In my years of education, I have seen a recurring problem in many students and that is their lack of respect, character and socialization. It amazes me how many students come into my 1st grade or 2nd grade class lacking respect and not knowing how to shake someone’s hand, not knowing how to talk to someone in a conversation or not seeing the importance of connecting with another child.
Some blame it on being the iPhone era or that kids are on iPads too much and I think that has a lot to do with it, but I think a big part is that they are not being taught. These are all learned actions and they need to learn it from their parents. But they aren’t and they leave it to the school.
I am not here to scold parents, but to educate teachers on how to deal with this in your classroom. The issue with parenting is going away today, but you are getting their children in your class tomorrow.
This last year, I chose to focus on social skills and character building for the first 8 weeks of school. I pushed Science and Social Studies aside a bit, not all the way, but they weren’t my main focus. A class that has mastered social skills and character building are going to learn from their teacher faster and will be far less of a distraction.
How it worked
Each day, starting on the first day of school we had Morning Meeting on our rug (we called it Family Meeting because we are a family), if you don’t have a rug, kids don’t mind sitting on the floor or have them bring their chair for a circle. I have the students sit in a circle so everyone can see everyone’s face. You might need to make a few seat changes because they tend to sit by someone who likes to chat. I start off each time as a reminder of our rules, I list out the rules. As the year goes on I have students say the rules. I make sure we designate our talking stick (my class use a plush soccer ball so we can roll it to each other and no one gets hurt).
I am very strict during our Morning Meeting time. If some one is talking without the talking stick or goofing off, they get one warning and the next time, they are to sit outside our circle and back at their desk. I do give them opportunities to come back in if I notice that they were making an effort not to be a distraction.
On the First Day of School
My goal at the beginning of the year is always for students to connect with each other. Most of these students come in and they know a few students and knowing other’s names is not of importance to them. For me, knowing each other’s names is very important. I believe this because when someone says your name it makes you feel important to them. They care about you to remember your name. I always encourage students to use each other’s names instead of saying, “That girl did blah, blah, blah.”
On the first day of school, our Family Meeting is mostly centered around getting to know each other and getting to know our names. I try to have the students memorize each other’s names the first few days of school. As a teacher too, it is ESSENTIAL and Incredible Important to remember student’s names too. If it is at all possible, take your class list home and work on memorizing the students names that you have. The kids gravitate to you more when you mention their name.
The first activity that we start with in our morning meeting is fairly generic, but the kids always like it. We sit in our family meeting circle and the first student starts off and they say, “My name is Ben (insert their name).” Then the person next to them says, “My name is Courtney and this is Ben.” They turn and point toward Ben. The game continues to build around the circle. If a student forgets a name as it gets a little harder, they can either ask the child what their name is or ask the class for help. It is good practice for students to practice saying, “What was your name again?”
If we have extra time, I have the students stand up and mix themselves up and we try it again.
2nd Day of School
On the 2nd Day (or at another time on the first day), I have the student’s names on Popsicle sticks to be used all year. I mix them up and hand half the class out with other names on them. I say “Go” and they have to find that person and stand quickly by them. It is fun to time them and see how fast they can do it and be silent after. It gives another opportunity to connect the face and the name.
The first 5-6 days of the school year I go through various different name activities and activities to connect them with others who like the same things as them. They get to know the students in their class and they know who has similar interests.
Our next unit for our Morning Meeting time is on Respect. For me this is absolute most important character trait that a child can have. This is a skill that they will use in life, in their job and any type of relationship that they have. Unfortunately, this is not taught at home much. Many teachers do not teach it either. It is important for me that they students learn respect, treating others as you want to be treated, right a the beginning of the year.
There are certain things that I require in my classroom and I go through each of them in our Respect Unit. It has about 10 lessons on different aspect of respect (self respect will be taught later).
When the students come in each day, I shake their hand with a proper handshake and we make eye contact. We practice shaking hands and eye contact everyday throughout the year.
We go through the other areas of respect, the students really get to digest what it means to be respectful and we use situations that they have been in or through, times when they were respectful or times when they know they were not. Students need to learn what the word Respect means.
I found out in my first year of teaching 1st grade that the students had no idea what the word Respect meant.
Topics We Cover
1.Difference between rules and laws
2. Why do we respect people
3. Complimenting others
4. What do you do when someone compliments you
5. Importance of eye contact and shaking hands
6. How to carry on a conversation
7. What to do when you are angry at someone
These are all things that unfortunately are not taught at home. They need to understand that it is okay to be angry, but it is how they handle being angry.
These family meeting (aka Morning Meetings) go on every day for the first several weeks as we work on these character building skills, I personally phase them off and I may take away 1 each week, then 2 and we end up doing it twice a week for the rest of the year. You can always keep that Morning Meeting Spot and either keep going with character development or use that time to expand on the meetings or do a journal activity during that time.
These meetings are also a time where we discuss something that may have happened at recess, a substitute came and the students were misbehaved, at lunch there was a situation where a student was being bullied and we need an emergency family meeting after lunch to take care of it.
If you haven’t tried Family Meetings, give it a try. Here is a FREE Family Meeting Starter Lesson.