It’s a new year: Be aggressive!

A new school year has recently started. And some of us will be starting out at new schools or in new roles at our old schools. For all of us facing a new dawn and a new day, I want to recommend that we be aggressive.

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me…

–Nina Simone

A new school year has recently started, or is about to start for all of us. And some of us will be starting out at new schools or in new roles at our old schools. For all of us facing a new dawn and a new day, I want to recommend that we be aggressive.

We all suffer trepidation when we move into a new environment: Will my supervisors understand my teaching method? Will my method blend well with the school mission and vision? Will the parents “get” what is going on in my classroom? Will my students reject my teaching method in favor of that of their previous teacher? Reflection is fine, but stalling for too long at the beginning of the year is time wasted in learning limbo. Assume that what you bring to your new situation will benefit your students, and you will find through engagement that it does.

At the same time, be gentle in your aggression. You want to be aggressive in good faith, not the inflexible new know-it-all. Try to also assume that your new situation will bring benefits to you: bet on serendipity.

In my case, I just moved from a small sleepy suburban school in southern Brazil to a large academically rigorous school in Beijing, China. In Brazil, as the learning and innovation coach, I had free-reign to design my classes and experiment with various learning methods, so I was naturally worried about how my new community—generally in favor of direct instructional methods as many traditional Asian communities are—would react to the techniques I had developed over the past few years.

Here’s what I did, and what I recommend anyone in a similar situation do:

Enlist your students

I believe strongly in the construction of a social contract with my students wherein they serve an apprenticeship as democratic stakeholders through the experience of negotiating for increasing control over their learning. Soon after meeting me they learn the class must form committees to establish homework deadlines, assessment dates, learning methods and the use of class time. Their rights and responsibilities are outlined clearly on a course website, and are subject to amendment through deliberation. Realizing they have an element of control over what is happening to them allays worries that can otherwise overwhelm students moving from a traditional classroom system to a blended learning model with a high degree of individualized instruction and autonomous study. –This is especially true when they retain rights over the scheduling and composition of their assessments.

Engage your parents

Back to school night is key. Try to find a way to simulate the workings of the class for your visitors. Run your parents through a mini-lesson on the syllabus, content of your course and your style of teaching that gives them a brief taste of the learning their children will experience. Convince a small or large group of parents to sit where they feel most comfortable, spread out and use the class sofa and pillows, and then have a discussion-based introduction to the course. Trust me, the attraction to desks in rows will soon become less apparent to them.

Also, make sure you keep a class blog (or a similar platform for presenting evidence of learning) and use it at least every two weeks. When guardians are kept in the loop and see their children in action, they become less concerned that their sons and daughters are climbing across furniture to draw pictures on the wall or using their phones to share work via Twitter, Instagram and Evernote.

Educate your administrators

Who doesn’t like the sound of that, eh? But seriously, educating your administrators on how you educate is the keystone of a successfully communicated transition. Students, parents and colleagues will question your administrators frequently about your teaching, and in the age of modern, individualized and dynamic learning drop-ins and lesson plans are not enough to go on. So, get your supervisors in your corner early and make sure they know all your moves down to your ducks and jabs. Try to keep them in your room long enough to get a thorough impression of your teaching: when my new principal and AP both stepped in for a ten-minute drop-in during my first week, I made sure to invite them back for a full observation the following week so that they saw more than one of my activities in isolation. They were happy to oblige, and through the additional observation time and our post-observation conversations I feel confident they understand why they may sometimes find my kids sprawled on the ground or posturing unsupervised in the student lounge re-enacting scenes from Gallipoli.

Realize also that your administrators are busy people and grabbing them in the first few weeks not only establishes early understanding for the entire year, but may also be the only chance you have to grab them at all. However, if you can’t pin them down for a face-to-face observation, a dedicated Youtube channel can do wonders—but so can a bulletin board highlighting the process your latest PBL endeavors and displaying the results! And, of course, whenever you do capture evidence of learning and teaching on camera, be sure (if so permitted by your institution) to embed those videos into your board, blog or website.

It’s a new beginning: merge your old world and your new world into a bold world. And feel good.


Sleep in peace when day is done: that’s what I mean,

And this old world is a new world and a bold world for me

And I’m feelin’…good. 

  • AnneJolly

    Great ideas!
    You’ve doing a great job of outlining some traits of a real teacher leader, William. You knew what needed to happen for your students, and you devised a plan to help it happen successfully.

    Actually, I wouldn’t necessarily refer to your approach as “aggressive.” I’d refer to it as knowledgeable and confident.

    I’d like to know the outcome. Did you use those effective teaching styles? Did the students, teachers, and administrators respond positively?

    I just love it when teachers find ways to do the right thing!

    • wjtolley

      Hi Anne, 

      Hi Anne, 

      I did indeed follow the exact plan I laid out on the post and things went brilliantly. My new administrators were pleased to see that I was both conscious of the process and aware of the burdens on their time. The kids, after the usual confusion, have adapted positively and I already have them asking for more “fractal instruction” than lecture. They’ve bought in!