Teachers Share Tips on Getting to Know Students at the Start of the School Year

With back to school season in full swing across the country, we wanted to share stories from two teachers filled with tips to get to know students better during the first few weeks of the school year. Kimberly Williams and Suzanne Rogers both used Panorama’s Get to Know You survey, a free research-backed tool, to build strong relationships with their students. They’re among the more than 3,000 teachers that have used the survey with 30,000 students!

The Get to Know You survey builds on research from Panorama’s Director of Research Dr. Hunter Gehlbach showing that positive teacher-student relationships are critical for students’ engagement, sense of belonging, and overall well-being at school.

Below, these teachers share how they’ve used the survey in the past, and how they’re planning to get more teachers and district administrators involved.

Kimberly Williams — Smithtown, NY

Kimberly Williams is a high school marine science teacher at Smithtown High School in New York. She used the Get to Know You survey with a small group of students last year and plans to use it with all her students this year. She told us more about her experience and what she has planned for the year ahead here:

Last school year, I had to miss the first three days of school — and those are crucial days to get to know your students. Before the year started, I found the free Get to Know You survey and thought it would be a great tool to use in my absence so I could still learn more about my students.

I planned to have the survey available on the Chromebooks that all students would receive on the first day of school, so my substitute teacher could simply point students to the link. Unfortunately the Chromebooks weren’t ready on time, so she had to improvise. She provided students with the link to the survey and instructions to complete it on their own time from home or the library.

While I wished I could have seen results for all my students, I did learn some really important things even from a small group! In all, about 25 of my students took the survey on their own — and these students wound up being some of my most proactive learners.

The survey results also gave me a great reference point for conversation topics with the students that completed it. I remember seeing in the results that one of my students was interested in music and theater, so when auditions for the school play were coming up I asked him if he was planning to audition. I’m excited to have even more conversation opportunities like this when I use the survey again.

This year, I plan to use the survey with all my classes on the first day of school. Since my students will be journaling this year, I’ll make sure they talk about the survey there and reflect on what they’ve learned. When I see all the results, I’ll use them as talking points to get to know my students even better.

My advice to other teachers using this survey would be to send the survey to your students before the school year starts if possible! I would be so excited to know more about my students’ personalities and learning styles before they even walk in the door on the first day, so if that opportunity is available to you I’d suggest it.

Even if that’s not possible for you, setting aside 20 to 30 minutes to review all the results from your students will be extremely helpful in setting you up for great teacher-students relationships throughout the year!

Suzanne Rogers — Little Rock, Arkansas

Suzanne Rogers is an Arkansas-based educator, where she serves as Director of Professional Development, AP Teacher, and ELA Coach at LISA Academy in Little Rock. Ms. Rogers wrote about her experience with the Get to Know You survey on her blog, and shared some more details on using the tool in the classroom with us:

We all realize that we come to school with our personal bias baggage. What can we do?

We can get to know the students we have in our classes. Panorama has graciously created a survey freely available to all teachers based on the research by Dr. Hunter Gehlbach and Carly Robinson.

Their study — Creating Birds of a Feather: The Potential of Similarity to Connect Teachers and Students — was published recently by the American Enterprise Institute. In it, Gehlbach, an associate education professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Director of Research at Panorama Education, and Robinson, a doctoral student at Harvard University, explore possible solutions to the teacher-student diversity gap. Their intervention was simply to show teachers things they had in common with each student.

The surprising results reflected black and Latino students’ course grades improved significantly, closing the usual racial gap in grades by about 65 percent.

I routinely create a similar survey for my students. The difference is the additional steps that Gehlbach and Robinson suggest and Panorama provide in the Get to Know You Survey.

I quickly signed up for the tool and shared the join code with my AP English students via Google Classroom. I talked with them about the survey and about the research supporting the survey, and they were as intrigued as I was.

I am enamored by the results provided so far and, in particular, by the reflection requested. Not only do I receive five things I have in common with my students, I am asked to reflect on which of those five will help me build a better relationship with each student. I’m using my survey results and reflections to adjust my practice.

Our school is committed to doing what is best for our students, so I shared the survey sign up page with all of our district administrators and all of our ELA teachers on this campus to encourage them to use it as well.

Simply lovely.

Photo courtesy Kimberly Williams

This post originally appeared on Panorama’s blog.