Rob Denton is a Graduate Teaching Associate in Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology. He has facilitated at UCAT’s Teaching Orientation for the past two years.

“Hi Megan, I’m Rob.
Hi Jordan, I’m Rob. Have you met Megan?
Hi Katherine, I’m Rob. Have you met Megan and Jordan?
Hi Marcus, I’m Rob. Have you met Megan, Jordan, and Katherine?”

It sounded like a silly idea for an icebreaker. On the first day of class, don’t just introduce yourself to your students, introduce yourself to each student and then to the rest of the class. One by one. Every student. All the names.

I learned this idea from other experienced Graduate Teaching Assistants as part of my training to be a facilitator for UCAT’s yearly Teaching Orientation event. Particularly, I thought more about icebreakers than I ever imagined during this training. This yearly, three-day workshop is a chance for new Teaching Associates at Ohio State get the basics of establishing their classrooms and an expectation for what teaching means to Ohio State. The facilitators who run these sessions are like me, other graduate students and instructors who have developed a commitment and passion for teaching. These experienced instructors are tasked with guiding new teachers to their first day of teaching feeling comfortable and confident.

When a fellow instructor suggested the “meet and greet” icebreaker that he used in his classroom, I could feel the room full of experienced teachers shrink with embarrassment as they imagined the pressure of quickly memorizing every student’s name. To me though, the idea was perfect.

The idea of introducing yourself to each student as they walked in the door was just the opposite of what students might expect. Normally, students envision the details of a syllabus and a moment to state their name and major.  The meet and greet is unexpected, putting students in a different frame of mind right as they enter the door. It was a clear signal to students: I was going to be active, we were going to talk to each other, and that it was okay to feel silly.

Inspired by my colleague, I excitedly modeled the meet and greet to the orientation participants on the first day of Teaching Orientation… and I bombed it. Everyone laughed, but everyone knew what to expect from me for the rest of the workshop: an instructor who was ready to try something new and unexpected to get students engaged.

As facilitators, we are asked to share our experience and promote confidence in new teachers at Ohio State. But in reality, we have a big secret. We are actually there to learn, not teach. The training to be a facilitator and the interactions with orientation participants are some of the most effective ways I have learned new techniques and perspectives on teaching. Each facilitator and participant brings something new and beneficial to the table: different departments, different styles, and different experiences. When you put all of these individuals in a room and ask “What works for you?”, you are bound to learn something new that you can’t wait to use in your own teaching.

If you would like to take the opportunity to learn more about your own teaching, applications to be a Teaching Orientation Facilitator are due on February 13. Apply here.