Building Relationships in the Early Days of School in the Service of Learning

Bena Kallick and Allison Zmuda

Bena Kallick and Allison Zmuda are authors, friends, and colleagues. They co-authored the 2017 book, Students at the Center: Personalized Learning with Habits of Mind.


Who is in your classroom matters. To build relationships in the service of learning, we need to better understand who they are, where they come from, what their interests are, and what they dream about or aspire to do.

The following reflective prompts were adapted from Shanna Peeples’ fabulous book Think Like Socrates: Using Questions to Invite Wonder and Empathy into the Classroom and annotated by us to reveal more about who your students are so that you can:

  • Know them as they see themselves
  • Learn more about their strengths and the contributions they can make to the classroom culture
  • Provide a scaffold for co-creating ideas and questions that might lead to investigations
  • Find connections between their lives, interests and aspirations and the academic content of the class

Possible Writing Prompts:

  • What name do you want me to use for you? This signals that you want to be respectful of the student’s identity.
  • What are you looking forward to learning this year? This provides a lens into interests.
  • Who would you like me to call when I have good news about you to share? Please write their names and phone numbers. This shows the student that you intend to celebrate their success.
  • What are you good at inside of school? This gives students a chance to tell you something about where they are with their learning.
  • What are you good at outside of school? This gives you information about their other interests.
  • What was the last book, movie,TV show, or song you really liked? Why did you like it? Knowing how to facilitate making connections.
  • What’s easiest about school for you?
  • What’s hardest about school for you?
  • When you are having a tough time, what are the signs?
  • How does it feel to see your classmates again?
  • What would your friends say about you?
  • What would you like me to know about you? This is a way of inviting in what might usually remain hidden.
  • If you could study anything, what would you want to know more about? A good question to get at where there might be a passion for learning.
  • What questions do you have for me? (I will personally respond back to you.) This is a nice way to feel a sense of mutuality in the enterprise.

Add for older students…
Please share your schedule with me so I better understand what your day is like.

  • Wake up:
  • Responsibilities before school:
  • Responsibilities after school:
  • Time when you start homework:
  • Time you go to sleep:

Many teachers use a variation of some of these questions to connect the personal to the academic. Consider using some at different times of the school year. Or, perhaps, ask the same question two or three times to see if there is a change in interests or successes.

We would love to hear from you about how you get to know your students in the first days of school. What questions do you ask or activities do you use to build relationships?

Email your ideas to grow the ideas of the Learning Personalized community!

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