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The New School Year: Six Questions to Ask Your Students on Day One

Will your students be greeted by rules or by questions that set the stage for thinking and risking?

by Howard Pitler, Ed.D.

Grass growingThe school year is beginning in places in the Midwest in late July and soon after that throughout the country, it’s time to think about that very first day you meet your class. How will you begin to create an environment for risk and creativity? Will your students be greeted by rules and “thou shalt nots” or by questions that set the stage for thinking and risking? Here are six questions you should think about asking on day one.

1. What are you passionate about?

Ask students to think about their true passion. It is very possible their passion is something outside of the classroom. Knowing what they are passionate about will help you better relate to them as people and learners. It might also just give you a key to unlocking their learning. How will you relate what they need to learn in school to what they are passionate about? That’s a real key to engaging learners.

2. How do you want to be recognized?

Not all learners want to be recognized in the same manner. In fact, recognizing a student publicly might actually serve as a demotivator. While some students really want that big gold star on their forehead, others will be embarrassed by the attention. Culturally, calling attention to a single student for great performance might violate their norms of family and tribe first. How do you know what works for each individual student? Ask them to tell you!

Teacher asking questions of students3. What do you see as your greatest strength?

Every student has a strength, but too often what they hear most about are their shortcomings. If you want to support and encourage a growth mindset, change the focus from the negative to the positive. Also, knowing what students see as their strengths will help you as you build cooperative or small group work groups.

4. What name do you want me to call you in class?

The name on your official role might not be the name the student prefers. If a boy is called Scooter by his family and friends and wants to be called Scooter in class, make that happen. Of course, nicknames have limits and classroom appropriateness has to be maintained.

5. What will a successful school year look and feel like at the end of the year?

Asking students to focus on the future helps them establish learning goals and priorities for the year. When teachers set clear learning intentions for unit and lesson plans it helps students gain a clear understanding of what they are expected to know, understand, and be able to do. Asking students to focus on their personal learning goals for the year provides a similar personal focus. Just as a teacher should review learning goals during and at the end of a lesson, have your students review their progress to their personal learning goals at the end of each quarter and the end of the school year.

Waterfall6. What are the characteristics or attributes you want in a teacher?

Use the various descriptions of your students’ ideal teacher as a personal reflective tool. What are their top five to seven attributes and how do you see yourself as related to those attributes. Are there some areas you might want to work on to be the best teacher for this specific class?

Add these questions to the normal suggestions of learning every student’s name on day one, or at least week one (yes, I know some of you will have 150± students you see every day), greeting students at the classroom door with a smile and maybe a high five, and smile whenever possible. As a teacher, remember that students don’t care what you know until they know that you care and have a fantastic school year.

Further Reading
  1. Education Week – Calming Those Back-to-School Jitters
  2. News-Press – 5 tips for a great first day of school
  3. Omaha dot com – First day of school is a challenge for teachers, too
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