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Launch Strategies: The first day of your business course

Launch Strategies: The first day of your business course

Author: Soma Jurgensen

The first day of class is intimidating for both students and instructors. The big question is, "How will I set the tone so the learning environment is charged for success?" 

Google "First day of class in college" and you'll get an avalanche of tips and checklists for the teacher. The goal of this packet is to put this information into a frame for the business educator. With each new course comes the challenge and the privilege to build a high performing team with the objective of learning and growth.

In this packet you will find resources to start your team off right from the very first day including ways to:

  • Set the tone and culture of your course quickly to encourage learning and success
  • Communicate your expectations of the student
  • Gather assumptions of students' expectations of you
  • Generate enthusiasm for the learning experience
  • Create buy-in for your vision of the course and the learning experience

The first day of class is the point where expections become real. Don't take the learning environment for granted; craft it for your purposes as you would in the first 90 days of a new leadership position.

As business educators it's important for us to frame and model the necessary business competencies our students will need in their professional lives, therefore, I've chosen to use an outline of concepts from Michael Watkins' book "The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at all Levels." Since it's release in 2003 Watkins' book has sold over 500,000 copies and continues to be a staple on business leaders' shelves.

However, if we're lucky, we have 90 mintues, not 90 days, to make the desired impact on our new team.

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You have 90 minutes not 90 days; make them count.

When entering a new leadership position Michael Watkins, author of "The First 90 Days," suggests guidelines for maximizing the transition to your new position and team. Before engaging in the tools of beginning a new course, or launch strategies, this very brief outline of the book's chapters will help provide context for the business educator. Please note that the chapters noted here are NOT in order from the book but in order of what makes sense for the new team you are building in your classroom.

Promote yourself: Conciously make a break from the old to the new experience. It's time to develop your brand.

Accelerate your learning: Fully understand the gap between what you know and what you need to learn then design a strategy to get there.

Negotiate success: Figure out how to build a new, and positive, relationship with your organization and your team. To accomplish this goal you'll need to plan for, and invest time, in critical inquiry.

Achieve alignment: Understanding the structure, or architecture of the organization and its alignment with strategy is necessary to build "strategic intent."

Build your team: If you are inheriting at team (which in the classroom you are) you must evaluate the members to fit them together for success and support their growth and development.

Secure early wins: Early wins help build credibility, momentum, and cohesion on your team. Identify opportunities early to build credibility.

Match strategy to situation: There are no universal rules for success in transitions. Diagnose, clarify, and only then respond.

Create coalitions: Organizations are political animals built on human behavior and your success depends on your ability to influence people over whom you have no direct control. Build supportive internal and external alliances to achieve your goals.

Keep your balance: Leaders are in perpetual risk of losing perspective through the isolation that comes from the position itself. Do you have a group of people willing to give you feedback when/if you are making a bad call? If you don't have an "advice and counsel" network build one to ensure your flow of information stays open.

Expedite everyone: Your new job is to make your stakeholders look good. Whether it's your boss, direct reports, or peers, accelerate their transition to you as well as your own to the organization.


Each section will contain a summary that connects these concepts to the tools in this packet. The last installment in this packet is a live video of my strategy/culture presentation that incorporates all of these concepts. The video of just over 20 minutes contains questions, tips, and suggestions that pop-up throughout the presentation in VH1 Pop-Up Video style. I'll reference parts of the video throughout this packet to ensure the concepts you read/review are illustrated and actionable.

Good luck with your first 90 minutes.


The first impression is the only impression

As business people we accept this "truth." It's no less true in the classroom so intend the impression you make on your new class--your new team. Some literature will advocate the use of manufactured personas in the classroom and I vehemently disagree with them. You should be you, authentic and transparent; in order to create the trust you need for your team to succeed. However, you can be intentional about how you develop and introduce your leadership.

People Don't Care What You Know until they Know that You Care

This sentiment has been attributed to many great leaders in society yet no one knows where it actually initiated. It has endured because the truth behind it is supported over and over again in both business leadership and education. It's not just your team members who desire the connection, but research on the first day of class indicates instructors as leaders desire the connection as well (Knefelkamp, 1985). Building connectedness underlies the following best practices for your introduction to your class (team).

Q: Who is this person and why are they teaching my class?

A: I'm a content expert who values lifelong learning and I love to teach ________.

These questions are much like what a new report might ask in his/her head when they find out you are the new manager. As you manage the classroom can you honestly answer as the sample above?

  • Make class personal: You wouldn’t rush into a meeting with your new director a minute before and jump into the task at hand, right? These are your new “direct reports” and they want a minute or two to see if they matter in the scheme of your course. Shake hands, ask their names, and introduce yourself. It will make learning names all around a lot easier.
  • Tell students who you are and a little about yourself as a person: Often I use a student information form which you'll see in a subsequent section of this packet. I always go first so students don't have to be vulnerable first. I don't start with my "resume" but I do include my professional experience. (By the way, if you want to know who I am and why I'm writing this packet view my profile to get to know me.) Words of advice...don’t over share as you are a professional and not a new friend.
  • Let students ask you questions: Let them know they can ask about your professional background or something about you as a human being. Your new team wants to know that you are willing to take some risks as they will be with a new leader at the helm.
  • Convey your enthusiasm: Students don’t care that you know everything about the topic. They want to know that you care about it and that you’re excited to share it with them. Compare this to a new employee who might know more about the way the company works, but if you both know engineering and now you are enthusiastic about promoting her/his development in the department – that’s motivating.
  • Build your brand: If you are preparing future professionals, dress in a suit the first day. At my workplace we dress professionally, but suits aren’t always required. I’m going to wear a suit on the first day to remind students that they are not there just to sit in class, but to be prepared to contribute to an industry that value what they have to bring. Arrange your classroom to fit the topic and your style. If you use a lot of group work, group the desks on the first day. If you need everyone facing forward as you work math or accounting problems on the board, arrange desks in the more formal row style.

Research from Curran and Rosen (2006) from the Journal of Marketing Education revealed that four factors explained 77% of variation in attitude toward the course: instructor, course topic, course execution, and the room (physical environment). Projected to the business setting this might translate to four things that would influence an employee’s attitude toward his/her job: the manager, nature of the work, work processes, and the work space/environment. The student/employee must take ownership for attitude and motivation but the influence of these factors are still significant.

Students (and employees I’d argue) are looking for course leaders/instructors that are: (McKeachi, 1986)

  1. Enthusiastic
  2. Objective (Fair)
  3. Empathetic

Where do these qualities fit into your introduction? How will you convey them to the student?

For more information please follow this link to a great resource:

Other sources used:

Curran, J., Rosen D. (2006) Student attitudes toward college courses: An examination of influences and intentions. Journal of Marketing Education, 28 (2), p. 135-148.

Knefelkamp, L., In Rubin, S. (1985, August 7). Professors, students, and the syllabus. The Chronicle of Higher Education. p. 85

(McKeachi, 1986)

Source: See above

To accelerate your learning don't assume anything.

There are at least three things you should know under this concept to be an effective classroom leader.
1) What do your students expect of you.
2) What do you expect of your students.
3) What are the strengths and challenges of your new team?

Do you think you know what your students expect of you? Don't assume, learn. Maybe they are expecting you to lecture every class period and you primarily use group work and lab. Perhaps they expect you to tell them what they need to know and you expect them to construct their knowledge. As a manager, perhaps you expect the employee to come to you when he/she has a problem and the employee is waiting for you to ask. Unclear expectations are a big demotivator, so find out what they are, and talk about them. (See the "courage" section of the 4c video)

When you say that participation is expected, do you assume students know what that means to you? To ensure success be explicit. I've included my example below. Do you know your definition? How do you organize your syllabus? Do students know what you mean when you say to be prepared? What about when you expect professional behavior?

Use discussion of these expectations, the course content, and the culture of your classroom (see video) to initially assess your team's strengths and challenges.


Source: Created by Soma D. Jurgensen

What to do and not to do...that is the question.

These expectations may sound like common sense, but why take the chance? Students feel more confident when they know exactly what the instructor expects. In fact, when I've brainstormed expectations with them, students come up with almost the same list.

I do have a few quirks which are included in this list, and the last line is compelling.


Source: Created by Soma D. Jurgensen

Negotiate success and achieve alignment with a classroom strategy

Educators talk about teaching philosophies and teaching statements. Businesses talk about vision, strategy, and point of difference. In both cases the intent is the same and it's to answer the question, "What do I want out of ______." Fill the blank with the name of a company, a division, or a class and you're on your way to aligning your team with your vision. I spent days on my concepts, read a book and several articles, all before I set foot in my classroom or developed a syllabus. When you view the video where I present my vision live you'll notice I ask students for their ideas, what they think, why like/don't like it. Don't be fooled, this is not laying down the law, it's a negotiation for a win-win outcome.

Need help developing your vision/strategy/class culture? You can use as similar process to that of developing a personal brand. Here's an article I wrote that goes through the process. Just replace "classroom" with the personal component.

Source: Created by Soma D. Jurgensen

Create coalitions through activities that build trust

You've introduced yourself, but you are only one leader in the classroom. There are many others sitting in the chairs wondering who's in class with them. They are probably wondering who they'll be put in a group with and who they can trust when they need help.

To build a classroom/team that's positioned for success, allow time for students to build coalitions with each other. As corny as they can be, one of the most helpful tools on the first day is the ice breaker. I've included some websites with great ideas and in the next section you'll see an example of a student information form I use as an ice-breaker.

In the spirit of Watkin's concept that you match the strategy to the situation it's important to note that beyond the basic information I have different questions for every course so that I can make a content connection.


The ice breakers addresses the internal part of Watkin's concept. How about the external? Are you, as an instructor, making full use of your Dean or Department Chair? Are you keeping them informed on the professional and teaching oriented development and growth you are already undertaking? Are you spending time problem solving with other faculty, adjunct or full time, that you see on a regular basis? If your answer to any of these questions is no I'd argue you are not making full use of your resources. Reach out today so the relationship is established when you need external support.

Student Information or Profile form

I use forms like these for the practical purpose of gathering information, accelerating my learning, introducing myself, and breaking the ice so students begin to build coalitions.


Source: Created by Soma D. Jurgensen

Expedite the success of all your stakeholders

Great managers not only get to know their team, create an intentional culture, and clarify roles and expectations. However, without providing the resources your team needs to do its job the equation for success is incomplete. What tools does your learning team (students) need to expedite their success?

Use the syllabus to set expectations:

Yes, this document contains the policies of the school. What's more important from a business perspective is that it has the course objectives. From these objectives you can create a learning and development plan (your lessons) to meet the expectations your school has for you.

Several strategies exist for introducing the syllabus. I do review the objectives, the text, how students are being assessed (think about what would be on a performance review for your employees) and critical policies. When it comes to the week by week schedule I provide, I ask students to read it themselves. In the spirit of securing early wins and keeping balance (see sections below) I then ask students to share one thing they are most worried about and one thing they are most excited about. There is no wrong answer, which encourages participation, and you gather intelligence on your students.

Introduce the textbook as a resource:

Explain to students how you want them to use the textbook. Not all college students, particularly those early in their programs, know what it means to read to learn. There are some helpful packets here on Sophia. One of my favorites to explain what active reading means can be found here:

Refrain from criticizing the text or its author. The equivalent in business would be to talk to coworkers about how you could run the company better than the executives. This behavior never ends well; however, if there are things in the textbook that you don't agree with, or are outdated, teach students to "debate" with it. As students progress in their education they will learn that there are very few "truths" but rather educated different perspectives with lots of support behind them.

Present the "big questions" to guide your course topic:

Obviously all these suggestions will take a large portion of your first day, or first week. The debate on whether or not you should introduce content rages on. There was one job I started where the employer, the hiring manager, was not ready for me on the first day. They gave me some materials to read, but they had no theme. Left the first day wondering if they valued the time I would spend in their employ. I believe students feel this way when instructors complete the first week not having touched any course content. At minimum get students talking about some of the big questions and definitions that are the foundation of the course.

Other resources:

  • Introduce your students to the school's librarian and library resources.
  • If there are resources on websites like or YouTube, specific publications or blogs, that you find helpful, share the resources with your students.

Keep your balance with mulit-dimensional feedback

Leaders can become isolated, and make no mistake, you are the leader of the classroom. Without intentional tools to generate honest feedback the open system that's required to make good decisions is corrupted.

Written assessment:

Ask your students to write a reflection after the first class period asking the following questions:

  1. How did your expectations of the course change from the beginning of this class period to the end?
  2. How might you use the concepts you'll learn in this course in your work and/or home lives on and once you graduate?
  3. What 2 things from this class period had the biggest impact on you?

Answers from this type of reflection allows you to gauge whether students are aligned with the vision you presented. I use a similar assessment on the last day asking for change in perspective from the beginning to the end of the course.

In subsequent class periods I'll even ask for feedback on the activties (processes) I've used in class. The information I gather is invaluable. Often, I'll ask students to share advice for future students in the class on how to be successful. Here's an example from one class about suggestions students had.

An example:

Advice from past students:


  • Write all three papers because it will make it so much easier to write the final one. (6)
  • Finish papers early. (2)
  • Complete all assignments on time. It will catch up to you.
  • Spend time preparing your papers; they are for a greater purpose.
  • Plan a couple of hours of homework each week. (Soma: at least J)
  • Take time on the three papers leading up to the final paper!
  • Turn homework in on time.
  • Create an outline for papers.

Reading the text, etc.

  • READ THE CHAPTERS BEFORE CLASS!! This will help with the class activities and overall understanding. (5)
  • Learning objectives really make the test easier to answer. Fill them out! (student’s emphasis) (5)
  • Read chapters thoroughly. (6)
  • Take the chapter handouts seriously. (2)
  • Take lots of notes.
  • Take detailed notes before and after class, they will help you with the test.
  • Take lots of notes. The tests focus on detail.
  • Take lots of notes from the reading, but listening and writing down key points in the lectures will really help.


Verbal assessment:

Not all feedback needs to be written or even graded. Watch the video that follows for ways spontaneous verbal assessment can be used to keep balance and achieve alignment.

Bringing it all together: The 4cs Soma's classroom culture

This presentation is my way of addressing almost all of Michael Watkins' suggestions for making the first 90 days, or in this case minutes, count. At just a little over 20 minutes you will not only see my classroom culture presentation live during one of my classes, but tips, questions, and suggestions to consider will pop-up a la VH1.

Please share your thoughts on this video and the packet overall in the question and answer section. What did you find useful? How might you use the information? If you use any ideas from this packet please share your experience.

Online Class Launch Video

Here's an example of a video filmed by a programming instructor. Note how he communicates his personality and approachable quality while setting clear expectations for the course.

Source: With permission from Dr. Jackie Kyger