Teachers strive to start the school year with an engaging activity.1 To capture students’ attention and set the right tone, teachers have to plan accordingly. For many teachers, this means getting to know their students by creating opportunities to open up in writing or discussion.
Engaging students in discussion is an excellent way to learn about them. Jumping right into an activity that gets your learners excited and engaged demonstrates that you want them to be active learners who work together to solve problems and make discoveries.
Start by Solving a Problem
It is easy to start the school year with an explanation of the classroom rules and norms, but instead, consider beginning with the students working to solve a problem together. Allowing them to create community while engaging in a meaningful activity will make developing and implementing classroom expectations easier. Students will see their peers as partners in successful learning.2
Using the Shared Inquiry™ skills of questioning, fostering collaboration, seeking to understand, and being curious, teachers set the tone that this classroom is a space where students will work together. Students will solve problems and make bold claims supported by evidence. School administrators can use the same approach when organizing the first teacher’s meeting of the year.
How Administrators Can Shift the Vibe
Imagine the tone/vibe shift in a faculty meeting where the administration provides a safe, brave space that allows teachers to explore possible solutions and share what matters to them. When school administrators take the same approach as teachers take with their students, teachers are engaged in a collaborative effort. Teachers walking in on the first day to an active workshop where peers discuss the upcoming challenges and solutions for the year will be more likely to support the administration in their efforts.
To make the vibe shift, administrators should consider the following guidelines:
- Consider leading a discussion of a short text based on a theme you may want to explore. Here are some texts from Junior Great Books® (and related themes) that we think you will find are wonderfully discussable for teachers and administrators:
- “The Gold Coin” by Alma Flor Ada (Theme: Kindness)
- “Thank You, M’am” by Langston Hughes (Theme: Trust)
- “At work with my father” by Eve L. Ewing (Theme: Family relationships)
You can download any or all of these three texts here!
- Lead the discussion yourself (don’t ask a teacher to do it). Teachers usually have to lead the discussion with their students. It can help reinvigorate their love of discussion and Shared Inquiry to be on the other side of the desk.
- Use a seating chart to keep track of the discussion ideas and suggestions. Use it as a tool to make sure you have heard from everyone. The quieter voices need space to be heard.Download this handy seating chart to keep track of participation in your discussion.
- Feel free to use the provided focus questions from the sample lesson plans. These questions are field-tested and will reliably promote rich discussion. However, you can lead with your curiosity and genuine interest in the staff’s answers and let these answers guide the course of your discussion. Be sure to ask follow-up questions to allow the team to fully develop their ideas and provide evidence to support their thinking.
- Introduce topics related to the theme of the text being discussed. But be sure you have established the tone of the discussion as a collaborative space where all involved are looking for answers to the questions the text supports before you make the shift. Using the text as a bridge to talking about other issues can be a helpful way to establish a collaborative approach for the new school year.
Trusting your teachers and encouraging them to participate in the discussion will help create a school environment that welcomes all.
Inquiry-Based Learning for Your Educators
Whether you are new to the Shared Inquiry method of learning or have been using it with Junior Great Books programs for some time, we have professional development to support you! We are dedicated to helping educators learn, practice, and master inquiry-based teaching strategies to use in English language arts and across the curriculum. Visit our new Shared Inquiry Learning Center to address all of your professional learning needs, or schedule a brief meeting with your K–12 partnership manager today.
- Virginia Education Association, “33 Ways to Start the First Year Off Right.” National Education Association, 2002.
- Emma Chiappetta, “Using Problem-Solving to Build Community From Day 1.” Edutopia, July 13, 2022.