Building a culture of curiosity that lasts all year

by | 10.15.21

Emily House is a middle school teacher in Iowa. Follow her on Twitter @emilysparkles.

Kids need to know who you are before they will really give you who they are. I think that’s a common belief among my fellow educators, but when I first started teaching, I don’t think I went about introducing myself in a way that aligned with my student-centered values.

I used to start the year with a massive slideshow about myself. But over time, I realized: Of course my students want to know who I am, but they want to learn about me through the way I interact with them, and through our authentic conversations. 

I take a slow approach, focused on relationship-building, in our first days together – and now my strategy for making those connections is more inquiry-based. At the beginning of the school year, I have a “unit zero,” and it’s about building a sense of belonging in our classroom. We spend three to five days just getting to know each other and beginning to open our minds together. I might say, “Look around the room. What does the artwork make you think? What have you heard about me and my class? What does that make you think?” As questions come up, I can share what they want to know.

These small moments aren’t just about exchanging information. We’re building habits and norms: We talk to each other, we ask questions, we notice and wonder together. And then we pull these habits into our learning, turning our curiosity toward our content and asking more questions: How do we handle hard information? New information? How do we do it respectfully?

Students learn who we are as we share our values, treat them with dignity, let ourselves be open with them, and communicate that we are interested in their learning journey. The more we show who we are, the more they’ll trust us – and the more they will learn.

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