Leadership is not as much about
knowing the right answers, as it is about knowing
the right questions!
-Bob Tiede

Guest Post by Howard Pitler

It’s that time again – time to think about that very first day of school and how you greet your class on day one. How will you begin to create an environment for risk and creativity? Will your students be greeted by rules and “thou shalt nots”, or by questions that set the stage for thinking and risking? Here are six questions you should think about asking on day one.

  1. What are you passionate about?

Ask students to think about their true passion. It is very possible their passion is something outside of the classroom. Knowing what they are passionate about will help you better relate to them as people and as learners. It might also just give you a key to unlocking their learning. How will you relate what they need to learn in school to what they are passionate about? That’s a real key to engaging learners.

  1. How do you want to be recognized?

Not all learners want to be recognized in the same manner. What motivates one will not motivate all. Just as students have differing learning styles, they also have differing preferences for recognition. A star or sticker on the forehead might be exactly what Jon wants while a quiet aside to Ben will keep him motivated. How will you know which buttons to push for each student? Start on day one by asking them as part of a short survey. Be sure to record their responses in your plan book for reference throughout the year.

  1. What do you see as your greatest strength?

Over 14 million people have used the Gallup Strength Finder survey to help their businesses and organizations focus on their employee’s strengths. The idea is to focus on your strengths as a means for growth rather then dwelling on your shortcomings. Your classroom can do the same. Every student has their own strength, but too often what they hear most about are their shortcomings. If you want to support and encourage a growth mindset in your class, change the focus from the negative to the positive. Also, knowing what students see as their strengths will help you as you build cooperative or small group work groups.

  1. What name do you want used when calling on you in class?

The name on your official role might not be the name the student prefers. If a boy is called Scooter by his family and friends and wants to be called Scooter in class, make that happen. A person’s name is just about the most personal thing they have. Of course, nicknames have limits and classroom appropriateness has to be maintained.

  1. What will a successful school year look and feel like at the end of the year?

Building an environment conducive to learn begins with setting clear learning intentions. When teachers set clear learning intentions for unit and lesson plans it helps students gain a clear understanding of what they are expected to know, understand, and be able to do. Asking students to focus on their future helps them establish learning goals and priorities for the coming school year. Just as a teacher should review learning goals during and at the end of a lesson, have your students review their progress to their personal learning goals at the end of each quarter and the end of the school year.

  1. What are the characteristics or attributes you want in a teacher?

Begin by talking with your students about your favorite teacher and the things that made that teacher memorable for you. Then ask them to think about a teacher or other adult they found memorable so far. What were his or her characteristics? Use the various descriptions of your students’ ideal teacher as a personal reflective tool. What to they list as the top five to seven attributes collectively, and how do you see yourself as related to those attributes. Are their some areas you might want to work on to be the best teacher for this specific class?

I know there has to be time to set ground rules and expectations, but that can wait a day. Begin with reflective questions and lots of smiles. The advice you were given in some undergraduate class about beginning tough and strict and easing up throughout the year is misguided. Begin by setting an environment of reflection and support. Always remember that students don’t care what you know until they know that you care and have a fantastic school year.

Note from Bob:  These are not only great questions for teachers to ask students on Day One – these are also great questions for Leaders to ask new employees on Day One!

Howard Pitler


Dr. Howard Pitler has been an educator for over 43 years, serving as a teacher and principal in Wichita, Kansas, and a consultant and Chief Program Officer with McREL International. He was named the National Distinguished Principal by NASSP and is an Apple Distinguished Educator.  He is currently teaching in the Teachers College at Emporia State University and the teacher prep program at Wichita State University. He can be reached at hpitler@gmail.com


The Paradox of Persuasion: Shut Up


Three Simple Questions to Sharpen Your Goal Setting Skills

Excerpted from Chapter 16 of “Now That’s A Great Question.”     In the 50’s the...

At 63, Bill Gates says he now asks himself these 3 questions that he wouldn’t have in his 20s

Guest Post by Marcel Schwantes “These would have been laughable to me when I was 25, but as I get...

Why Should Leaders Ask Questions?

Guest Post by Sandy Chernoff Many leaders hesitate to ask questions because they fear it might make them...

The Power of Influence

Note from Bob:  I was recently privileged to be Mark P. Fisher’s Guest for two episodes on his...

The Power of Asking Questions: 7 Ways Questions are More Powerful Than Answers

Guest Post by Ken Downer How can asking questions be more powerful than answering them? In the effort to...

When Your Most Motivated Employees Become Quiet!

Guest Post by Brigette Hyacinth My new boss told me to never be afraid to give feedback. The next Monday...