, and the pocket chart for the number of school days. I also address any issues, procedure changes, or concerns about home learning.
SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL LEARNING REFLECTIONS
I include SEL reflections to determine how students are doing emotionally at the beginning and end of each day. My check-ins are quick, maybe as simple as sharing an emoji. Or I might do a “Yucks and Yeahs” check-in where students create a drawing, text, audio, or video reflection on a Yuck—something that was hard or they’re worried about—or a Yeah—something they’re excited about.
We know SEL must be woven into our home learning plan for our students, who are out of their routine, discombobulated, and quite possibly scared. Aren’t we all feeling those things ourselves? Many families have told me they saw a tremendous change in their child’s emotional state once I began the morning meeting routine. I didn’t begin with all four parts already set—instead I started small and built our meetings up.
The biggest challenge we have is helping our students return to school not traumatized by this situation. Their social and emotional health should be our number one goal so they return to us with their spark and love of learning intact. Morning meetings and reflection are the foundations of that social and emotional work.