As you are beginning to think about returning to school, I have a suggestion that can drastically impact your year (and it's simple): brainstorm questions to ask your students.
The kids right in front of us often have the most useful information within them -- information that can help us reach and teach them, help us engage them, and that can help us have a fantastic year together.
What to Ask?
Here are several of my favorite questions to ask kids of all ages:
- What would be the most useful thing for me to know about you as a student?
- What do you wish was different about school?
- Describe a moment in school last year when you felt really engaged. Why do you think that moment was such a positive one for you?
- What do you think teachers think about you, and what do you wish they'd think about you?
- Tell me about a teacher who you feel knew you well. What kind of student were you in his or her class? What did he or she do to get to know you?
- If you could build a school, what would it look like?
- What do you wish I would ask you so that I can be a good teacher for you?
- What makes a weekend day great for you?
When we ask questions, and when we're genuinely curious about what students say, we are communicating an authentic desire to get to know who they are beyond their test scores and beyond what other teachers may share. The questioning and the quiet listening communicate our care for our students.
There are many ways you can go about getting responses to your questions. Ideally, sit with each of your students for five minutes or so during the first week of school and listen to them. That one-to-one contact can be a powerful opportunity to connect.
If you teach dozens, or hundreds of students, then this will be hard. Surveys can work to collect this information, although you do need to do something so that kids know you've read -- and heard -- their survey responses. When I taught middle school, I shared summaries of the data I collected with the whole class, such as, "65 percent of you wish that teachers didn't give homework." This is a way of validating student responses.
What's most important, perhaps, is that when you ask students questions, you ask with an open heart and an open mind -- willing to listen to whatever they say, as well as willing to listen for what's not said. Many of our older students have had enough negative experiences in school for them to feel that teachers don't listen to them. This could be the year when you change that for them. Everyone deserves to be listened to, and listening is a powerful way to connect with others.