Reflections and Resources from Tarheelstate Teacher: September 2015
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How to Schedule Morning Meeting into your School Day

In August, my friend Kara from Making Playtime Count shared some ways to creatively squeeze character building into your classroom routines. In today's Implementing the Community Meeting, I'm addressing the basics of how you can add a community meeting to your class schedule.

How Much Time Does a Community Meeting Take?
During the first few weeks of school, my classroom meetings with read aloud and discussions may take up to an hour. I embed lessons into my “getting to know you/back to school/setting expectations” routines and into readers workshop since each theme has a touchstone picturebook to read aloud. As we get further into our year, it would be ideal to have at least 25 minutes for community meetings each day, however, 2-3 days a week still makes a strong impact on students and your classroom community. I try to get my meetings down to 20 minutes knowing that our discussions will continue during future meetings. One year, I had 15 minutes in the morning before my students went to special-area classes and I was able to make that work for community meeting.

When Does Community Meeting Happen? 
While “Morning Meeting” is the perfect way to start the school day, sometimes schedules do not allow for our meetings to be first thing in the morning {or even every day of the week}. In this case, I call it a “Community Meeting.” Find a time of the day that works for your schedule. Do you have a small window of time when students return from recess or a special area class? Can you get everyone to your meeting space more quickly in the mornings by being in your chair ready to begin and inviting students over as they get unpacked? They can grab their journals and get started on a reflection page while waiting for classmates. You can even get some personal time helping students as they work at the carpet and wait for you to begin your meeting. Somedays, working at the meeting place with you and classmates may be all your meeting requires! Think of the organic discussions that will ensue about kindness, compassion, and perserverance as students are allowed to work with one another on the journal pages. If your schedule is tight, I encourage you to find creative ways to chisel out the time for community meeting throughout your week. {I've found a really creative way to fit it into my busy schedule this year! I'm so excited about this new idea and I'm sharing in next week's post!}

How Can I Keep the Momentum when I'm Not Able to have a Daily Meeting?
If you are unable to have morning meetings daily or first thing in the morning, one way you can continue to embed the theme into your week is to use the journal pages for morning work and play related music in the background as students are getting settled so that they become familiar with the song more quickly. Can students accomplish one part of classroom meeting for morning work while students are getting settled to save time and lead into what you will be discussing during your meeting later in the day? Of course, using your morning work time to build on community meetings will be more effective after your current theme has been introduced and you students have had some experience with community meeting.

Things come up throughout the school year---picture day, field trips, early release and other interruptions. If you don’t have time for a full community meeting on certain days, you can still try to squeeze in 5 minutes by using a quick video from YouTube related to your theme. I’ve listed a number of connected videos in my Community Meetings Made Easy sets, but there are thousands of other great ones out there if you do a quick search! I’ve often stumble upon some of the best videos this way. Students love to be engaged through video, so allow yourself the video option as a back-up plan when your day is packed to the brim. A heartwarming and inspiring message or song is a great way to start your morning together. If your students LOVED a song or video that you have already shown, reward them with a repeat on a busy day so that you don’t drop community time altogether. My go-to videos for playing again and again come from Kid President and the "One Day” Kindness Boomerang video/song. It’s impossible for your students to hear the messages you are trying to impart too many times this year! 

If you have spent the quality time upfront launching your classroom meetings, shorter meetings as the year goes on (depending on your goals) will still feed your classroom community and allow your students to thrive. You may even find yourself getting into a long-short-long rhythm, planning for your initial launch of a theme to go on a little longer and building upon that in the days ahead. 

I am personally convinced that shirking community meetings altogether results in lost class time later on as student behavior and treatment of one another declines and I have more issues to problem solve during my instructional time. And, don’t forget that classroom meetings structured around themes help me meet many of my literacy objectives, so I never feel guilty. When I set aside time for community meeting in my daily or weekly schedule, I am not “giving up” class time for community meeting. Community meeting is giving meaningful class time to myself and my students.

Start small and believe it is worth your time!
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My Upper Elementary Morning Meeting Routine

What does my morning meeting routine look like? Need some ideas and activities for implementing morning meetings into your classroom?

This post is a long one. I thought about breaking it into two parts, but I didn't want to make you wait two weeks to see a whole morning meeting theme unit sequence. Read on to see the day-by-day in action!

Other Posts in this Series:
Introduction to the Series
Series Post # 1: Why I Devote Time to Community Meetings
Series Post # 2: The Design: An Overview
Series Post # 3: Why a Theme-Based Community Meeting?
Series Post # 4: Preparing for Community Meeting: Materials and Resources
Series Post # 5: Launching Community Meeting at the Beginning of the Year

At the start of each week (or new theme), I post the community meeting theme, quotation, and key words in an area that is close to my meeting space. Prior to the launch of this unit, I have printed journal pages for students.

On day one, my goal is to introduce the theme for the week. I have a number of ways that I may choose to introduce the theme with students depending on my goals, the theme itself, and the resources I have access to. I can keep it simple sometimes and be more creative at other times.

My very first theme of the year is always Belonging. I launch this theme by reading aloud Big Al by Andrew Clements. Big Al is the ugliest fish in the sea but he is also one of the nicest. He tries many things to fit in, but his size and look just scares other fish away. When a fisherman's net captures many of the fish, Big Al proves what a great friend he can be. After the read aloud, I introduce the theme by going through the key vocabulary and wrap it up for the day with a student self-assessment.

Another way I may choose to launch my Belonging theme is by having students respond to my key quotation first to get their minds brimming with ideas before I read Big Al. My favorite quotation for this theme is “By building relations, we create a source of love and personal pride and belonging that makes living in a chaotic world easier,” Susan Lieberman.

If I am launching my Kindness theme, I will most likely start by reading aloud Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. Each Kindness shows us that while it may seem that we always have the opportunity to apologize for being unkind, sometimes we don’t have that luxury. In the story, Chloe and her friends are very unwelcoming to a new girl who continues to try to reach out to them. When the new girl moves away, Chloe realizes what she has done but has no way to say she is sorry. We see Chloe feeling remorseful and can only hope that Chloe learned an important lesson and will extend kindness to everyone she meets in the future. Each Kindness is the kind of story that makes an impact. Sometimes I’ll choose to introduce a theme with a resource like this that gets the message across immediately. A teaching move like this also sets students up to reflect inward. All children are capable of pushing someone away as we see Chloe doing in the story and they can learn from her rather than make a similar mistake.

Showing videos is another option I like to use for launching themes. When I launch my Goal Setting/Achievement theme, my favorite videos are the Finish Strong video or the Death Scene Crawl from Facing the Giants. These videos help me inspire students to believe in themselves and motivate them as we set personal goals.

Although I am mentioning books and videos as “Day 1 Introducing the Theme” strategies, you can, of course, use these resources later in your theme’s sequence as well. I use at least two picturebooks and at least one video {or song} during each theme. The journey is really yours to plan out and even when you plan it out, you may decide to move something around at the last minute. If it’s a Monday and my students come in all jazzed, I may do a read aloud to set a more quiet tone for the day. But, if it’s a dreary, rainy day and they come in with low energy, I may choose to show a video or song to pump them up. My “teacher suggestions” pages offer lots of variety and with a little previewing of the suggested resources (pull some of the picturebooks and watch some of the videos prior to launching the theme), you can be ready to make decisions 5 minutes before your meeting begins. {It’s also great to have the picturebook options readily available in case technology fails you!}

At some point in Day 1 or Day 2, I give students the coverpage for our theme that contains the related quotations and lists and defines our key vocabulary. Students place these in their community meeting notebooks.

It’s also important for students to pre-assess themselves early on in the launch of your theme. Sometimes I have them do it on the first day before I start talking about our theme and other times I have them complete the reflection form and set a goal after an engagement activity.

I have found that having students reflect without any other introduction to the theme works best after students have some experience with our community meeting routines. During the first few self-assessment and reflection sessions, I do a lot of guiding and talking over students as they work. I encourage them to be really thoughtful and most likely have to ask them to be a little harder on themselves. (“Of course we have all done something unkind to another person! Don’t feel like you can’t tell the truth on your self-assessment!”) You will also want to take the time to have students set a goal related to the theme and share those goals with one another. When you initially start your morning meeting routines, you might allow volunteers to share their ideas and goals. Later in the year when students’ comfort levels increase, I like to go around the circle and have everyone share their goal. (The option to pass always exists as students may feel their goal is too personal, but you want to encourage everyone to feel comfortable sharing with the group.)

It’s a GREAT idea to make a t-chart to keep track of general goals and strategies related to your theme. For example, for “belonging” you might write “Goals for Belonging” and “Strategies for Extending a Sense of Belonging to Others.” You can keep track of your goals and ideas throughout the mini-unit and refer back to them throughout the year. Student journals have a 4 sectioned page where they respond to questions independently before you discuss them as a group. For belonging, these questions include “What are some times/places where you feel that you belong? What are some times/places where someone may feel they don’t belong? What are some ways you can make sure others feel included?” The 4-sectioned page also includes a place for students to create an illustration of the theme.

At this point, it is day 3 or day 4. You have introduced the theme, went over key vocabulary, probably mentioned or analyzed 1-2 of the related quotations, read aloud a picturebook, and perhaps shown a video. (If you show a video on the first day, make sure that on the following day, you read aloud a picturebook. You really want to have a key picturebook connected to each theme. Students will refer back to them all year as they read other stories and see connections between the characters and events.)

Your job during this phase is to continue building the theme through read alouds, additional videos, and by using your community meeting time to discuss the big ideas you want to impart to students. You and your students will begin making connections between the different stories you have shared. Let’s continue following my Belonging theme unit. This year, I read aloud Big Al, Each Kindness, and Babushka Baba Yaga. I used Babushka Baba Yaga as a community meeting book but added a second layer by using our read aloud time to teach students to track their thinking while reading in their reading journals! In last week's post, I shared how I'm using my belonging theme in readers workshop this year and this is the perfect example of how community meeting themes and my reader's workshop goals can complement one another.





Quotation Analysis. I’m a big believer in quotations. Over the years, different quotations have become my mantras. I love to make “quotation lovers” out of my students and community meeting is the perfect time to expose them to great quotations. Each of my themes has a journal page for students to respond to one of the related quotations. For many of the themes, I have provided more than one quotation. In this case, I allow students to choose the quote they want to respond to. This is a way to get students thinking independently about the theme and what it means to them. Their written response is also a way for you to see what ideas from your community meetings are sinking in. You may have students who do not speak up or share too often during your meetings, but you can see what they are getting out of the lessons through their written responses. If you are short on time, quotation analysis is also a great partner (or triad) activity. Allow students to discuss the quotations together for a few minutes then come back to whole group to share.

The final phase of your community meeting theme sequence is consolidation and reflection. This may take multiple days. For my belonging unit, my favorite way to consolidate and reflect on what we have learned is to compare and contrast the stories (and one video short called “The Lost Thing”) that we have read. We chart the main character, what the character did to try to belong, and how the character finally gained (or perhaps did not gain) a sense of belonging in the story. Finally, we discuss and come up with generalizations and trends we have noticed about belonging. For example, 1) most characters try to change themselves to be like the others in order to fit in, 2) this almost never works, and 3) many stories end with the character who wanted to belong “saving the day” to gain friendship.

For additional reflection, I have also left space on the initial self-assessment page for students to go back and reflect on how they did with the goal they set at the beginning of the unit.

Through my dedication to a community meeting routine, I have exposed students to lots of stories, brought out common themes in literature, imparted life lessons, examined author’s messages, encouraged whole group and small group discussions, engaged students in personal reflection and goal setting, and most importantly, strengthened my classroom community. Can you say, "Worth It!"? {See the post on Why I Devote Time to Community Meetings to refresh yourself on more reasons why I think it is WORTH it!}

If you are starting to fall in love with theme-based community meetings as I have over the past few years, but are thinking “I can’t possibly do all of this,” I encourage you to continue reading! Remember, community meeting keeps my passion for teaching alive and I started small years ago! You can start small this year! Grab my Free Growth Mindset Morning Meeting theme and start implementing right away!
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Launching Morning Meeting at the Beginning of the Year (or anytime!)

Wondering how to get started with Morning Meetings in your upper elementary classroom? A theme-based morning meeting routine has made all the difference for me in being able to implement morning meetings and not feel like I was losing time in other subject areas. See how I get my morning meeting launched at the beginning of the year and check out my list of 10 community building read alouds I use to launch my morning meetings. 3rd grade, 4th grade, and 5th grade teachers, get ready to strengthen your community while hitting your ELA/reading standards at the same time!
All it really takes to introduce a community meeting theme {and get it posted on your wall for students to reference} is one short read aloud and discussion session with your students. Read on to learn how I introduce our community meeting themes at the beginning of the year to set the foundation for more in-depth community meeting theme units later in the year.

Need to Catch Up?
Introduction to the Series
Series Post # 1: Why I Devote Time to Community Meetings
Series Post # 2: The Design: An Overview
Series Post # 3: Why a Theme-Based Community Meeting?
Series Post # 4: Community Meeting: Materials and Resources
Series Post # 5: Launching Community Meeting at the BOY
Series Post # 6: Day by Day in the Community Meeting
Series Post # 7: Scheduling the Community Meeting
Series Post # 8: I Still Can't Fit it all In
Series Post # 9: Community Meeting Structure for Solving Classroom Problems
Series Post # 10: Justifying Your Classroom Meeting
During our first few weeks of school, I quickly introduce one of our class meeting themes each day by reading aloud my touchstone picturebook for each theme during a mini-community meeting. I display the theme on our community themes bulletin board and I highlight important vocabulary during these quick introductory lessons.

This process takes 30-45 minutes depending on how deep the discussion goes, the length of the picture book, and whether or not I ask students to jot down a response in their notebooks. During these lessons, students will also begin setting up their morning meeting journals with the cover-pages for each theme, saving some space in between each to add journal pages and reflections later. I described my community meeting journals last week in my 4th post about Materials and Resources.

Exposing students to our most important themes quickly at the beginning of the year allows me to have critical conversations with them and allows me to begin establishing my classroom community and classroom meeting routines.

By the end of the first two or three weeks of school, I have exposed students to our ten themes, some awesome picture books, and set a foundation for the rest of the year. You may also choose to just introduce the first set of five themes {Belonging, Kindness, Compassion, Conflict, and Perseverance} and implement the next 5 themes when you are ready for more...With a quick introduction to each theme, we are now ready to dig deeper! You can read a full description of how I introduce my belonging theme on the first day of school.

Wondering how to get started with Morning Meetings in your upper elementary classroom? A theme-based morning meeting routine has made all the difference for me in being able to implement morning meetings and not feel like I was losing time in other subject areas. See how I get my morning meeting launched at the beginning of the year and check out my list of 10 community building read alouds I use to launch my morning meetings. 3rd grade, 4th grade, and 5th grade teachers, get ready to strengthen your community while hitting your ELA/reading standards at the same time!
After themes have been briefly introduced, I spend at least one week taking students on an in-depth journey through each theme during a {daily} 15-20 minute chunk of time set aside for community meetings.


Depending on my students’ personal needs and the questions that arise as we discuss specific themes together, we may spend more than one week on a theme or spiral back to it later in the year.

Keep in mind that the best community lessons and discussions are those that respond to the needs and personalities of your current students. I feel like the themes I touch on during the first few weeks of school--kindness, belonging, dealing with conflict, compassion, and perseverance--really stick with students.

Community Meeting as a Mini-Unit in Reader's Workshop


Because of the impact community meeting theme units have made on my students in the past, this year I decided to devote more time to my community meeting themes at the beginning of the year by jumping in head first and using my belonging theme unit as my initial reader's workshop minilessons for the first month of school. 

While we have of course set up our reading workshop, learned to choose books, begun independent reading, and started individual conferences about our reading, choosing to use my belonging unit during reader’s workshop for just a few weeks has helped me ensure that I have set aside the time to implement my community meetings well AND that I have built a classroom community where students know that belonging and kindness are important. 

We just wrapped up the third week of school and I've found that I've been able to enjoy the themes even more as I take my students’ thinking deeper, especially with more time to compare and contrast different stories and grow big ideas. Recall that one of my favorite things about a theme-based community meeting is how it also helps me meet the standards--we've already hit theme, making connections, summarizing, character analysis, analyzed how different authors write about the same theme, and generated analyses and written responses to quotations.

Although I used my belonging unit during reader's workshop, I still introduced one morning meeting theme each day. The Day 1-Day 10 graphic above shows the read alouds that I used to introduce each theme.

What Did I do for My Belonging Mini-Unit? 


My theme-based mini-units for morning meetings contain a teacher resource page that includes key questions, a list of 5 or more read alouds for each theme, and at least 5 suggested activities. I've also developed student journal pages that contain self-assessments, class discussion prompts, quotation and read aloud responses, comparing/contrasting charts, and more. I used the teacher resource sheet from my Belonging theme set to plan my lessons. You can read a detailed lesson plan for my my belonging theme unit and my compassion-themed morning meeting lessons.

You can also check out a detailed overview of my theme-based community meeting materials in my post about how I came up with my theme-based community meeting idea and designed the materials. The teacher lesson plans student journal pages, and bulletin board materials for my "belonging" themed morning meeting lessons are freebies on teacherspayteachers. Make sure to grab BOTH downloads! 

Next week's post is all about the day-by-day in morning meetings.


Wondering how to get started with Morning Meetings in your upper elementary classroom? A theme-based morning meeting routine has made all the difference for me in being able to implement morning meetings and not feel like I was losing time in other subject areas. See how I get my morning meeting launched at the beginning of the year and check out my list of 10 community building read alouds I use to launch my morning meetings. 3rd grade, 4th grade, and 5th grade teachers, get ready to strengthen your community while hitting your ELA/reading standards at the same time!
Wondering how to get started with Morning Meetings in your upper elementary classroom? A theme-based morning meeting routine has made all the difference for me in being able to implement morning meetings and not feel like I was losing time in other subject areas. See how I get my morning meeting launched at the beginning of the year and check out my list of 10 community building read alouds I use to launch my morning meetings. 3rd grade, 4th grade, and 5th grade teachers, get ready to strengthen your community while hitting your ELA/reading standards at the same time!


Materials and Resources for Morning Meetings in the Elementary Classroom

Other Posts in this Series:
Introduction to the Series
Series Post # 1: Why I Devote Time to Community Meetings
Series Post # 2: The Design: An Overview
Series Post # 3: Why a Theme-Based Community Meeting?
So you're ready to start a community meeting routine in your classroom? What materials and resources will you need to plan out in order to set your classroom meeting up for success?
Introduce your 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade students to a morning meeting routine that introduces key themes in literature and complements the common core standards for theme and other reading standards. Morning Meeting is my favorite way to create a sense of classroom community, belonging, and encourage kindness.

Bulletin Board/Wall Space: I have found that our Community Meeting lessons make the most long-term impact when our themes, vocabulary, and quotations are displayed in the classroom so that we can refer back to previous meeting topics. Decide where your classroom community themes will be posted. If you have limited space, you may choose to just post the current theme you are working on. If you don't have space to post all of the related quotations and vocabulary words, I encourage you to try to find a space where you can at least post the theme cards to display the themes you have focused on in the past. In my current classroom, I have a back wall that is completely bare of whiteboards or bulletin boards so I created a long faux bulletin board (shown above) with butcher paper and boarders. It makes for a beautiful wall display that I don't have to change during the year {ever}. My community meeting bulletin board also demonstrates my classroom climate...any visitor to our classroom would immediately know that belonging, kindness, compassion, perseverance, and dealing with conflict appropriately are important to us. Later in the year, I will add our "Happiness," "Achievement," "Compromise," "Integrity," and "Individualism" themes.  

Posting the themes as you study each one allows you to build a timeline of the lessons that you have taught. Above your white board, right below the ceiling or above the floor, on cabinet doors, or even posting your themes on a bulletin board or wall outside of your classroom would work. As an added bonus, our community themes bulletin board also works as a reminder of themes we find in literature for reading workshop! Meeting the standards through community meeting is one of the reasons I love a theme-based community meeting so much. Our community meeting bulletin board display really helps us develop our understanding of themes in literature.

Introduce your 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade students to a morning meeting routine that introduces key themes in literature and complements the common core standards for theme and other reading standards. Morning Meeting is my favorite way to create a sense of classroom community, belonging, and encourage kindness.
The first year I implemented my themed morning meetings, I used a cabinet that was near our meeting carpet to post our themes each week. I printed out headers (“Morning Meeting Theme,” “Important Vocabulary” and “This Week’s Quote”) and taped them to the doors of the cabinet. Then I glued clothespins under each header to allow me a quick and easy way to change out the themes each week. Under my reader’s workshop bulletin board, I built our collection of previous morning meeting themes. I haven't found a space to do this in my new classroom, but I really LOVED the closepins and that I could just switch out the theme when we were ready to move on. I noticed that students' interest was piqued when they saw a new theme and many of them would linger over to our display as we were getting settled in the mornings.

A finished classroom meeting theme board would look something like this: (I failed to snap a picture at the end of last year when all my themes were displayed!)
Introduce your 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade students to a morning meeting routine that introduces key themes in literature and complements the common core standards for theme and other reading standards. Morning Meeting is my favorite way to create a sense of classroom community, belonging, and encourage kindness.

Classroom Meeting Notebooks, Binders, or Folders: Another important organizational material to consider is how students will keep up with your classroom meeting activities, discussions, and journal pages. Decide what kind of Morning Meeting/Classroom Meeting notebook you want students to have. You could use a 3-pronged folder or binder and have students insert new journal pages each week or use a spiral notebook where students can glue in pages. In my "Morning Meeting Made Easy" sets, I have included journal covers in three versions: “My Community Meeting Journal,” “My Morning Meeting Journal,” and “My Classroom Meeting Journal.” You can print all of the theme pages you're planning to use, choose a journal page cover, and double-staple and hole punch the pages together.

In the past, I have used the “multiple pages” option when printing my journal pages to get the sheets in a ½ size format that fits into a composition notebook. I suggest printing a few pages in full-sized and ½ sheets to see what spacing format you think would be best for your students. A final option is to print some of the journal pages and display others on an interactive whiteboard and allow students to copy the prompts into their notebooks. This wouldn't be too time consuming for students as many of the sheets for each theme are similar and fairly simple. (I would still always give students the cover page for each theme and the self-assessment page.)
Introduce your 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade students to a morning meeting routine that introduces key themes in literature and complements the common core standards for theme and other reading standards. Morning Meeting is my favorite way to create a sense of classroom community, belonging, and encourage kindness.

This school year, I decided to continue using a composition notebook because it gives me a lot of flexibility, but I will print my journal pages in full-sized and half-sized pages depending on the journal task. For example, when students complete the comparison charts for the stories we have read, they really need the space of a full-sized page.

Picturebooks, Video Resources, and Journal Pages: When planning for your community meeting lessons, the teacher resource pages are an invaluable resource. Prior to each theme unit, I look over my teacher resources planning page and decide which of the suggested resources I will use during the unit. I use at least one read aloud for each theme study as this will become our touchstone text for talking about that theme and reminding students of that theme later in the year. You can preview the videos and see which ones will work for your students and teaching situation. I like to jot down any notes on the teacher resource page and highlight the resources I plan to use. Then, I look over the journal pages and print the ones I want to use. Planning for a week of so of my community meeting is finished in 5-10 minutes with Morning Meeting Made Easy! Yes!
Introduce your 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade students to a morning meeting routine that introduces key themes in literature and complements the common core standards for theme and other reading standards. Morning Meeting is my favorite way to create a sense of classroom community, belonging, and encourage kindness.

See you next Saturday for how I launch the Community Meeting {at the beginning of the year, or anytime}!


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