When Jessica Dunn ’17 was a teaching intern in a 10th-grade English class, she designed a lesson to help her students understand persuasive strategies used in advertising. The students would tape magazine ads to the classroom wall, gallery style, and discuss the techniques used in each one. But when Dunn submitted her lesson plan to David Hollier, the professor leading her teaching internship class, he had a different idea: Why not have her students create their own ads and share them on Instagram?
Dunn’s first reaction was anxiety. Students were constantly distracted by their phones; if she asked them to use social media in class, would she lose control of the group? But Dunn decided to try it. And the lesson worked.
“It totally reshaped my approach to student-teaching,” Dunn says. “It made me way more willing to try out new stuff, like lessons with gadgets and electronics.”
When they debriefed afterward, Dunn thanked Hollier – who’d observed from the back of the classroom – for encouraging her to get past her anxiety. Because she’d tried something new, her students had completed an assignment that went beyond the classroom for the world to see.
“Dr. Hollier knew that if he pushed me just a little bit harder that I would go outside my comfort zone and, potentially, come up with something brilliant,” Dunn says. “But I was afraid – I thought, ‘What if this doesn’t go well?’ That’s the great thing about Dr. Hollier. You could try new things and fall flat on your face, and he’d give you 10 different solutions to try next time.”
That’s Hollier’s advice to all his teachers in training: Expand your comfort zone by trying something that makes you a little anxious. You’ll become more confident, and your students will benefit. “A novice teacher wants to stick to the basics, but why not take a risk and see how it works?” he says. “I tell all my students what I told Jessica: ‘Let’s try it together, and I’ll be there to step up and help you if something goes wrong.’ Most of the time, it’s not going to be as scary if you just take the risk and try.”