More than Words, Ep. 8


I will never forget the year that a new student, Patrick, joined my 3rd grade classroom. I could tell from the moment he walked into my room that he was nervous and unsure if he was going to fit and feel comfortable in his new surroundings. Just like at CFA, many of my students had been together since they were 3 years old, so being the new kid was hard. Most of my students had experienced the same field trips, been to the same birthday parties, and their parents even socialized together outside of school. The depth of a private school community history can be intimidating for brand new students. I knew that I had my work cut out for me to make sure Patrick felt like he was genuinely a part of our class community and that he was known by me and his classmates in all the ways that made him uniquely Patrick.

I firmly believed that the most meaningful learning began when a student felt a sense of significance and belonging. This is why I started every single day off with Morning Meeting. When students entered my room, they would immediately read my morning message. Typically, my message would ask them to practice an academic skill or answer a community question. After all of my students had arrived, I would give the signal for everyone to circle up for Morning Meeting. Each meeting started with a greeting. I modeled, and students practiced all of the details that make an impactful greeting: using a friend’s name, making good eye contact, and a firm handshake.

Next we would take time to share News and Announcements. This was a time where students had the opportunity to share something of importance to them, and then their classmates could respond with questions or comments. It is important for students to feel heard, to take risks by being vulnerable, and to talk about the things in life that are important to them. This is why I limited the times where students could bring in objects/toys/artifacts to share, and we spent the majority of our time sharing what was going on in their lives. This is also something I modeled daily, so that my class got to know me, a fellow human-being, and not just “the teacher.” I learned to never underestimate the bonding that goes on over a shared love for spaghetti, dogs and my favorite stuffed animal, Tillie the Turtle.

The last component of Morning Meeting was a group activity or fun game. Learning to laugh together helps to create and maintain a strong community. It was in the sixth week of that school year when I realized that Patrick felt known for his talents. That day we played a game where each team had to roll multiple dice and then mentally add the numbers in order to win. I remember the look on Patrick’s face when other students began begging him to be on their team. Because we had spent time sharing things that were important to us, things that were hard for us, and talents we were proud of, my classroom knew that mental addition was an area where Patrick shined.

7 guiding principles of the Responsive Classroom approach

I firmly believe that these 30 minutes spent meeting each morning is the best way to set a positive tone for the day. I am thrilled that Morning Meeting has been embraced so enthusiastically by LS teachers because I continue to feel as though the most meaningful learning takes place when students feel a sense of significance and belonging. As parents, I hope you are hearing your children talk about Morning Meeting. Please ask them to demonstrate a greeting or ask about what activities they have loved most.

Stephanie Medcalfe is the Lower School Director at Cape Fear Academy.
Stephanie and her husband moved to Wilmington from Indianapolis, Indiana where she was the Assistant Principal for Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School. Stephanie has taught in both elementary and middle schools and has been a Special Educator. She graduated from Ball State University with a B.S. in Elementary Education and an M.E. in Educational Administration. She is responsible for the Lower School Faculty and the After School Program.