Clean Beginnings

By Brent Vasicek on September 22, 2010
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

Hello and goodbye in a conversation. Good morning and good night with your family. An appetizer and a dessert at dinner. The sun rising and falling each day. What do all of these things have in common? They have a natural beginning and ending that the brain becomes conditioned to recognize. 

The brain prefers knowing the start and finish of a task. As teachers, it is our job to help the brain of each student function at maximum potential.  Creating a clean beginning and clean ending for our lesson, our day, our week, or our year helps the brain to stay efficient. Below I will highlight some of the fun and purposeful parts of our morning routine.

This post includes video examples of our morning routine. Stay tuned for a future post for examples of what happens at the end of the day.

In Studio 24, I have routines and rituals throughout the day that signal the brain to shift from one mode of thinking to the next. Below is a breakdown of my beginning of the day routine, also known as Hoopla. It takes a few weeks to get all the layers working as a finely tuned machine, but the routine really shifts the students' brains into a learning state. CAUTION: Routines should still contain novelty so routine does not become equated with boring.  

The video below illustrates the first five parts of my beginning of the day routine, which I also describe in detail. If you have trouble viewing the video, you may also see it on YouTube.

 

Handshake Check-In  Students enter and give me the secret class handshake invented by Connor and Jordan from my student teaching year. PURPOSE: This allows me to check in with every student and greet them on a positive note. I can tell a lot about how the day is going to be by reading the mood of each child in the morning.

Morning Dance. School bell rings. Lights immediately go off. Music begins. Dancing ensues. PURPOSE: This starts the day with enthusiasm and positive interactions among peers. It gets oxygen flowing to the brain and promotes the sense of being part of a team, as they are all participating in an activity together from the first moment of school. It also allows the student who is a minute late to still get his or her homework into the tray.

Nominations. On the last note of the song everyone sits.  The morning leader asks for "nominations," which causes the class to sing a little chant. Three students get the opportunity to point out something great somebody else recently did.  The leader picks his or her favorite of the three for the honor of Flipping the Sign. This is a concept I have borrowed from my favorite summer camp Special Days.  PURPOSE: In many instances, peer to peer recognition is more powerful than the recognition a teacher can provide. 

Flipping the Sign. Depending on the theme for the year, the message on my electronic sign is modified. When the sign is "flipped on," it signifies that we are in learning mode, similar to how the "On the Air" sign signifies that the radio broadcast is currently in session and nobody should enter the studio. My current sign says, "Excelling without Excuses." This is a motto borrowed from Northeast Middle School. PURPOSE: This reminds the students of the class motto and the fact that their brains are in learning mode. 

Announcements. The sign flipper says, "It is time for morning announcements." The students do another cheer. The room falls silent. I MUST be ready to talk.  As a teacher, being consistent and prepared is what will make this routine work. If the teacher is not ready to talk, the students will soon learn that they don't always have to be ready to listen. PURPOSE: This primes the students for all the important news of the morning. Keep announcements short and to the point.

National Anthem / Pledge.  We sing the anthem and do the pledge to support the core democratic value of patriotism and to show respect to our country. After the pledge I ask them a random question or two about patriotism.  For example, Who wrote the words for the national anthem?  After which war were the words written?  What does "indivisible" mean?  PURPOSE: If the students were ever stopped by Jay Leno during his "Jaywalking" segment, they would look smart!

Morning Run. After the the questions, we go for our morning run. PURPOSE: This one to two minute run gets oxygen flowing to our brains and reinforces the important connection the brain has with the body. If it is raining, we do jumping jacks, sit-ups, or push-ups.

Good Morning Work.  The students sit down and work on a handful of math problems while I finish up a bit of morning paperwork.

So, in under 15 minutes students greet their friends, do a unified dance, acknowledge their peers for good deeds, get the day's announcements, show respect for our country, reinforce the importance of exercise, put their brain in an awake state to learn, and start their math. It takes about three weeks to get that efficient.  Don't do it all at once . . . layer it one step at a time.

For today we are officially off the air,

Director Vasicek

www.mrvasicek.com

 

 

Comments

Hi Brent!

I have absolutely LOVED reading about everything that you do with your class! The videos are especially helpful and inspiring! I had a question regarding your morning routine. The thing that seems to take the most time during the morning is having students turn in their homework. I have a basket on the back table for them to turn their homework in, but then it ends up that there are a lot of students up and walking around and having trouble finding their way back to their seats. I am thinking about going back to having them put it in the center of their group and then just going to pick them up. I am super excited to start doing a morning dance, and I was curious how you have your students turn in their homework during that. Thank you so much!

Molly~ Great question. The first bell rings at 8:57 and the students enter the room. They have five minutes to empty their backpacks, hang up their coat, and turn in their work. When the second bell rings at 9:02 the morning song starts. The morning song is about 1 minute. The nominations take an additional 1 minute. So, those pokey students technically have about 7 minutes to get organized. I don't require them to do the song, but they usually hurry because they want to participate. Good luck! Brent

I've started incorporating a dance in our morning routine. It's been going really well, except for one student who says he's mortified every morning during the dance. He is typically very go-with-the-flow and has a positive attitude, so I know it must be affecting him if he feels the need to say something about it. Have you ever had a student who was this uncomfortable with the dancing? If so, how did you handle it?

Actually, I have had a few very resistant children. One that comes to mind was was ADHD, ODD, and all around just plain obstinant. As time went on he eventually joined in. How was this accomplished? In steps.

Week 1: I would invite him to join. When he said "no," I said, "Okay."

Week 2: I told him he did not have to dance, but he did have to stand up to get his blood circulating.

Week 3: I asked that at the part of the song where giving a quick handshake was required that he participate for 'his classmates sake.'

Week 4 - 6: I would circulate throughout the room and do a few of my Vasicek dance moves around him for just a brief moment.

Eventually, he got caught up in the momentum of energy that the class created and he started doing little moves. I wouldn't draw too much attention to it at the time, but I would occasionally comment later that it looked like he had a good time kickin' off his morning.

I liken all this to how you approach a strange dog. You have to give them space. You have to slowly introduce them to an environment in which they still feel safe and in control. Once they feel comfortable, you got 'em! ~Brent

Brent, Just watched your video and read your blog. Loved watching the leadership of your students and the respect they showed each other. Your first 15 minutes is full of purpose and fun! Thanks for the ideas. Anne

Thanks, Anne. And you are welcome! Brent

I like the idea of the little black electric sign that you use to indicate that your class is in learning mode. Was that a remote I noticed a student using to turn it on? Where did you purchase the sign from? Thank you.

Ah, yes, the sign. It was given to me, but I have seen them at a store called Spencers (maybe $30 - $40). Spencers sells blacklights, laser lights, and other unique gizmos. If there is not one near you, you can find it online. The remotes are easiest to find at a hardware store around Christmas time (for people who like to remote control all their Christmas lights, I suppose). Great question.

Brent

Amongst all the incredible things that are happening here, my favorite is that the "morning leader" is a student. Putting the kids in a leadership role, so empowering and enabling. Thanks, Brent, for sharing! I am sharing your blog with my elementary teachers, I hope that some of what you do will inspire them.

Roger, It's kind of funny. Even though we have only been working on the morning routine a few weeks, today we did not get a chance to do it because of influences beyond our control. It seriously felt like the day was out of sync. There is something to be said for starting the day in an energetic way. Thanks for reading. Brent

I really like this and I am jealous. Between breakfast and then our new STATE mandated Enrichment/Remedial time my day does not officially start until 10:10!!! It is very frustrating.

My coteacher and I then exchange classes at 10:15 and with our schedule we have to be on time or I do not have enough time to teach reading and writing. Any suggestions?

I love your blog and read every one! I would love to be a fly on the wall in your classroom!

Dana, Thank you for reading the blog. Actual uninterrupted teaching time seems to be more rare now a days. Five minutes is all you have to play with, eh? At 10:10 I would definitely start with a song. Due to the time constraint, no longer than one minute is what you need. TV theme songs are pretty good places to look for short, fun songs. "I'll Be There for You" from the t.v. show "Friends" comes to mind. During the dance have the students find another student to give the class handshake to each time the phrase "I'll be there for you" is sung in the song. Then do the announcement chant that you see in the video above. A few short announcements and you are ready to exchange classes. This allows a fun, team start to the day; a little positive interaction among students; and some vital information delivered. Good luck! 'Cuz you're there for me too, Director V.

Brent! I already consider myself a pretty energetic, enthusiastic, and creative teacher, but every time I read one of your posts it reminds me I can still do better. Thank you so much for re-energizing us all and sharing your fabulous ideas!! I'm already looking forward to the next post!!

Awww, shucks, you are making me blush. I am glad you liked the beginning of the day. Hopefully, the end of the day video will be ready for my next post. :) Thank you for reading. Waka Waka, Brent

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