New Teacher on the Block

Mary Ellen RileyBlog, Lead Better


  • Being in a new teaching or leadership position can feel stressful.
  • New positions offer opportunities to meet new people and have a bigger impact.
  • When starting new, remember to listen, reflect, get involved, learn about others, and have clear boundaries.

Whether you are a first-year teacher or a veteran of twenty years, many of us find ourselves as the new teacher “on the block.”  Not only do you want to make a good impression, but you want to show your leadership capabilities and make true relationships with staff and students.  How does one do all of this while moving, creating new lesson plans for a new class, attending professional development, and setting the classroom up?

I’ve been a substitute teacher, taught high school English in two school districts, taught elementary gifted education in three buildings, and currently adding a school counselor internship at another building.  Each time I moved or incorporated another building to teach in, I felt nervous.  It’s hard to find a place as a teacher or leader in a new building!  Let’s just get that out of the way.  It feels like starting all over sometimes.  But, there is a VERY big plus side!  I know so many staff members that if I ever need anything, I know who to contact.  I impact many administrators, staff, and students to spread my love of helping every student reach his or her full potential.  In addition, I advocate and strive to develop students into creative, curious, and caring citizens.

Get curious! Curiosity is highly underrated I think. Curiosity is mighty! It cures diseases, brings excitement, keeps one active, and improves relationships. Click To Tweet

Tips for New Teachers

Here are my tips and ideas for the new teacher and/or leader in the building.


Listening is sooooo important, and a great reminder that there is no communication without listening.  In my counseling classes, we practice and illustrate active listening on videos.  Active listening involves facing the person speaking, comfortable eye contact, leaning forward slightly, using an open posture, and displaying a relaxed posture.


After listening, reflect, reflect, reflect.  I mean this word “reflect” in two ways.  First, “reflect” as in communicating what you just heard back to the speaker.  I would avoid repeating it word for word (unless they are very young) and paraphrase or summarize.  Reflecting has a ton of positive outcomes.  It allows you to digest and help remember what the speaker said. It tells the speaker you were listening, and it confirms what you heard and understood is actually what they said.  I used this technique a lot during parent-teacher conferences.  And sometimes I misunderstood!  Before going down the wrong road, we quickly got back on track by using reflections.  I use this also when there is a discipline problem, and I am trying to understand several sides to the same story.  For example, you can begin a paraphrase or summary by stating, “I hear you say…,” “From your experience…,” or “It sounds like…”

The second meaning of “reflect” is purposefully thinking and writing about what went well and what can be improved.  Often, I add sticky notes to my lesson planner or unit binders to remind me what and how to do better next time.  Of course, don’t forget to work with your team as well!  Two heads are better than one!  I often forget this part because in training to be a teacher, you write all of those reflections alone.  As a counselor in training, I’m writing all of my reflections alone.  But reflection should be part of a team effort.  In a building, reflecting on the culture and how you fit into the role is important as well.

Get Involved

Whether it is with the community or the school itself, find ways to get involved.  Attend the PTA meetings.  Help with the booster club.  It doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment, but attending the big games and seeing your students and the other faculty outside of the classroom helps build rapport.  This also enables you to learn more about your community, students, and parents.  If you are like me and work in multiple buildings, this one is hard.  I choose a school and mainly support that one school by helping out at STEM night, attending PTA meetings, and setting up a trunk for Trunk or Treat.

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Name and Story

As a leader and teacher, get to know as many names as you can and their story.  Do not stop at just knowing someone’s name!  One, this helps you remember them long after you see them.  Two, learning their story helps you connect with that person and construct a web of resources.  How do you do this?  Get curious!  Curiosity is highly underrated I think.  Curiosity is mighty!  It cures diseases, brings excitement, keeps one active, and improves relationships.  If you see something in someone’s office or on their desk that is interesting, ask about it.  Leave space and time open to allow for sharing.  For example, one teacher in a building was talked about as “ineffective” and “lazy.”  Finally, someone was curious and found out she was caring for her dying husband at home!  Do not make assumptions about someone’s life at home.  Many teachers leave their problems at the door and do not broadcast them.  And that’s okay, too.

Be Transparent

Be open and honest about yourself and your boundaries.  Demonstrate family comes first, and illustrate those expectations to others.  You also want to share a vision of your position, especially if is in leadership or the only one such as a school counselor.  Keep this short and sweet!  My favorite is Every moment matters.  Every student counts.

About Mary Ellen Riley

Hello! I am Mary Ellen, a wife, mother of two, certified K-12 teacher, and crafts and coffee lover. As a mother and teacher of gifted students, I provide practical support throughout my schools for all students who need more depth and enrichment.

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