The Three H’s That Start My Student’s Morning Right!

Before figuring out any math equations, sharing whether or not the character in their book is a protagonist or antagonist the first question my students answer each morning is:

blog6“Handshake, High five, or Hug?”

Something magical happens every morning during our morning greeting – we start a new day on a clean slate. Whatever may have happened the day before, good or bad, today is a new day. A new day to learn, a new day to make better choices, or a new day for a student to meet a goal they set for themselves the day prior.

As I write this, I realize this is a piece of advice I received long before receiving the keys to my first classroom. This wasn’t a new concept to me as a new teacher, and probably isn’t to many other new teachers either. One of my favorite books, THE Classroom Management Book, by Harry and Rosemary Wong, talks in depth about why this crucial part of the day is so important.

My intent with the blogs I write, and the podcasts I host, is not so much to share innovative new ideas or strategies, but to share stories and personal aha moments teachers have had in hopes that it strikes a chord with others trying to find themselves in this profession. More than just learning about why the morning greeting is so important – one of my aha moments as a teacher came when I learned HOW to actually do it successfully!

Here is a breakdown of my love/hate experience with getting my student’s mornings off right:

If At First You Don’t Succeed; Try, Try Again … Errr, Maybe…

“Take the time to greet each child as they enter the door,” one of my teaching professors once said. Well, easier said than done. Remember, I was new at this gig. I worked with only adults in my life before teaching. That first morning as I met my students for the first time on the yard, with a beautifully decorated sign that read, “Room 10!,” in my hand, I eagerly walked them to the classroom and stood at the door ready to shake each child’s hand and say, “Good Morning, welcome to second grade!” What I wasn’t prepared for, or naively thought to consider ahead of time, was what would happen once the students who had received their greeting entered the room with their teacher still at the door greeting everyone else.

While at most schools, and in many classrooms, discipline is not a factor – this wasn’t the case for me, and it wasn’t the case at my school. It was the first day of school after all, and I hadn’t even begun to understand what would need to go into building a safe and productive classroom culture.

The first thing I noticed was how baffled each child seemed to be when they saw me standing at the door, hand outstretched and a big smile on my face. It occurred to me much later on that this was probably one of the first times many of my students of color in a predominantly low socioeconomic community had an adult waiting to greet them.

Second thing I noticed was that about a third of the way through greeting my students, disciplinary problems began to arise both inside the classroom with children who had already been greeted, and in the hall with students still waiting their turn. Looking back, it was all a blur, but I do remember that after that it took me a long time to try to greet my students at the door again. All of what I had read in the Wong & Wong book on classroom management became replaced with the fight or flight instinct to just move forward with my day and try to get through my lessons without allowing the space for lack of supervision to occur again.

I Did Try Again!

Over time, I began to learn new techniques and strategies for how to structure my day with my classroom. I wish I could say it was in that first year, but it wasn’t. That first year was hard – I am sure that I will pepper future posts with anecdotes along the way, but much like Connie Lam, my teaching experience also started with struggle and absolutely being thrown into just chaos.

But I digress…

Into my second year of teaching, I found myself in a new school, with an innovative concept of taking Montessori public and free of charge to a largely urban and diverse community.

I felt renewed and excited to start fresh. I felt defeated from my previous experience, but I also realize how much I learned from that first year as a teacher. With my new school’s concept of putting the child’s emotional needs first, I was ready to figure out a way to implement giving each of my student’s a personal greeting each morning.

Here are some of the strategies used in my class to set up the morning greeting for success:

  • Walk the students to the line, before having them place their items on the hook, face them and give them very specific instructions such as, “Good morning class, please place your items on your hooks and when you enter the room please begin independent reading/check the board for your morning do-now.” The key here is planning ahead what the students will do when they enter so that you are free to give your individual greeting. On the first day of school, before you’ve been able to establish these routines, you may want to leave items on their desks, such as their name tags that they can begin coloring and decorating.
  • Stand strategically at the door where your line of view includes the hall where students are placing their items away, and inside the classroom.
  • Take a knee, meet your students at their level.
  • Offer options students can choose from. Some of them will be cuddly, and will want a hug – others won’t and will feel more comfortable with a handshake or a high five.
  • Don’t just say, “Good morning,” add things like:
    • “I am so happy you’re at school today!”
    • “What did you have for breakfast today?”
    • “You’re eye contact tells me that you are ready to learn today!”
  • Use this opportunity to check in! Ask, “How are you feeling this morning?” “Remember the reading goals we talked about yesterday? I look forward to seeing you work toward them today!”

What I Learned from the “Hand shake, high five or hug?”

The way that students enter the classroom determines almost everything else that happens after. And, it may be the only time of the day that I get to have any one on one interaction with every child in my classroom. With upwards of 30 or more students in your class, these personal one on one greetings really may be the only time all day that you get to look each child in the eyes and tell them how special they are. As I write these words I immediately think of one student in particular who because of his special needs is pulled out often throughout the day for services. If it weren’t for the connection we make every morning, he wouldn’t feel as comfortable when he is in class as I hope he does.

If I were to rewind even more, I can even look back and realize that the reason the very first students I had gave me that look of bewilderment because in their case – it probably was the first time an adult looked at them with a smile on their face happy and eager to enter them into the classroom. If there is any reason at all to implement a morning greeting (not to be confused with or replaced by the whole class morning meeting that takes place inside the classroom), it would be to realize that for many children, especially the most under-served students in the most underprivileged communities, your morning greeting might be the only time in their day they are welcomed into any space they walk into.

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