Handing Over the Reins

We start every day with Morning Meeting, where kids greet each other, share news, go over the day’s schedule and calendar and settle into the day. 

A couple weeks ago, I hung up a sign-up sheet for students interested in leading Morning Meeting.  I put up nine slots (every Friday for the next nine weeks), and they were all immediately filled. Students were SO excited to have the chance to be “in charge” of the first 20 minutes of our school day.

So far, three students have had their turn at leading Morning Meeting.  It has been a valuable exercise – for them, for the rest of the class, and for me.  Besides being exciting and fun for the student leading the meeting, I have noticed many other positive outcomes as well.

For the student leading the meeting, planning for their day has been an exercise in responsibility, executive functioning, leadership skills, and functional literacy.  Students have to plan ahead for each component of Morning Meeting, deciding what greeting they will facilitate, what they will write for the morning message, what they will have students share during “sharing,” what activity they will lead, and any announcements they may have.  All of the students who have led Morning Meeting so far have taken it upon themselves to come to school early on their day in order to prepare everything in time. They took their time and used correct capitalization, punctuation, spacing, spelling, grammar, and neatest handwriting on their morning message, knowing that all the other students would need to be able to read and respond to it.  If they introduced a new activity or greeting to the group, they exercised skills in verbal communication, giving sequential directions, and answering clarifying questions. I took a back seat during students’ turns to lead, so each student gained practice in leading a group through a series of activities, figuring out how to get the group’s attention, if/when to say “no” to their friends’ requests (i.e. “Can we do that activity one more time?!”), and how to transition through the different meeting components in a timely fashion.  Leading the meeting has also given a voice to students who might not otherwise choose to take on a leadership role in small or large group situations. 

For the rest of the class, participating in a meeting led by a peer has been in exercise in self-control, respect, patience, and flexibility.  Students are very used to the way that I run Morning Meeting. When a student runs the meeting instead, things may go a little differently than usual, and the rest of the students need to find ways to be respectful and flexible towards their peer as they try to navigate this new responsibility.  So far, I have been very impressed with the kindness, patience, and respect that the students have shown to their peers.

Finally, for me, stepping back from controlling a portion of our day has been a very useful exercise in releasing responsibility.  It is surprisingly hard for me not to jump in and interrupt the student leader, to help explain what they are trying to say to the class, or “translate” misunderstandings that occur between students, or remind the student what to do next.  I have told the students I am going to try my best to act like a “student” while the student leader acts as the “teacher,” and I have literally covered my mouth at times in order to accomplish that! 

For all these reasons, I have found that handing over this leadership opportunity to a student once a week has been a very beneficial exercise, and I hope to take what I have learned about releasing responsibility and apply it in other content and contexts throughout the school day.

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Melanie Berlin

is a classroom teacher on the K-2 team. Before moving to Chicago, Melanie lived in Philadelphia and worked for five years as lead kindergarten teacher at Mastery Charter Mann Elementary School. Previous to that, Melanie lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and taught at an independent school in Oakland, California. Melanie has her B.A. in psychology with a minor in urban education from the University of Pennsylvania. She earned her teaching degree from San Francisco State University with a focus on social justice in education.

In her free time, Melanie loves playing ultimate Frisbee, drinking coffee, playing board games, and spending time with her husband and baby daughter.