Whereas for almost everybody January 1st is New Year’s, as an academic, I have always viewed September 1st – the unofficial start of the academic year – as the true New Year’s Eve for our profession. Indeed, these days, there is a strong sense of things beginning, getting started, and taking off here at IE Business School. A few days ago, the elective period in the International MBA got underway and many of you are involved in offering one of our almost 100 elective courses (one of the biggest and most diverse selections in our cluster, by the way). On September 15th, we officially opened the Masters in International Management and Masters in Finance programs in which, again, many of you will teach. Next week, we’ll be opening this year’s edition of the Executive MBA program and the Executive Masters in Management programs will soon follow. All around us we see new students or re-energized students flowing into our classrooms for great learning experiences.
As many of you might soon teach the first session of a new course, I wanted to take this opportunity to share some thoughts on that critical first session. In many respects, the first session is the most important session of the whole course. It is in the first session that the professor excites the class about his or her subject, creates the connection with the class that will shape class dynamics, lays out the ground rules, and establishes his or her authority. If you have a good first session, it’s often all downhill from there. When the first session doesn’t go well, subsequent work gets harder.
From countless conversations with faculty members such as yourselves and of course with many of our students across diverse programs, let me share a few pieces of advice to make Session One a hit:
§ Be on time – being late for the first session is quite possibly the worst way to start a course.
§ Be confident without being arrogant – introduce yourself so that students know why you can speak with authority about your subject, yet make sure they perceive you as a modest, open-minded person so that they cannot wait to have insightful discussions with you.
§ Excite them about your subject – no matter what you teach, it’s the most exciting, most fascinating subject there is. If your enthusiasm comes across, you are almost home. There is nothing worse than a professor who doesn’t seem excited about his or her own subject.
§ Tell them what they will learn in your class and why it will be incredibly useful to them – make the connection between your knowledge and their future.
§ Preview the course – tell them what they will see during the course, and why, and how the pieces fit together.
§ Spend some ‘housekeeping’-time – carefully explain your grading policy, deliverables, attendance policy, and remind the students that you will be rigorously ensuring academic honesty in your course. You should spend at least 15-20 minutes on this, though this can be done at the end of the session if you want to start with an example, small case, or exercise to ‘hit the ground running’ (though tell them you wil do this at the end).
The first session isn’t make-or-break. Even when the first session doesn’t go as planned, many courses still turn out to be very successful. But an exciting, informative, engaging, and well-structured first session can go a long way. Always remember: you never get a second chance to make a first impression!
Enjoy your courses this fall, thanks for your commitment, and Happy (Academic) New Year!