Why not start the day with a centered purpose?
At most elementary schools the typical morning routine looks like this: Students settle into their seats, and the PA system takes over the classroom as someone rattles off announcements, a good number of students not really paying attention. Anne DiCola, the principal at Stober Elementary in Lakewood, Colorado, has a better way. Every morning, she starts the day with a ten-minute school-wide assembly. I sat down for a Q&A session with Anne, and here’s what she had to say about her unique way of starting the day off right.
How did the morning assembly tradition start at your school?
I would like to give credit where it is due. A previous principal, Andrew Zapotoczny, started it.
What are your goals for the morning assembly?
At most schools the principal gets on the PA and says what the lunch is for the day, announces the birthdays, and says have a great day. I wanted the assembly to be more than that. To me, if we’re going to take that ten minutes out of the educational day, I want it to be really, really purposeful experience every day. It’s more about having a centered purpose. Why are we doing this? Why are we here as a community? What is our purpose together today? This week? This month? It really fits who we want to be as a community. Everybody knowing each other. Everybody feeling connected. I want to ground us in who we are as a community. I also want to get our students ready for our school day, mentally and physically, and give them strategies to succeed.
Do you have some basic routines you usually cover each day?
Yes, I will give some general announcements, celebrate birthdays, then at the end we all stand for our school creed and the Pledge [of Allegiance]. I love bringing kids up to share the things that are happening in their classrooms, but, most important, I really want the kids to hear from me.
Can you tell me more about the idea of a centered purpose?
It revolves around this message: Your focus today is to be a learner, a thinker, and a positive member of the community. Think about how you’ll do that today. I say it every single day.
This past April the kids, with help from parent volunteers, made this big poster for me for our spring gala. Reading some of the things they wrote, I realized the message was starting to sink in. When the older kids, unfortunately, are sent to my office for behavior issues, they often say, “I know I wasn’t being a positive member of the community when I did this and here’s why.” So, I think the repeated message from me emphasizes that this does matter. This is important.
Are there any other benefits you have noticed?
Its helped to make me human to the kids. I don’t know if principals appear human to students, especially elementary students. I think that learning about me helps them feel like I’m an approachable person. That I’m here for them, care about them and I’m part of the team. I’m part of this for them too, which I think is really important.
How does it work logistically?
Basically, we do a really slow start so kids begin coming to the gym starting at 8:00 a.m. They just go right up to the gym and sit with their class. I have three non-classroom teachers who supervise in the gym. All the outside morning duties are done by non-classroom teachers also.
Classroom teachers report to the gym at 8:20am which is the start of the day. I want to give the classroom teachers that twenty minutes to get ready for the day.
Has this been a challenge for you to personally lead the morning assemblies on a daily basis? Why do you keep it going?
When I first got here I was thinking how long would it take to get rid of the morning assembly tradition without ruffling too many feathers. I thought that in two months, I could cut it to three days a week, and then two days a week. That was really where I was. Then, I started to feel the impact of the kids being in a common community and the way the students responded to me. Now, I’m not trading this for anything.
It is a commitment. There are mornings [after] where I’ve been here late the night before or I have an unhappy the email that’s weighing on my mind, but I always come back to the commitment that this assembly is important. I will be in the gym.
Do you have any advice for a principal who might be interested in starting a morning assembly at their school?
Getting really centered in the purpose is the most important thing. It’s not necessarily about the lunch counts, reminding students to pick up their lost and found items, or even the announcements. It’s really more about having a centered purpose.
I think those repeated messages from me matter. Not just doing it one day but continuing to come back to it. The students start to feel it does matter. This is important. This is who we are.
Mike Cronley taught 3rd grade for 12 years in Westminster, Colorado. He is now the CEO and Cofounder of Class Composer, an online class list creation tool for elementary schools.