Make it a great day!
Anyone who has participated in a Lower School Morning Meeting has certainly heard this greeting shared between students. Prior to the pandemic, Morning Meeting was a daily gathering in the Greer Center featuring student performances, scripture readings and voices raised in song. When the world of education changed last school year, religion teachers Jenny Koenig and Laura Portwood knew they had to preserve this treasured tradition. “It was the number one tradition mentioned by every faculty member,” says Koenig. “This is how we start our day here,” says Portwood. With classes being offered online, the two teachers set to work offering Morning Meeting online as well. The project required a tremendous effort and a lot of trouble shooting.
Now, with students on campus, Morning Meeting is streamed live from Koenig’s classroom each day. Koenig, Portwood and librarian Catherine Word operate webcams, computers and lights in the space. A different class joins them in person for each production and there are special guest attendees. Recently, students welcomed new Head of School Dr. Carrie Steakley, who was more than happy to spend time with the young Knights.
Morning Meeting is a component of the Responsive Classroom method that has been used in Lower School for more than a decade. The classroom management philosophy empowers students by helping them fully understand the expectations and behaviors required of them. According to the Responsive Classroom website, “Morning Meeting is an engaging way to start each day, build a strong sense of community, and set children up for success socially and academically.” At Episcopal, Morning Meeting is also a setting in which students gain a solid spiritual foundation with students reciting the Episcopal Honor Code, praying and singing together.
“I saw you on TV.” “How did you fit in the TV?” The new Morning Meeting format has certainly made an impression on the littlest Knights. Koenig and Portwood say when they interact with PreK-4 students they are often asked about the production. Portwood smiles when recalling the students asking how she got so tiny. She says these impromptu discussions often lead to talk of cameras and the workings of film creation. Koenig says when she sees students on the playground or on campus, they are excited to greet her and feel like they know her now.
Beginning each day together creates a sense of community among students. It also provides a dependable way to move into a new day of learning. “It provides a calm routine that we can count on,” says Koenig. “It’s comforting to them.” In addition, Morning Meeting is an opportunity for students to develop presentation and leadership skills. Each day, a different group of fifth graders is selected to lead the gathering. “It’s a big deal to get up in front of everybody,” says Portwood. The teachers do not take this lightly, and it’s just one more reason they are committed to continuing Morning Meeting.
Koenig and Portwood laugh about the adventures they’ve had while working on the virtual version of Morning Meeting. There have been occasions where the technology froze and instances where Portwood had to ad-lib her message. While transitioning to an online format has not been without challenges, it has certainly been worth the effort. “It helps us to always remember our sense of belonging,” says Koenig. That sense of belonging is felt whether students are sitting side by side or tuning in from their classroom.
Morning Meeting continues thanks to the resilience and determination of teachers like Portwood, Koenig and Word. In a year like 2020, it is good to know that meaningful traditions live on. Thank you to everyone who contributes to this effort.
Do you love Morning Meeting? Tell us why in the comments section below.