The meeting takes place at 10am each day, and the length of the meeting can vary from 15 min to over an hour.
There are specific guidelines used to conduct the meeting. These guidelines have been suggested and agreed upon by those attending the meetings. This set of guidelines evolves and changes over time according to the needs of the community. Once the structure of the meeting is understood, and children (and adults) conclude that this is not a place where adults take control and power over the responses and actions of the children, things start to run smoothly. This understanding and acknowledgement of one’s autonomy in both the meeting and the school, can take some time to develop. The time needed depends on the age and experience of the individual child or adult. It takes place quickly for some and slowly for others and is very much dependent on the child’s perceptions of school, past experiences with school and learning environments, self-confidence, autonomy and self-control. It is an important period of time: recognizing one’s autonomy in the meeting corresponds with the recognition that one is in control of one’s experiences and learning. It also corresponds with development of empathy and an understanding of one's responsibility to the group.
We run a democratic meeting. The adults and more experienced children hold the boundaries for the group: reminding individuals of the agreed upon guidelines, stating clearly and gently when certain behaviours seem too disruptive to the group. It is in the meeting that expectations can be discussed or a situation that needs to be confronted can be reviewed and discussed by those impacted.
We use certain hand signals to indicate agreement or disagreement, a desire to respond to something that is being said, to make a statement or propose a plan or problem to be discussed. We use a ‘talking stick’ which is passed to the person holding the floor. We have the expectation that all attending will listen to the speaker, but if someone needs to move or must leave the meeting for a moment this is accepted by all. Each person is expected to be empathetic, listen to each other and to contribute once it is comfortable doing so – and others will remind you if you forget...whether you be a child or adult.
At its most basic level, the Morning Meeting serves to define the day; setting up the plans and expectations, alerting children and teachers to the plans of others and giving everyone a chance to discuss their ideas and projects as well as share the items, books, games and art supplies they have brought in. At this level, children learn to plan ahead, think about what they want to do, and support the plans of others.
At another level, the meeting is often one of the first places where a child experiences autonomy and self-determination. It is a place where a child experiences the need to negotiate, has to wait to speak, gives an opinion, develops a thought, responds to another, disagrees, takes a stand, takes charge of a plan, asks a question, answers a question, is an expert, shares a feeling, empathizes with another’s feelings, expresses anger or sadness and a range of feeling, and, where the needs of each person can be heard. It is also a place where a person learns to how to put the needs of the group before his or her own wants, needs or desires.
It is the layers of these different levels that are vital for the creation of a democratic school where children enjoy and take charge of their learning, recognize the need to develop skills, empathy, leadership and the ability to negotiate, while at the same time developing the ability to think outside the box and finding interests in things that they may become passionate about later in life.
This learning is valuable and vital for the child. Once a child is able to assert the self and learns to develop his or her own opinions, ideas, and interests, he or she is then ready to begin learning the skills and facts, which the larger society often refers to as “learning”. It is at this point that the child can begin to identify interests and develop original ideas and opinions.
Within the meeting, children and adults can bring up issues and problems. This could be a simple issue such as how we deal with keeping mud off the rug or it could be a deeper issue such as how sad a child feels over the death of a grandparent. The meeting gives children a chance to talk about things that bother and concern them, it gives them a chance to hear how others deal with or have dealt with similar problems. Sometimes it is a time when a group of people of various ages talk about the human condition on a very deep level, it is a place where genuine ‘community’ is developed.
The meeting is the place where the culture of Small Acres is created and nurtured. It is where we decide, as a group, what is important to us, what holds value. The culture of our school is based on empathy and this empathy now pervades all that we do. The meeting is where we create the structure that holds our community together. This is where we learn how to support each other, how to come together as a caring, learning community.
At Small Acres, the Morning Meeting is a valuable, integral and important part of each day. It serves a variety of purposes and is central to the structure of our curriculum.