Meetings Strengthen Connections

Lincoln Elementary School first grade teacher, Erin Mank, holds a morning meeting with her class asking them to listen to each other talk about how they were empathetic. Submitted Photo

“How do you show empathy? “First think, what is empathy?” asked Lincoln Elementary School first grade teacher Erin Mank.

“Knowing how other people feel,” said a student.

“Yes, knowing how they feel and also recognizing how they feel. Let’s think about how we have used empathy at home. I’ll share how I used it and then you can tell me how you used it. I showed empathy because Owen woke up and was very sick. I recognized that he did not feel well. I showed empathy by giving him a big hug and telling him I understood how he felt and that I’d take him to the doctor and he’d be all right. How did you show empathy yesterday?”

“I showed empathy by giving my dad breakfast in bed because he wasn’t feeling well,” said another student.

“Yes, you recognized he wasn’t feeling well and you gave him breakfast to make him feel better. You showed empathy.”

Mank was leading a morning meeting in her classroom. After a group discussion on empathy, the children paired up to talk about how they were empathic the day before. One of Lincoln Elementary School’s focuses this year is conflict resolution. Morning meetings are just one way the school is helping their students build a strong sense of community and help them be successful both socially and academically.

Morning meetings are held every day where each classroom gathers together for 20 to 30 minutes. Every classroom is flexible in how they run their morning meetings and are appropriate to their age level, but they include things like: greeting each other by name, sharing important events in their lives while their peers listen, answer a question from the teacher and having mini-lessons with Lincoln’s school counselor, T.J. Guenther, on social/emotional issues ranging from sharing in kindergarten to anti-bullying in third grade.

“Morning meeting are a routine that are built into Lincoln School’s day. The key to successful morning meetings is consistency,” said Mr. Guenther. “They build camaraderie and community and that the actions of any one person on the team affects others. As humans, we don’t want to disappoint the people we care about so the morning meeting reinforces that caring in the classroom. Respect, empathy and being part of a group are important lessons learned during morning meetings.”

The meetings evolve as the school year progresses. Initially teachers are building trust with their students and peer to peer. As the year goes on, the questions become deeper and students are more willing to share. Every child, even the quieter ones, have a chance to share and be heard.

Morning meeting have been shown to strengthen connections and build relationship skills, increase self-confidence by providing a safe and caring environment to open up and build trust, promotes social awareness, and encourages positive behavior towards others where everyone’s voice and opinions matter.