Questions to Ask All Students as the School Year Starts and Proceeds

By Maurice J. Elias, Ph.D., coauthor of Boost Emotional Intelligence in Students: 30 Flexible Research-Based Activities to Build EQ Skills (Grades 5–9)

Questions to Ask All Students as the School Year Starts and ProceedsRobert Brooks has been a voice for humanism, caring, and the value of bouncing back for many years. He regularly gives away his wisdom. On his web page, he provides over 150 free articles, the majority of which are of great interest and value to teachers and parents.

Brooks believes that resilience and motivation come from having a sense of purpose, believing you have value to others, and engaging in acts of service that confirm that value. When these point in a positive direction, students gain momentum and positive accomplishments; when they are not positive, we see downward spirals and increasing distance from college, career, community, and life success.

Things We Should Know About All Our Students

Brooks also believes that there are some things we should know about all our students, because knowing these things will greatly influence our teaching. Some of these questions are essential to address at the start of school; others are best posed after students settle in a bit. And others are ongoing questions to show concern for students and monitor how they are feeling and managing.

Here are some examples.

Immediate Start-of-School Questions

  • What helps you feel welcomed?
  • How do you like to be greeted?
  • What strengths do you bring to the classroom? To the school?
  • What do you like most about school so far? What would you like to see changed?

Settling-In Questions

  • When do you feel competent? How often do you feel competent?
  • When do you feel you are being listened to?
  • When do you feel your voice is respected?
  • When do you feel cared for and about?
  • When do you get a chance to be a leader?
  • When do you feel safest/unsafest?
  • When do you laugh at school?

Ongoing Questions

  • What is your contribution to the school?
  • Who believes you can succeed?
  • What happens in school that makes you afraid? Frustrated? Defeated?
  • When do you feel challenged and supported?
  • What inspires you in school?
  • Who helps you bounce back from setbacks?
  • Who is always happy to speak with you?
  • When do you feel it’s okay to make a mistake or to show that you don’t know something or don’t know how to do something?

These questions can and should be adapted for students of all ages, because they are as relevant to college students as they are to preschoolers. Knowing the answers allows us to create positive conditions for learning.

Strategy for Asking Questions at the Start of the Year and Throughout

You can put the “Immediate Start-of-School” questions on index cards and ask students to write their answers on the other side, perhaps doing one per day during the first week of school. Another approach is to create a survey and ask students to respond; responses can be anonymous or not.

A more interactive approach is to use a “morning meeting” format and start the school day by having students discuss their responses to several of these questions in small groups and then share their group’s responses with the class.

The “Settling-In” questions can be addressed in similar ways during the second and third weeks of school.

The remaining questions are of ongoing importance—not that the first questions should be forgotten! It often takes a few weeks before students get a clear sense of their answers to these questions. By then, they should know who believes they can succeed, who is always happy to speak to them, who helps them bounce back, and so on.

Maurice EliasMaurice J. Elias, Ph.D., is a professor and former director of clinical training in the Department of Psychology, Rutgers University. He is also director of the Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab, academic director of the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service, and founding member of the Leadership Team for the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). Dr. Elias lectures nationally and internationally and devotes his research and writing to the area of social-emotional and character development in children, schools, and families. He is a licensed psychologist and writes a blog on social-emotional and character development for the George Lucas Educational Foundation at Edutopia. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, Ellen, near their children and grandchildren.

Boost Emotional Intelligence in StudentsMaurice is coauthor of Boost Emotional Intelligence in Students: 30 Flexible Research-Based Activities to Build EQ Skills.

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