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Morning Work: Should Educators Assign It?

When I started teaching, and for the next 10 years following, my students always came into my classroom and did the same thing every single day: they’d take off their coats and bookbags and put them in their lockers, they’d check in for lunch, and then they’d immediately get started on some sort of academic morning work. Silently.

This was great… at least I thought so. There are a couple of things in the first paragraph that I want you to consider and how they might look in your own classroom.

What Did I Learn?

What I learned I was doing wrong was forcing students to do something academic as soon as they entered my classroom. Many of my students were coming to me from traumatic home lives, and some of my students (inflicted with chronic trauma or not) were coming in from frazzled bus rides or arguments with their parents.

Happy kids running

The LAST thing my kids needed was silent academic work to start the day. So I made two simple changes to my morning, which we now call SOFT STARTS.

First, my students are now not only allowed to talk in the morning, they are encouraged to do so. This builds community, allows students and teachers to connect about non-academic things, and highlights all of the amazing things my kids are doing in and out of school.

Second, I kept the morning work {let’s be real, kids need structure}, but students no longer needed to do one academic piece of work I chose from them.

So let’s take a look at my ACTUAL mornings with my kids.

  • Students can begin entering our school at 8:35am.
  • They go to their lockers first, drop off their coats and bookbags, and then enter the classroom. If they brought their lunch, they bring it in the classroom and place it in our lunch bin.
  • The move their “name magnet” from Home to School.
  • As students trickle in through 9am, they complete a Daily SEL Check-in that I’ve created on Google Forms. I can easily see who needs me urgently and who is doing OK that morning.
  • After completing this, they made a choice from our “I’m Finished, Now What?” board. This consists of 10-12 things they can choose from, including reading a book, working in Freckle, or taking some time to build legos with a friend.
Google Form Daily SEL Check in
An example of our Daily Check-in on Google Forms. There are other questions after this, and it is completely customizable!

“Soft Start” Morning Work FAQs

So, I’ll be honest. Sometimes, teachers will tell me they are worried about classroom management with this change. Here are some helpful FAQs and answers to them.

  • Doesn’t the room get loud? During this entire morning block, students are welcome to talk to one another (and to us). We do remind the kids that it’s a normal classroom voice level.
  • What are the kids talking about? Their conversations do not have to be academic or relate to school but We remind them that conversations need to be appropriate.
  • Why do they need to talk? The easiest way to address this question in through analogy. What do we do when we come to school in the morning? If you’re anything like me, you’re chatting with colleagues, and it’s usually not about school. Kids need that same time!
Four kids talking

By 9am, my kids have chatted with friends, and they’ve checked in with us, socially and emotionally. Attendance is taken, and math begins without a hitch! With the right classroom management in place, and the SEL needs of our students as our first priority, our students are ready for the day!

The biggest win?? Our behavior problems have almost entirely vanished from our classroom.

So, take a chance and make some changes to your morning. If you use academic morning work, consider mixing things up! They’re beneficial for students and they highlight their social and emotional needs. I also can’t forget to mention that this is a trauma-informed practice! Your kids will thank you for this kind of morning.

Daily Check in Morning Work on iPad using Google Sheets

You can find similar articles about Social-Emotional Learning by clicking this link!

Comments

  1. Tracy says

    Meeting kids? social-emotional needs and making connections and building relationships is much more important than academics first thing in the morning. Great article! Thanks!

  2. Carla says

    With all of the activity in the morning talking to kids/parents, how do you find time to look at your google form responses???

    Also, with 6 ft social distancing, how does it look with soft starts?

    • Michael says

      Hi Carla!
      I always let my soft starts go until 9:10am or so (we start school at 8:55am). This allows me 15 minutes or so to look through the form and grab the kids who need me.

      Soft starts, for now, are individual activities that are at each child’s desk. It’s been a lot of technology, to be honest. Trying to add other things in – just bought all of my kids an individual lego set they can use.

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2020-10-13T17:08:57-04:00

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2020-10-14T14:59:05-04:00

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"I was looking for ways to incorporate some things that would make [Morning Meeting] feel older to 5th graders. This is a great resource for that! I love your ideas, especially how you structure your time with the quadrants and your cues. Very creative."

Hope B.

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2020-10-14T14:59:36-04:00

Hope B.

"I was looking for ways to incorporate some things that would make [Morning Meeting] feel older to 5th graders. This is a great resource for that! I love your ideas, especially how you structure your time with the quadrants and your cues. Very creative."


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Janis T.

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2020-10-14T15:00:06-04:00

Janis T.

"One of the best purchases I have made. I love how the first part of this kit is so in depth and gives valuable tips for incorporating SEL into the classroom. This is especially useful for those beginning SEL or their teaching career. I can see myself using some of these resources to help train other teachers in SEL. Highly recommend Mikey's website as well. Very comprehensive and helpful. I'm following for sure!"
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