Inattention during our Morning Meeting is causing discipline problems!

I am a student teacher in a 1st grade class. Love the kids but I have a really hard time getting them to listen during our morning meeting time! At least three are ADD but some are just immature.

The kids seem to enjoy the activities and greetings I present but their inattention creates discipline problems–and it’s driving me nuts! The classroom teacher has a green/yellow/red card discipline plan that I’ve threatened to use and I did send one jumpy kid back to his desk because he was disturbing us. Any other suggestions?

My first suggestion is to take care of classroom management–that’s PART I of the Discipline without Stress Teaching Model. Perhaps your students have never had specific procedures established for conducting a morning meeting. By creating such structure, young people will be more likely to manage their own behavior, keeping discipline problems to a minimum. Even adults need structure to successfully manage in a meeting–think of the complicated and lengthy Robert’s Rules of Order!

Methodically think through EVERYTHING you want your students to do during a classroom meeting. These are the procedures that you should teach and expect them to learn. Have students practice the procedures again and again–until they master them.

For instance, establish such routines as:

• A signal for quiet.

• HOW you want them to sit (Facing which direction? Where are their hands? Legs–crossed or otherwise? etc.) With a class that needs more structure than is typical for their age, you might consider assigning each student a seat. Some primary teachers put numbers on the carpet for seating.

• A routine for speaking. Some teachers use a version of a First Nations’ “talking stick” that can be passed from person to person.

• Polite procedures for listening to others and responding.

Here are two important things to keep in mind:

1. If structure hasn’t already been established at the first meeting of the year, it will take MORE teaching time to establish it at a later point. In effect, your students have established and repeatedly practiced THEIR OWN (chaotic) procedures until this point. It will take time, patience and repeated opportunities to practice, before they successfully learn new and more orderly routines. Take heart though, it’s never too late to start–and really, what could be more important than getting them to control themselves so that you can work with them in a more productive way?

2. If your students are MORE immature than typical first graders, you’ll need to put extra effort into teaching them EXACTLY HOW to behave at Level C of this discipline system. The good news though is that many of them WILL CHOOSE to behave themselves–if they know specifically what you expect from them.

My second suggestion is to be proactive. BEFORE you send the students from their desks to the meeting area, discuss your EXPECTATIONS–in a pleasant and positive way. Ask them to tell you what it should look like as they travel to the meeting area and seat themselves. Ask a rhetorical question or two:

• When a person seats themselves at the carpet, should they begin chatting to others near them?

• Should they bounce up and down?

• Should they call out something impulsively to the teacher?

No, of course not, these would all be signs of “immaturity.”

Paint a positive and attractive image of what it looks like to be “mature” and “in control.” You want your young students to FEEL A DESIRE to behave themselves and to act in a grown-up manner.

Ask for volunteers who can demonstrate to the class how a mature person would get him/herself to the carpet and take a seat. From the volunteers, choose a child who isn’t likely to be able to do a good job independently. In other words, choose one of your most immature. With the class watching him/her “demonstrate maturity,” it’s likely that he/she will be able to make it to the carpet in an acceptable way.

Thank the student for the demonstration and ask for several more volunteers, then a few more and a few more. As the bulk of the students shift from the desk area to the meeting area, move over yourself–so that your presence is always with the majority of the students. Using this approach, every student will be able to come over to the carpet slowly, quietly and “maturely.” You will have orchestrated a calm beginning to your meeting and will then be able to move on to successfully teach other procedures that will help you avoid unnecessary discipline problems.

Although we can’t expect young students to have developed true maturity, by carefully teaching procedures for each classroom situation, we can teach them to ACT in mature ways that will ensure a classroom environment which is conducive to good learning. As the meeting comes to a close, again be proactive: Review procedures for returning to desks and again have students demonstrate a “mature” return, group by group.

Don’t be concerned that this will consume too much of your meeting time. Expect that it WILL take time and understand that at first, you will be teaching procedures more than you will be having a meeting. In the long run though, you will have achieved something important–you will have taught your students to act in a more well-behaved manner (Level C) and this will spill over to all the other parts of your day. Another bonus–you will find that well-behaved students also LEARN more effectively than students who are misbehaving.

Good luck in your student teaching!