Reflections and Resources from Tarheelstate Teacher: October 2015
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Using Morning Meeting to Problem Solving Student Behavior and Issues

Utilizing community meeting as a platform for solving classroom issues continues to be one of my top reasons for maintaining a community meeting structure in my classroom. Today I'm sharing the simple process that I use to improve poor student behavior in the context of our classroom environment. I'm talking about those times when it seems that the class in general is falling apart. 

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: 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

Teachers often spend a lot of time setting expectations for classroom behavior, helping students develop and improve relationships with one another, and reflecting with students about how things are going at the beginning of the year. We work really hard to fine-tune our machine...And then we get busy and that ball that is so important often gets pushed aside. I realized that dropping community meeting was problematic and blogged about it at Life, Love, Literacy a few years ago. In that post, I shared how we had stopped reflecting on classroom behavior and had stopped setting new goals. See:

This led to a week's worth of community meetings focused on problem-solving and developing strategies to improve overall behavior. You can read more about that journey in the post (and even pick up the FOCUS freebie that I designed based on our classroom meeting discussions). 

Recall that one of my reasons for maintaining a classroom community meeting in my schedule is because I have found {again and again} that my students need it? When I drop community meeting as a routine, behavioral issues are soon to follow. The moment I realized that students truly needed our "beginning of the year" dialogue to continue all~year~long, I dedicated myself to figuring out how to continue these important conversations. If I wanted to create true change in my students, I had to be dedicated to that goal all year long. Morning Meeting was the perfect fit for our needs. 

Based on students behavior and needs, you will have times when you need to step away from your “theme-based” community meeting plans in order to address classroom issues.

Examples of Typical Classroom Issues that Pop Up:
  • too many students are blurting out, making it hard for others to learn 
  • students are saving seats in the cafeteria 
  • during independent work time, some students are chatting off-topic, goofing off, and/or not having a high level of focused, on-task time
  • students are arguing about rules for games at recess and bringing the drama back into the classroom 
  • during group work, students are excluding, being rude, or taking over 
and countless others that I’m sure you can think of!

How do we use community meeting to improve on these behavioral issues? 

First, I choose a student leader to guide the discussion. I find that strategically choosing a student who would benefit from having a leadership role focused on behavior and allowing them to lead the meetings for a few weeks is extremely beneficial as I try to correct behaviors. If my students are overall behaving appropriately, I may choose to allow a different student to be the leader each time I go through this reflection process. Students sit in a circle during this time so that they can see one another and look at the speaker.

I provide my student leader with question stems to help them guide the discussion. (I wrote these on an index card at first and also post them in the classroom by our meeting space.) Here's a typical student-led dialogue:

“As a classroom community, we are working on: walking down the hall silently and in a straight line.

"How did we do yesterday?"                

Students raise their hand and the leader calls on them. I step back from the conversation, but early on, I make sure to model how to encourage students to elaborate on their answers. I often chime in, "Rebecca, make sure they tell you WHY they think we did a good job yesterday." Elaboration is key in this process. You really want specific examples of how they did or did not do well on their goal so that the whole class hears what worked and what needs to change. 
"What can we do today to make improvements?”

It truly is that simple and the power is in having STUDENTS verbalize how things are going. Often, the culprits speak up and admit they need to improve. Students who are frustrated get an appropriate outlet for airing their frustrations, and while this may not immediately change their classmates' behaviors, I do think it helps them deal with the stress of a less than perfect learning environment.

I love this reflective routine and have needed to use it regularly with some groups of students. If you have a lengthier block of time for morning meeting or your students show you that they need consistent reflection in order to make improvements, you may find it beneficial to implement this strategy daily.

I encourage you to choose no more than two goals to focus on as a class. If possible, stick with the one that is most detrimental to your classroom environment until that issue improves. At some point, I will ask students if they feel that we are ready to move on from the goal we are working on. I remind them that we can always come back to it later in the year if needed.

If you find that students are continuously reflecting that the class as a whole did not make improvements, please look for additional strategies and tools to offer them to help change happen. I’m not a big fan of rewarding students with parties and such for good behavior (although I have, of course, resorted to setting goals for earning reward parties in my classroom). If it takes offering something that you believe students will strive for, then go for it! If they improve on a classroom goal that was challenging for the whole class to work together on, then perhaps a celebration is due!

Do you want to make goal setting a regular part of your classroom meeting routine? Each Morning Meeting Made Easy set contains a header for setting a goal within each theme unit and a header for general classroom community goals. I print these on colored paper. We design a goal together and write it on the header along with the date that we set the goal. It would be great to post your goals somewhere in the room as a record and timeline of all you have strived to improve during the year and as a reminder when it seems like students have fallen back on old habits.
I hope this {easy} reflection process comes in handy for you this year! It surely helps me keep my sanity when things are not going so well in the classroom. I love to hear students' reflections. Realizing that students are still learning to control themselves, I am appreciative when they are able to reflect on their mishaps and focus on improvement. I can give them grace, they can verbalize their desire for improvement, and we can turn our attention back to learning!
Want to give Morning Meeting a whirl for free?

Integrity and Character Themed Bulletin Board Set
Integrity and Character Suggested Activities and Student Journal Pages
Belonging/Trying to Fit In Themed Morning Meeting Bulletin Board Set
Belonging/Trying to Fit In Suggested Activities and Student Journal Pages

Ideas for Squeezing in Morning Meeting with Limited Time

I’m going to tell you a secret today. When I started this school year, I wasn't sure how community meeting would possibly fit into my schedule. I've had a number of challenges that make adding something "extra" to the schedule even more difficult this year. Last week, I shared with you the basics of adding a community meeting to your schedule, but what do you do when you have a tricky schedule to work around? Read on to as I share my challenges and the creative ways I found to overcome them!

“I just Can’t Fit it in!!” I think this all the time about just about everything I teach. We develop and learn about so many good ideas, and then we have to figure out how to make it work for our schedule or simply toss it aside because we decide we really don't have the time.

My scheduling challenges: The challenges feel especially grand when it's early in the year and I don't feel like I've got a good grasp on my basic schedule yet. Well, we just wrapped up our 6th week of school and it took me until the 5th week to feel like I understood the chunks of time in my day. My schedule stayed pretty much the same this year when it comes to special area classes, lunch, and recess. I usually have to do a little tweaking to make the schedule work for my EC and AIG students.

My school also has a STEM program, so they attend 1 hour and 15 minutes of special area classes each day AND have a 45 minute STEM class three days a week. The program is valuable and worthy of our time, but this makes for a different schedule every other day and uses some of the time I'd use for writers workshop or social studies.

To add to my scheduling challenges, I'm doing a math/science switch with another teacher, which means that my 4th graders now have science every day of the year and I will have less time in my schedule for other things. I'm ecstatic to be teaching math for two blocks of my school day, but it has created a few scheduling challenges that I did not expect--like less time for other things.

I've had to really think about how I'm going to fit in all of my required subjects, forget about adding a community meeting to our plate, right? {Now's a good time to go back and review why I devote time to theme-based community meetings before I decide to completely throw it out the window!}

Although I've included a theme-based community meeting in my schedule for years, I was probably in the same boat as you if you wish you could have one but.still.don’ I knew it was going to be a squeeze and a stretch this year—especially to include all the in-depth discussions, written reflections, and comparing and contrasting that I want to do with my students. Unless…unless I get creative! I’m going to tell you what I’m doing, but I’m also going to give you two other options that may work for your teaching situation.

Put your community meetings smack-dab into your reader’s workshop (at least for a little while). Have you come to the realization that “theme-based community meetings” that are rich in literature, writing opportunities, discussion, and common literacy goals are perfect to include in reader’s workshop?

This year, I decided that my community meeting lessons would be my first readers workshop unit for the first month of school. We will still have time in the schedule for independent reading and conferring, completing assessments, learning how to use our classroom library, and setting the foundation for teaching many important reading skills. I will still be creating a love of reading, but most importantly, I'm building a community that learns life-lessons from reading books together. {You can read more about what I did during my reading block as I focused on my belonging theme.}

Implement the community meeting themes as mini-reading units all year long. If investing more time in community meeting works for you at the beginning of the year but not so much as the year goes on, I have a way that you can continue your community meetings as you shift your reader’s workshop to focus on the other reading units you have on your agenda. Why not go back and forth between your other reading units and mini-units for community meeting themes? All of the themes that I teach through our community-focused lessons come up in our chapter book read alouds throughout the year. You should feel fully justified in teaching theme-based mini-units that have a community meeting and community building spin on them as reading units!

If you’ve been reading all of the information and ideas I've shared in my Community Meeting series and still think “I just can’t fit it all in,” I want to encourage you to take the ideas I have shared and pare them down. You can surely keep it simple—introduce the theme, read aloud a picture book, have students complete the self-assessment, and complete the discussion page. Be sure to display your themes on a bulletin board and you will get more mileage out of your shorter lessons as students refer to the themes and vocabulary during other parts of your day. I shared how I launch community meeting at the beginning of the year by using picturebook read alouds. Quick introductions to a theme and a short read aloud could be the primary teaching method in your community meetings if you have a cramped schedule and are short on time. Remember, this is HOW I GOT STARTED!

Another helpful suggestion is not to think about your community meetings in terms of one-week endeavors. Begin by deciding on the most important themes you want to target, set aside the time that you are able to (15-20 minutes), and just work through that theme until you feel it is time to move on. Take the pressure off of yourself to "get more done." You just want to enjoy your theme-focus with your students, be in tune with their needs and what future lessons and discussions will be really helpful to them. You might stick with a theme for two or three weeks depending on how many days you have been able to meet together. Remember to have ideas for resources that can be used when you are really short on time (5 minutes with a video) and be ready to go deeper on the days where you can extend the lesson a little longer (with a picturebook and discussion for example).

Next weekend, I'm sharing a structure for problem-solving classroom issues that pop up throughout the year. It's important to allow students to voice concerns and brainstorm ideas for what's NOT working in the classroom. Community meeting is the PERFECT place to remind students of the vision you have for your classroom community and to allow them to problem-solve and I want to make sure that I share what I do in community meeting when things aren't going so smoothly with my kiddos. I'll see you next week!


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