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When we think about what happens on a day-today basis in school, we usually think about the classroom; about reading, writing, and arithmetic. We don’t often think about the social, emotional, and communication skills that our students are learning every day. Sometimes those things are learned as a byproduct of the classroom setting, working in groups, for example. But at Waverly Elementary School, there’s an additional step in place to help students hone these important skills that will aid them on their paths to success.

The First Five Minutes

Every morning, Principal Christy Willman gathers the pre-k through sixth graders together in the gym for their “Morning Meeting”. These meetings serve to help stimulate the young minds with positivity, first thing in the morning, before they even settle into their classrooms. During these meetings, Principal Willman focuses on what she calls, “the big three school rules; being kind, capable, and responsible,” and she wants to help the students remember these things on a daily basis.

My biggest thing is a sense of community. That they are all together as one.

But here’s the kicker – these morning meetings are only five minutes long. One might ask themselves how can just five minutes make much of an impact? The answer is simple, where there is a will, there is a way – and Principal Willman definitely brings the will.


When speaking with her, it’s easy to hear the love and pride that she has for her students. Principal Willman has an educator’s heart, and a deep desire to see her students grow, learn, and succeed by doing everything in her power to help them become the best they can be. In these first five minutes of the school day, during the morning meeting, it’s her goal to help to reinforce to the students the importance of community and how to become a good member of a community.


Each week has its own theme, Principal Willman said, “This week is the cafeteria, so we’re focusing on how to be kind in the cafeteria … what [that] looks like, and go through some examples.” With such a wide range of ages, Principal Willman always does her best to have something fun and engaging for every age group. Making announcements about an upcoming event, dress-up day, or sending shout-outs to one of the boy’s or girl’s sports teams who played a great game the night before are also things that Principal Willman will discuss.


These morning meetings are something new for the students this year. “At the beginning of the year, they had never done anything like this before; they were never collectively together. So, we’re working on social skills, listening skills, and my biggest thing is a sense of community. That they are all together as one,” she said.


Emphasizing the ‘we’ is, in large part, what these meetings are all about. Teaching students how to work together collectively towards a single goal helps to bring a sense of community to the students. Having a common goal to work towards, meeting good behavior goals for instance, helps the students learn to look out for one another. “You support your friend when they’re having a bad day. You come alongside them and you say, ‘It’ll be ok, I’ll help you out. We all help each other’.”


Principal Willman wanted to find a way to encourage her students in a way that helps to lift them up rather than bringing them down with a punishment. Using a rewards system is ultimately how she decided to move forward. She was clear, however, that she didn’t always want the reward to be tangible, but also fun experiences. Some of the rewards are cookies and popcorn, but also themed dress-up days, like Dr. Seuss day or dress as your favorite book character day. “I feel like they sure enjoyed it when we all had cookies, … and dress-up day. We tried to make it something that isn’t always ‘things’.”


The third-grade class is currently working on a challenge specific to their class. “Whenever they do well, they’re going to get a letter, and when they get to the end of the word, it’s going to spell out what they earn,” she said. This particular challenge’s reward is a principal’s recess, which is sure to make all the students jump for joy. What kid doesn’t love recess?


Above all, Principal Willman wants to drive home the message to her students that working together as a team, being kind, capable, and responsible are important no matter how old you are. And allowing them to celebrate their accomplishments with a reward and recognition that they were each a part of something larger than themselves is how she’s chosen to go about it. “What you’re doing in kindergarten is just as important as what you’re doing in sixth grade,” she said.

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