Class meetings are becoming more and more common, especially at the elementary level. Are they worth the time?
Class meetings, like any other classroom management tool, can be abused. When I was a full-time elementary teacher my class had Morning Meeting every morning. As I remember it, we would do a greeting, have announcements, sing a campfire-type song, and play a game. Every Friday we would do Pretzels, which sometimes took 30 minutes and involved students complementing each other for being helpful and asking for restitution (in the form of a pretzel) for being hurtful.
I was all gung-ho about Morning Meeting at first. I noticed improvement in students’ listening and problem-solving skills. It was also fun and seemed to build rapport. But then the students got really good at dragging the greetings and games out, so that sometimes the meetings would take 45 minutes or more. When we played games like Do You Love Me, Honey (to try to make each other laugh) and Can You Do This Like I Do This (a guessing game) the students would get out of control and goofy. I started to think the meeting was a big waste of time.
Older kids are not going to tolerate anything they see as stupid, boring, or patronizing.
So when I moved on to middle school, I left it out entirely. Who has time for a 30-minute meeting in a 45-minute class period? Plus, what middle-schooler would be caught dead playing Do You Love Me Honey? Frankly, I just couldn’t see the point. Why work so hard to build rapport and community when I only saw my students 45 minutes a day for 9 weeks? So I ditched it.
The education community ditched it too, as school focused more and more on standards and curriculum and less on fun. And we suffered for it. Enrollment in my classroom management seminars exploded as student behavior escalated out of control. Students seemed so angry, and they acted out in disruptive, destructive, and sometimes even violent ways. Yikes!
Now the pendulum is swinging back and class meetings are “in” again. Some schools even mandate them. And I think, on the whole, this is a good thing. (Not the mandating, but the reemergence of circle time.) Class meetings can help in so many ways. They can:
- Promote the development of speaking and listening skills
- Help students form friendships and understand each other
- Teach students problem-solving skills and give them the opportunity to practice in a safe environment
- Allow the teacher to become aware of emerging problems before they escalate
- Increase student buy-in to rules, procedures, and classroom norms
- Create a forum for solving whole-class conflicts when they arise
However, as I said in the beginning, class meetings CAN be a waste of time. It can be difficult with today’s large class sizes for everyone to get a chance to speak, and it can be hard for younger students and students with short attention spans (in other words, everyone) to listen for that long. Introverted or shy students can feel unsafe. Meetings can become too heavy or too silly. And older kids are not going to tolerate anything they see as stupid, boring, or patronizing.
If you decide to make class meetings a part of your day, here are a few suggestions to make them beneficial for everyone.
Keep it Snappy
The entire meeting should take no longer than 10-15 minutes on a normal day. No long games or involved greetings (like I did.) If everyone is going to share, teach them how to share in five or six words. If you want longer sharing, limit it to two or three people per meeting. Use hand signals such as “fist-to-five” and “same-as” to give everyone a chance to participate at once, instead of slow, boring, one-at-a-time models.
It’s important to have a structure for the meeting, but don’t do identical activities each day.
Build In Variety
It’s important to have a structure for the meeting, but don’t do identical activities each day. For example, it’s great to have a greeting component for your meeting, but change up the greeting. Use a different language. Have a choral greeting on some days, and an individual greeting on others. Go around the circle sometimes, and sometimes allow students to choose their greet-ee. Don’t be as rigid I was with my set agenda (greeting, announcements, song, and game) every day. If you build in flexibility you will be able to adapt when you need extra time for problem-solving or when you need to cut it short.
I used to make students who didn’t complete their homework do it during the game time. This was a mistake. Everyone needs to participate in the meeting.
Make it okay to pass or have a way they can participate anonymously, such as submitting discussion topics to a suggestion box.
Make Sure Everyone Is Safe
Some students will feel uncomfortable sharing. Make it okay to pass or have a way they can participate anonymously, such as submitting discussion topics to a suggestion box.
Avoid Heavy, Reactionary Meetings
If you only call a class meeting when there’s a problem, it may feel like scolding to your students. It may not be necessary to have a class meeting every day, but it is helpful to have them on a regular basis when things are “normal” so students are used to participating and feel safe doing so.
Keep It Relevant
Class meetings can and should be fun, but they should also feel purposeful and important. For older students, it may be appropriate to have a debriefing meeting at the end of the period where they can celebrate learning and work through any problems that came up during class. Ask students for discussion topics, and provide ways for them to safely share what’s happening in their lives.
Create Traditions and Positive Habits
This can be done in many ways and can be easily adapted to your style and the needs of the students. Use class meetings to teach students how to greet each other, how to give and receive compliments and show appreciation, and how to use centering techniques such as purposeful breathing. Create special signals (like saying “one-two-three-BREAK”) to end the meeting or transition to another activity.
Class meetings are a powerful tool that be used in many different ways, and there is always more to learn.
Class meetings are a powerful tool that be used in many different ways, and there is always more to learn. If you have a suggestion or question about class meetings, I invite you to share in the comments below.
Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!
Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com
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