Taking risks is never easy, especially when it comes to something as fundamental as teaching. It takes courage to try a new instructional model, strategy, or technology tool, especially when it means relinquishing control and empowering students to take charge of their learning. But what happens when the lesson doesn’t go as planned and students don’t respond as anticipated?

As a coach, I’ve witnessed hundreds of lessons unfold and seen firsthand what sets successful teachers apart when trying new teaching methods. If you or someone you know is embarking on a new teaching journey, fear not. With the following tips and strategies, you can confidently navigate the pitfalls and turn your classroom into a place of growth and learning.

Start Every Lesson with Why

Why are you asking students to do whatever you are asking them to do? What is the purpose or value of a lesson, strategy, or instructional model? Teachers know why they ask students to engage with specific tasks, but that information is not always shared with learners. If they do not understand the purpose or value of what they are doing, they are less likely to engage fully in the learning experience. As Simon Sinek said in his book Start with Why, “When they are unclear about your WHY, WHAT you do has no context.”

For example, a teacher using the reciprocal teaching strategy for the first time to engage students in meaningful discussion around complex texts should explain why this strategy is useful. Students need to recognize that there won’t always be a teacher around to break a text apart, identify the most important points, or tease out the meaning. The world is full of complex texts, and in today’s rapidly changing landscape, it’s more important than ever for students to develop the skills necessary to navigate and interpret them. Second, teachers should highlight the value of reciprocal teaching in creating a space for students to build connections and share ideas to enhance their understanding and enrich their learning experience. This strategy allows them to make meaning as part of a learning community, which exposes them to different perspectives and points of view. Finally, unlike a whole group lesson where the class reads together in lockstep, reciprocal teaching allows students to control the pace of their progress.

Identifying and Eliminating Barriers

When teachers try a new instructional model or strategy and deviate from the norm, it is helpful to guide students through an exploration of how this new approach may remove barriers to make learning more accessible, inclusive, and equitable. Students are conditioned through years of experience to expect learning to look a particular way, so when we try something new, it is essential to help them understand why this new approach may be more effective.

For example, many teachers use video to transfer information and provide on-demand instruction instead of lecturing or facilitating whole group mini-lessons. Video has myriad benefits when compared to live instruction. Video allows the students to control the pace at which they consume and process information. Students have the luxury of accessing video instruction from anywhere and at any time, so they can watch it at home if absent or rewatch a video multiple times if they want to hear an explanation again. They may be able to add captions or even slow down the pace of a video, which increases accessibility. Video instruction also frees the teacher to work directly with small groups and individual students to meet their specific needs better. Despite these benefits, students may push back against watching videos if they are not encouraged to explore and discuss the barriers that live instruction presents in terms of students accessing information.

Don’t Skip Modeling

Modeling strategies, skills, and processes for students is a fundamental part of teaching. The “I do, we do, you do” is a frequently used strategy in classrooms designed to guide students through the process of implementing a specific strategy or skill. However, this same intentionality isn’t always applied to teaching students how to navigate any new instructional model or strategy. Teachers must invest the time to show students what it looks like and sounds like to engage with a particular model or strategy.

For example, teachers using the station rotation model may want students to participate in a small group discussion at the offline station, discussing a text or podcast. Students may not have much practice engaging in small group discussions and feel unsure how to build on other ideas shared or respectfully disagree with a classmate’s perspective. One way to onboard students to a new strategy is to model with the fishbowl technique.

The technique involves dividing the class into two groups: an inner circle and an outer circle. The inner circle is composed of a small group of students who discuss and model the new strategy, while the outer circle observes and takes notes. Using the fishbowl technique has several benefits. First, it allows students to see the process in action and ask questions in real-time. Second, it allows for immediate feedback and discussion among the inner circle, which can help clarify any confusion or misunderstandings about the strategy. Third, it promotes active engagement and participation among the inner and outer circles, as students are encouraged to take notes and provide feedback.

Set a Goal

Once your students have a clear understanding of what they stand to gain from this new learning experience, challenge them to identify a goal they want to achieve or a skill they want to work on. Doing so gives them a sense of purpose and direction as they dive into the new activity.

For example, if students are participating in a reciprocal teaching strategy or engaging in a small group discussion, they may want to focus on listening actively, contributing to the conversation at least one time, practicing making connections between ideas shared, or asking thoughtful questions.

By setting a goal, students are more likely to stay motivated and engaged throughout the learning process. They’ll have a sense of ownership over their learning, and they’ll be able to track their progress and celebrate their achievements along the way.


Asking students to assess their participation in a new instructional model or strategy can be incredibly valuable, both for the students and the teacher. Self-assessment encourages students to reflect on what worked well, what didn’t work, and what they can improve upon next time. It promotes self-awareness and is key to helping students develop into expert learners who know their strengths, limitations, and areas for potential future growth. Finally, a self-assessment provides teachers with valuable feedback on the effectiveness of the instructional model or strategy. This feedback can help teachers make improvements and adjustments for future lessons to ensure the strategy is as effective as possible.

Investing time into onboarding students to new instructional models and strategies is essential for creating a successful learning experience. It takes intentionality and effort to guide students through this process, but the rewards are well worth it.

When students are introduced to new instructional models and strategies in a thoughtful and intentional way, they gain confidence and competence in navigating various learning experiences. This prepares them to be increasingly independent and self-directed in their learning, a valuable skill for success in school and beyond.

While it may seem like a significant investment of time and energy to onboard students to new instructional models and strategies, it ultimately saves time in the long run. By ensuring that students are properly prepared and confident in their abilities, teachers can create a more efficient and effective learning experience.

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