small steps

Please Stop the Morning Work

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Today was a crappy day.  

As educators, no matter what is going on in our personal lives, or with our health, we have to muster up everything we’ve got to give to our kids.  

Realistically, we are all humans.  With relationships, families, friends, health, finances that aren’t always as picture perfect as our social media profiles appear.  

We are humans, who sometimes have crappy days, that make it seem impossible to face the world, but we do it anyways because +/-27 little lives depend on us.  

Our kids are humans too.  They may not be adults, with adult problems, but they live with adults who have adult problems.  Worse, some are facing adult problems.  

Back to my crappy day.  I had a graduate class tonight.  They started the class like many teachers who follow Morning Meeting do.  We had an icebreaker where we shared about our summers.  We played a team-building game.  We were told our objectives for the day.  Then we jumped into work – a lecture followed by a group project.

You can empathize with how I felt listening to everyone else’s amazing summer stories.  You can relate to how much I didn’t feel like playing a game.  You can guess how much I learned from lecture.  You can imagine how hard it was for me to concentrate on our group project.

What did I need in the first 15 minutes of my graduate class?  Space and choice.  Space to be independent and choices to make to get my brain off of my crappy day and ready for learning.  For me this would look like mindfulness, reading, starting an authentic conversation that wasn’t dominated by a list of questions we had to ask each other.  

Are we providing this space for our kids?  Do they have these choices for how to prepare their brain for the big day ahead?  Or are they spending their first 15 doing a worksheet at their desk?  Are they sad, listening to their peers’ great adventures from the weekend with their happy families?  Are we asking them seemingly not, but actually really sensitive (and trivial) questions like: What did you have for dinner last night? What is your favorite television show?  What is your favorite iPad game?  Where did you travel over the summer?  What camp did you go to?  What emotions are we causing our kids to have by being forced to answer or listen to other kids answer this questions?

This leads me to a topic I feel especially passionate about.  The most powerful and important 15 minutes of my day – not a stellar mini-lesson or a rockstar conference – the soft start that kept my kids running out of their doors and into my classroom every morning.  

Here’s what a typical soft start looked like in my classroom:


I greet kids and families at the door.  Kids are literally running into the classroom to unpack so they can get started (some don’t even waste time to take their coats off).  A group of kids sit in a group on the rug, telling stories.  At the floor table, kids huddle around a book that someone has brought from home.  One friend works independently on his hybrid dinosaur creator, built from magnatiles.  Other friends gather around the table, drawing and painting.  A friend asks to lay down in the cozy corner because she didn’t get enough sleep last night.  Another friend is crying after departing from his grown-up, and gets comforted by friends.  In the library, kids are using books and iPads to continue their Subway inquiry.  Kids teach each other how to make things.  They read together, write together, play a game.  Snacks are available for kids who didn’t get breakfast.  Work is engaging and productive, cross-content standards are being met, and for this fifteen minutes, conflicts are rare.  I can read the energy of my kids and plan for more body breaks or community building if necessary.  Kids have opportunities to do things that they would not have in any other part of our day.  On many days, the work my kids are doing amazes me, and I let it last a little bit longer.  I take minutes out of other parts of my schedule, like the meeting time that follows, because I know what they are doing is more important than anything else I have planned.

Finally, we meet as a community on the rug.  Our meetings always look different and are typically run by the kids.  Someone might have a new agreement to propose or problem to address.  Someone might ask to share and get feedback on a project they have been working hard on.  Sometimes we tell stories-stories about growth mindset kids used, peer problems kids resolved, stories about each other and things that happen at home.  We talk about our day – any changes that we need to make, any goals we hope to accomplish.


You may have read my previous post about flexible schedules.  As you are thinking about the first thing on your schedule, consider starting your day like this.  Stop printing mindless worksheets.  Know that some kids had crappy nights or crappy mornings and won’t be ready to be social.  Morning meetings have benefits (which can also be found in soft starts), but aren’t right for every child.   Take the pressure off of yourself to teach from bell to bell.

If you are thinking, How can I fit this into my day? do yourself a favor and read this post by Kristine Mraz:

I’d like to end with one of my favorite quotes by Harvey “Smokey” Daniels in The Curious Classroom:  

“A fifteen-minute soft start is an investment in the overall seven-hour outcome.  Kids will accomplish more ‘net learning’ if they start that day in the driver’s seat.”  

UPDATE:  Check out my new post about launching and growing soft starts here:  More on Soft Starts

Teach middle school or high school?  Teach within a specific subject block?  Check out this great post!  Why I love soft starts and what I hope for soft closings

Thank you to Kristi, who first introduced me to soft starts.  I am the luckiest to have administrators, Adele Schroeter and Nekia Wise, who support soft starts and kid-centered decisions.  Thank you to Smokey Daniels, who devoted a chapter to soft starts in The Curious Classroom (which you should read immediately, if you haven’t yet).  You can get it here: