Ah, new beginnings. A chance to wipe the slate clean, set new goals, and begin again.

And there’s no time to start fresh like the start of a new school year!

Veteran teachers know the importance of setting the tone for the school year right from the get-go. The first day of class, like first impressions, can make an impact that lasts far beyond the first exchange.

Here are a few long-time Concordia University Wisconsin professors who have mastered the first-day experience, according to students. These professors’ introductions share a common thread of helping students immediately forge meaningful connections with their teachers and classmates. At Concordia, that relationship-building is paramount. It’s kind of what we’re known for.

Dr. Ferguson

Now in his 31st year of teaching, Dr. Randy Ferguson starts most every class he teaches by directing three questions at each student: 1) How do you prefer to be addressed? 2) What is your hometown? 3) Share something quirky about yourself.

While on the surface it might seem simple, the beauty of the model is in Dr. Ferguson’s deep-rooted and far-reaching personal repertoire of connections. On questions 2 and 3, Ferguson successfully connects himself to most every new student who passes through his classroom door—through a shared acquaintance, shared experience in their hometown, or earned insight into their upbringing from previous exchanges.

The result: students immediately felt known. And that’s exactly the intention.

“I aim to create a safe and intimate atmosphere in which I hope students will share with me throughout the semester what they are thinking and feeling,” says Ferguson. “This is important because we learn from and with one another. I’m not a sage on the stage simply throwing information at my students.”

Dr. Paavola

Similarly, Dr. Daniel Paavola has a sure-fire method for helping students feel at ease in his presence. He begins his semester by drawing a circle with seven to nine facts, details, or interests about his life around it (e.g. He lived in the 400-person town of Butternut, or he loves motorcycles). He then asks students to find at least one place on the circle where their lives meet.

Without fail, every student in the class finds a connecting point.

“It’s amazing that, no matter what our background is, we all can find some commonalities,” says Paavola. “When you begin from a place of likeness, I find that it opens the door to so much more beyond that.”

Dr. Paape and Dr. Juergensen

Dr. Adam Paape and Dr. Jim Juergensen Jr. team-teach ED4339, “The Art & Science of Instruction.” They set the tone for their senior Secondary/K12 education students with a little speed dating—or rather, speed acquainting.

Students sit across from one peer at a time to respond to prompts thrown at them before one side shifts to the right to find a new discussion partner. Prompts range from the light-hearted (Take turns sharing a photo from your cell phone that shows a great moment from your summer.) to the more philosophical (Why do we give assessments in our classes?). Scattered throughout are devotional thoughts and randomly selected whole-class shares.

“Even though this class is for senior education students, many of them haven’t been together in classes yet,” Paape says. “I find this exercise to be a great tone-setter for the semester—collaborative conversations with peers, individually and as a whole.” 



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You can build relationships with CUW professors! Find a program that’s the right fit for you. Visit our program page to learn more.

— This story is written by Kali Thiel, director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at kali.thiel@cuw.edu or 262-243-2149.

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