Opinion

A world of hellos in a fourth-grade clasroom – Zachary Sennett

Editor’s note: This story was reported in part by members of the Forest View Journalism Club

This year, teachers at Forest View are beginning their day with something new. It’s called “Morning Meeting” and it’s a way to create a small sense of warmth and community within each classroom to start each school day.

For 10 to 15 minutes, students and teachers engage in various activities intended to create a positive learning community. In some classrooms, students play a quick game; Others tell riddles. In some, students go outside for some quick pushups, squats and jumping jacks to get the blood flowing. Others gather in a circle and talk about anything and everything going on.

In one fifth-grade class, students take turn introducing themselves and gesturing in some way; the rest of the class then greets that student by name and mimics the gesture.

In at least one second-grade classroom, students greet each other with handshakes they invent themselves.

And in Zachary Sennett’s fourth-grade classroom, students begin each day by saying hello to each other – in different languages.

Here, Mr. Sennett explains why he starts his class that way.

Hello in 10 Languages

Each morning, the students in my fourth-grade class spend a couple minutes walking around the room saying “good morning” and “hello” to each other in 10 different languages.

We do this for a few reasons. The first, believe it or not, is that a large number of students have never been taught how to greet someone in a socially acceptable manner. You wouldn’t believe how many times in the 10 years I’ve been teaching that I have stood at my door and said good morning to a student and had them walk right by without acknowledging someone saying hello.

The second reason is that we are focusing on improving relationships in our school. It’s important for students to know how to interact socially. By including everyone, and saying hello or good morning, we are saying that everyone has value and forcing ourselves to interact with people we might not choose to on our own.

The third, and probably most important, is that a majority of our students are being bused in from low-income areas where more than 200 students are all coming from the same area. There are a lot of things happening where they live that affect how the children come in to school and whether they are ready to learn. Our greeting is a sort of signal, or reset button, that tells students that they are in school and that our expectations are different from home. Our school is safe. It’s amazing to see the transformation of student attitudes in that one minute. Students really do shed that weight of what’s going on in their home life and turn their school personas on. If you look closely, you can see the stress sort of melt away.

I thought a lot about how to go about greeting each other. I have five different languages represented in my classroom, and about one-quarter of my students were born outside of the United States. They struggle with their sense of identity. They have to assimilate to a new culture and some of them feel like they have to lose a part of themselves to fit in. I want my students to know that we don’t want them to have to subtract a part of themselves. They can add to our understanding, and we can help them add to who they are.

Saying hello in different languages shows that we value where they come from and that they are an important member of our community. We use the 10 greetings because it’s important to know that our world is full of places and ideas out there that we don’t get see. I want us to keep that in mind and embrace it.

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