New Teachers: You’re Allowed to Experiment

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In our New Teachers Series, we share tricks and tips from Robyn Jackson, an expert on professional development for educators. All of these tips and more can be found in Jackson’s latest book, You Can Do This: Hope and Help for New Teachers.

In this excerpt from Chapter 1, Jackson encourages new teachers to take greater risks and stop striving for perfection.


You’re Allowed to Experiment

When you first start teaching, you want to do everything perfectly. We all do. We’re so afraid to make a mistake or do something wrong that we stick to the book. But you’ll never figure out your own teaching mojo if you do. The only way to find out what works for you is to try a lot of ideas until you find the ones that fit.

Once I started experimenting, I was able to find my own way. In fact, some of my best teaching ideas started as experiments in the classroom. Even today, experimenting is the way that I develop new and better teaching strategies as a consultant. Along the way, I’ve learned a few lessons on how to experiment successfully:

  1. Always start with a problem you are trying to solve. There is no point to experimenting for experimenting’s sake. Instead, root any experiment in a problem. That way, you’ll know whether your experiment was successful by whether it resolved the problem.

  2. Focus on the root cause. Once you identify the problem you want to solve, try to figure out what the root cause of the problem is rather than get distracted by some of its symptoms. For instance, my students weren’t responding to the comments on their papers and improving from one paper to the next. It would have been easy to think that they weren’t responding simply because they were being lazy, but that would have been a superficial analysis on my part. The real reason they weren’t responding to my comments was that they didn’t know how. Once I realized that was the root cause, I could come up with a solution that would really make a difference. If you are unsure of the root cause, spend some time reflecting on your challenge either in writing or with a trusted colleague. Alternatively, ask your students to tell you what they think the real problem is.

  3. Do your research first. Now that you understand the root cause, look around to see if anyone has already come up with a solution. Check with your colleagues, online, and in books, or visit the educational research. Perhaps you can alter something you find or use something you find as a catalyst for creating your own solution.

  4. Try something and see whether it works. Now you’re ready to experiment, but your experiment is more likely to yield fruit because you have thought things through ahead of time.

  5. Reflect. After you experiment, think about not only the effect it had on your students but how it felt to you as well. Were you comfortable? Did it fit in with your emerging teaching style? Did it feel right? Do you need to tweak it somehow? Reflect either alone or with a mentor or other trusted colleague and record your thoughts.

  6. Make adjustments and try it again. Once you’ve taken time to think things through, tweak the parts that didn’t quite work, throw out the parts that utterly failed, and save the best parts to combine with other teaching strategies or use on their own. Then, as soon as you can, try it again and repeat the process until you have something that works for you.

So go ahead. Experiment. You won’t break anything. Sometimes your experiment will be a smashing success. Other times it will be an abject failure. That ’s okay. That’s how you figure out what works for you and your students. The beauty of teaching is that if your experiment fails, there is always tomorrow. You can try again.

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ABOUT THE BOOK:

You Can Do This: Hope and Help for New TeachersHope is on the way!

Buy NowIn this down-to-earth, inspirational book, bestselling author Robyn Jackson offers encouragement and real-world advice for navigating those difficult years as a beginning teacher. Sharing stories from her own humbling first years as a new teacher, Robyn helps you tackle challenges such as motivating students, planning effective lessons, building relationships with parents, bouncing back from embarrassing mistakes, and finding your own authority as a teacher. With candor and a good deal of wit, she gently guides you to develop your own teaching style and, ultimately, to find your own path toward mastery.

“This is the most powerful and valuable heart-to-heart talk any new teacher could get. Every chapter peels back more and more secrets to thriving that only master teacher Robyn Jackson could share.”

—Eric Jensen, author, Enriching the Brain, Turnaround Tools for the Teenage Brain, and Teaching with Poverty in Mind

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