Do you have students and staff members you don't see everyday? Reconnect with your entire school "family" at the beginning of each day in the way that many schools across the country do -- with a "morning assembly." Administrators say a well-organized assembly establishes a positive tone for teachers and students and encourages community involvement, without cutting into precious instructional time.
"We talk often about building community in a school, but just as often, the youngest children and the oldest children in a school never even see each other," Scott Hollinger explained. "They have vastly different lunch schedules, physical education schedules, and recess times. When we all meet together in the gym every morning, the entire school is present. All the children can see each other. All the teachers can see each other. We're all involved in the same activity and having a shared experience."
Hollinger, a principal at IDEA: Quest College Preparatory School in McAllen, Texas, discovered "morning assembly" through a conference he attended in 1999. He brought the practice back to the elementary school he was leading at the time and worked with leaders of the school community to adapt it for the building.
At the start, the assemblies were conducted in an outdoor pavilion area. Although that required carting a sound system outside each day and putting up with strong wind and blowing dust, Hollinger and his staff found that the benefits far outweighed the frustrations. Eventually, an activity building was constructed and the entire student body met indoors each day -- in air-conditioned comfort.
Morning assembly was so successful at the school he led at the time that Hollinger institutes the practice wherever he goes.
"The daily repetition of this sharing begins to build in all of us a history of shared experiences," stated Hollinger. "This is what a shared culture comprises. It is in this forum that the principal emphasizes expectations for behavior and character. Here is where we celebrate our achievements. The kids love morning assembly. So do the teachers and the parents."
A favorite facet of morning assembly for Hollinger is "Fun Friday." On each Friday, the assembly is followed by a group dance. With 800 people in the gymnasium, the "dances" are mostly hand motions, but Hollinger reports that they are enjoyed by all. Even parents join in!
"Morning assembly is one of several important pieces in our culture and community building," Hollinger observed. "It is so effective and so powerful that I will always make an opportunity to have daily -- or at least weekly -- assemblies at every school I lead."
Thinking about starting a daily assembly at your school? Scott Hollinger offers some tips for organizing daily assembly in the endbar of this article.
THE EARLY BIRDCATCHES THE COMMUNITY?
While morning assembly at Uniontown (Kentucky) Elementary School usually lasts just five or six minutes, principal Dan Whitesides says that the activity has contributed to amazing community support for the school.
The daily assembly features the Pledge of Allegiance, the Uniontown Daily Affirmation, a patriotic group song, a celebration of birthdays, morning announcements, and dismissal. On Mondays, awards related to Accelerated Reader are given. Tuesdays recognize "star students," and Fridays include talent programs. Special events and holidays are celebrated with Cupid, the Easter Bunny, Santa, and St. Patrick in attendance.
"If a class has something special going on for the day, we will recognize it," Whitesides told Education World. "Kindergarten may be having Hat Day when they learn the letter H, so the entire school is invited to join in, and we will have a hat parade around the gym."
At morning assembly, every child is recognized for something at least twice per year, and most students have the opportunity to host the program. This gives every child the opportunity to be in the spotlight and to be celebrated as an individual. The community is invited to take part, with at least one parent present every day and as many as 50 or more on special days.
Whitesides' morning assembly never runs longer than 15 minutes, and he advises other administrators to follow a detailed plan to avoid a lengthy gathering that detracts from instructional time. Guidelines for the assembly are written in the school's policy manual. One teacher coordinates the assembly and makes other announcements, schedules talent, and organizes two students to lead the assembly each day.
"We require a 5-minute no talking period prior to the assembly beginning," added Whitesides. "This sets a positive tone for the day, and teaches students proper etiquette for community events."
Traunsa Reeves says that morning assembly generates a positive attitude toward school and the day ahead at Reno Elementary, the school she leads in Azle, Texas. The children tell her that the school has "happy teachers" because they see their educators each morning singing and sharing together, and the teachers have said that morning assembly has helped them put aside struggles with family members before school and focus on their students' needs.
Like Hollinger, Reeves discovered morning assembly through a conference for administrators. "Morning Assembly brings us together as a family," she explained. "It gives our students a sense of pride in themselves and our school unity. Our focus is to acknowledge and honor students for their accomplishments as well as have them actively involved in the running of assembly. Morning assembly fosters relationships with our faculty, students, parents, and citizens in the community. Everyone is welcomed and encouraged to attend."
The Reno "family" meets in the gymnasium each morning. The assembly begins with different student-led songs. The state and national pledges are said and patriotic songs are sung. The lunch menu and "thought for the day" are read aloud by students. New students are welcomed and birthdays are recognized.
"We then have various announcements and recognitions, including perfect attendance classrooms for the entire week, brags, students caught displaying good character traits, a health tip of the day; and the monthly core virtue is discussed," said Reeves. "The assembly is dismissed with a lively song that awakens, energizes, and brings a smile to every person present. We start our day happy by being together as a Reno Rockets Family...Soaring to Success!"
Six years ago, during the implementation stage of morning assembly, the entire staff was involved in the planning process. Once a pattern was established, the music teacher, physical education instructor and assistant, and the school counselor were placed in charge of organizing the daily assemblies. To get started, Reeves recommends a visit to a school that has a thriving assembly program.
"Learn from others how they plan their assemblies, what has been successful and not successful," she advised. "A campus as a whole must be committed to the daily efforts. Morning assembly is well worth it all. I can't image our school day beginning any other way."