Each morning in Room 17 at Mayflower Mill Elementary, I sit with my class in a circle for Morning Meeting. I've been doing this with my classes for 10 years, and it really helps to build a sense of community within the classroom. The idea was first presented to me by my mother-in-law who was teaching 5th grade at the time, and she had read about it in a book titled The Responsive Classroom.
I have four main goals with Morning Meeting:
1) to help the students get to know everyone, not just their best friends,
2) to help the students learn to take care of each other so that they all feel good about being in the class,
3) to allow the students to share experiences and ideas together, and
4) to have fun together.
Each day we begin by going around the circle and greeting each other. I've spent weeks teaching the children the proper way to shake hands (no limp fish, grasp the palm instead of the fingers, shake from your elbow not your shoulder, be firm but gentle, etc.), the importance of eye contact, and what to do if you forget a name. These are all life skills that extend far beyond the confines of Room 17 (and, by the way, they're skills that not even all the adults I encounter have mastered).
After greeting, we then have time for five children per day to share something that's on their minds. Often they share details about their weekends or the latest adventures of their pets. But sometimes they share about the death of a grandparent or their concern about an upcoming event in their lives. I've spent weeks teaching them the proper ways to respond, both to fun comments and to serious ones.
So when Kinley signed up to share recently, I wasn't surprised. I was curious about what she was planning to share (surely she wouldn't reveal some embarrassing family tidbit!), but I decided to wait and see rather than call her up to my desk for a preview.
Since she hadn't been the first child to sign up to share, she had to listen to two other classmates share before it was her turn. One child shared about how he had spent his weekend and another shared about winning a soccer game. When Kinley's turn came, she had decided to tell her classmates that our family will be spending the summer of 2011 in London where Josh will be teaching in a Purdue-sponsored study-abroad program.
All eyes turned to me. This was interesting to me since my students are usually very good about remembering to give eye contact to the speaker. But, admittedly, the speaker isn't usually the child of the teacher. Rather than giving their full attention to Kinley or even raising their hands to ask her a question, they all wanted to see what I had to say on the subject. I smiled and then asked, "Are there any questions for Kinley?" After all, the rest of the students don't have their parents present at Morning Meeting to steal their moments in the spotlight.
Immediately, several hands popped up. One student asked, "Will you get to see the Eiffel Tower?" Kinley stared at the child for a beat, and then said with only slight snarkiness, "Well, the Eiffel Tower is in Paris, not London. And besides, I've already seen it."
Another student asked, "How long are you going to be there?" Yet another asked, "Is your whole family going?" After the maximum three questions per speaker had been asked and answered, I called on the next child who had signed up to share.
This child said excitedly, "I'm going to Michigan this weekend!" The children politely asked three questions and listened intently to the answers. Morning Meeting ended, and we went about the rest of our learning day.
On the drive home that afternoon, Kinley appeared thoughtful. After a few silent moments, she said, "You know what, Mom? For some people, going to Michigan for the weekend is a really big deal."
I had no idea that she'd been processing this all day, and so it took me a moment to respond. I thought about how Kinley had gotten her first passport before she was a year old and had been to Hawaii, Thailand, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, and Malaysia before she was five. She had lived in Italy instead of attending the second semester of kindergarten, had seen five continents, and had visited every Disney park in the world except for one (Tokyo Disneyland).
But these trips, which to any other child would seem spectacular, were, to her, commonplace. Routine. Normal. Suddenly, after one Morning Meeting, it was starting to become clear to her just how unusual her experiences were. She wasn't feeling superior. She wasn't looking down her nose at her classmate. It was just that it was finally dawning on her that she was different.
I adjusted my rearview mirror so that I could see her in the back seat. I said, "Yes, honey. You're right. Isn't that interesting? You get to go on short weekend trips to Chicago and Nashville and other U.S. destinations all the time, but for some people, that's huge."
She looked pensive. I could tell she was still processing. I thought about asking her more questions but decided to let her think it through herself. I readjusted the mirror and continued our drive. She didn't say anything else, and I let it drop.
No doubt this wouldn't be the last time in her life that she would notice a difference between her own life experiences and those of her peers. Nor, I'm sure, will it be the last time that my daughter opens her mouth in my classroom and I have no idea what's going to come out.