Responsive Classroom After School: Morning Meetings

This is the second post in a series on using the Responsive Classroom Approach after school. It’s my hope that it will be useful both to teachers who wish to extend their use of RC after the school day, as well as to teaching artists and community educators who may find RC to be as transformational for them as it has been for me. Please note, while I use RC, I am not formally connected to the organization.

Ah, the morning meeting. That time when everyone can settle in, come together, and prepare for the school day. It’s a key feature of Responsive Classroom (RC), and an all-around good idea. So, what does that mean for teachers and teaching artists who want to use RC after school?

First, let’s clear up some semantics. Morning Meetings after school obviously aren’t in the morning. Because RC has another technique called Closing Circles for the end of the day, it seems fitting to call after-school Morning Meetings “Opening Circles.” The idea, however, is the exact same.

Second, let’s consider time. A Morning Meeting is supposed to take twenty to thirty minutes. If you have that much time to take after school, great. Please don’t change if you don’t have to. That said, I rarely have enough time to give that long to an opening circle, when I only have my students for an hour or two (depending on the program, or the facility schedule). Morning Meetings / Opening Circles are still worth every moment you can give to them. In after-school settings, it’s important to be realistic about the time you can give, because you don’t have a full school day ahead. A logistical note on this, I found that taping a large circle on the floor (and modelling how I wanted students to stand or sit in the circle) saved me a precious few minutes.

Third, remember that Morning Meetings are intended to set the tone for the school day. This is true of opening circles, too. Consistently set a tone of respect, care, and openness, and you’ll reap the benefits tenfold. As I said in my last post, after-school time is still crucial for social and emotional learning. Opening Circles are a simple, structured way to navigate this.

Fourth, Morning Meeting has four components. For after-school Opening Circles, each part remains, but shorter or changed slightly.

  • Greeting. For an opening circle, sometimes we do a formal greeting, other times we don’t. Formal greetings work best for my younger students (and RC was originally intended for elementary schools), or when there are students I don’t recognize so that they feel welcome. Older students will already be talking and socializing. This doesn’t mean a greeting and “practicing hospitality” is less important for them, just that it isn’t formal. For you theatre teachers out there, there are also great name / introduction games used in theatre that are perfect here, even for older students.
  • Sharing. In after-school settings, the greeting and sharing can sometimes be combined, especially with older students. For adolescents, connecting with just a greeting may feel silly, but saying hello and sharing something with friends will feel authentic. With my younger students, I use sharing to begin to focus the class toward what we are doing that day. For example, my sharing prompt might be, “What was something you played pretend about over the weekend?” as we get ready for Dr. Seuss’s Oh the Thinks You Can Think! If something really important is shared by a student and they need to talk it out, that might also mean postponing the days plans. Because after-school is a different environment, I want my students to feel welcome and safe.
  • Group Activity. For me, this is the heart of the opening circle. While Greeting and Sharing bring the class together, the activity is the first thing we all do together. The activity awakens all the energy, and when done right helps to focus the students. For my youngers, this also means we do something fun and movement-oriented before we focus on language skills and storytelling. For teaching artists, this is another place that RC can connect to your art form. Many of the activities I choose segue smoothly into other theatre games.
  • Morning Message. Obviously the message isn’t in the morning anymore, and it’s not academically focused.  It’s still good to have some kind of posted message for students to see. At the Boys and Girls Club, I see multiple groups of students of different ages in an afternoon, so I have different messages for different groups. Because it’s still the beginning of the year, these messages are often reminders of procedures, scripts for a chant or greetings, or simple instructions so we can dive in. Once those kinds of rules are established, this is a really great way to play with your students, and get them excited about whatever else you have planned. For example, later in the year I’ll be posting tongue twisters, riddles, and other word games.

So there it is, the Opening Circle in a nutshell. Like with any other RC technique, it takes a lot of practice. I don’t claim to be a pro at this, but I do believe it was incredibly serendipitous for me to find Responsive Classroom so early in my teaching artist career. Opening Circles have become a mainstay of how I structure and manage my after-school classes with students.

Be sure to check out other posts in the series:

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