August is here and some are already back in the classroom or perhaps like me you are preparing activities to engage students that foster a sense of excitement and inquiry for your classes. We each have the unique opportunity and challenge to set clear expectations and goals these first days. But more importantly, we need to establish a sense of community in our classroom by developing connections and facilitating collaborations among a large number of diverse learners.
To efficiently learn about my students, I use a "Get to Know Me.." questionnaire as one of my first assignments. I have learned to include three short open-ended questions. The first simply is an optional question that allows students to share with me whatever they think I should know. It always amazes me, what they choose to share when provided a blank script. The second, the students share a question that they would they like to have answered as a result of taking my class. This sets the tone, that each learner arrives with their own understandings that I intend to acknowledge. Lastly, and more specific to our discipline, prompts students to share any personal connection or sensitivity to a Natural Disaster or event. The recent devastating and fatal fires in Hawaii certainly prompt a teachable moment about Earth systems, but I also need to prepare for the human connections and the emotional toll that these events incur. While the beginning of the school year provides a unique opportunity to establish expectations and elicit excitement, I must also prepare for engaging the social-emotional needs of my students.
Earth systems learning always includes direct or indirect conversations about impacts to families and communities. Fire, flood, earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes are all abrupt and devastating. Many of our students are anticipating more of these events will occur as a result of Earth's warming climate. I'm reminded about that from a number of my student's questions gathered from my "Get to Know Me.." form.
Some actions I will use to better understand the social/emotional connections of my students:
1. Look to the professional resources available to me, such as the guidance department or child-study team. Ask about my student roster and find out what services are available to support students emotional reactions to your classroom topics and discussions.
2. Reach out to parents ahead of time to share the topics I will be tackling in class and encourage them to ask their child at home about their reaction to the class topic and discussion.
3. Use formative assessment methods such as exit tickets and journals to not simply prompt for information, but instead inquire about personal reactions and/or affective empathy. These can be used to engage students with important metacognitive tools.
While I truly look forward to the beginning of each year my heart hurts for the Hawaiian community. If you are interested in continuing this discussion, please reach out. I'm happy to help you connect. I wish you each of you the best start of new school year!
Onward to 2023-2024!