Welcome to the New School Year


It’s the beginning of another school year–something like my 15th start of the school year as a teacher (or teacher of teachers) and my 10th start of the school year as a mother.  I decided to start this school year with a 20-day blogging challenge, inspired by my friend Wes Kriessel of Santa Ana Unified School District who, with his colleagues, began this challenge to make the 21st century learning they’re doing more transparent and public. I believe in transparency and being public with my work and my writing so I thought, “Why not?” They will be blogging 8-12 times a day for 20-days.  I am committing to blogging at least once a day, more as I’m able, but time, it is precious, and thinking time, it is rare, particularly when my kids start school after I do.

For this post, I wanted to focus on welcoming students to the school year.  Every semester, a couple weeks before our classes begin, I send out an introductory e-mail and invite students to check out our course website on the university’s learning management system.  I also ask them to begin connecting to myself and one another through an introductions discussion board prompt.  The basic prompt is simple: Tell us your name, your twitter handle, your content area, a little about yourself. Then, depending on the course, I’ll ask a topic-relevant question: What inspires you about teaching? What was the last thing you read that really stuck with you? What’s your experience with educational research?

It’s slow-going at first, sometimes no one responds until the last few days before (or the day before, or the day of) class, and often students won’t start responding to one another without some prompting, but this welcome is an important part of creating classroom community in each of my courses.  It helps me to know a bit about my students before I meet them in person, and it gives them a sense of who I am as a teacher/professor.  I’m a community builder and I like how technology supports face-to-face communities.  At the post-secondary level, I think it’s critical that students know who they’re dealing with so that they can make an informed choice about whether my pedagogical style aligns with their learning goals.

As a teacher/professor, I believe it’s critical to know our students and build community.  As a mom, I’m hopeful that, as my son starts school this week, his teacher(s) will also make as much of an effort to know him as an individual. Without knowing our students as individuals and where they are coming in related to our courses and curriculum, we can’t begin the work of growth and development that meets their needs.

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