Here are some crummy scenarios: You’ve interviewed and hired your new batch of teachers for next year. But then you get the email that one of your late hires has changed their mind. Or after a year you don’t renew the contract of one of last year’s new hires because they didn’t thrive in your school. Let’s be honest: these situations happen to the best of us, but because of the timing, we never have time to debrief what went wrong in the onboarding that might have prevented these undesirable outcomes.
Don’t despair! One Schoolhouse has a 91% faculty retention rate, but because our enrollment grows and we expand our course offerings every year, we hire and onboard new teachers annually. Here’s what I’ve learned: new teachers thrive when they know what to expect and what to do when they are feeling uncertain.
Mission Alignment. Of course I’m going to lead with this! When we don’t hire mission-committed teachers, they don’t work out. What’s more, when we don’t lead with our values in the onboarding process, we hear things like “it wasn’t what I was expecting” in the exit interview.
Planning. You want new teachers to trust your leadership from the moment they arrive. Preparing ahead helps you be ready so that they feel welcomed and set up for success on their first day.
Inclusive Cultural Practices. Make people feel welcome by meeting their basic needs first. No matter how accomplished someone is academically or professionally, a new teacher is still a new teacher, and your community may feel more or less inclusive to someone just coming in, especially if that person’s identity is different from your own. Remember: Maslow’s before Bloom’s. It applies to teachers too, so take time for basic orientation.
A Whole Trip Around the Sun. Don’t assume that the norms are the same from one community to the next, and don’t assume that your new teachers are “in the fold” after just a day of orientation exercises. Be transparent about expectations for their whole first year. At least once each season, take time to explain the processes at your school, and why the process is both rooted in values and important to outcomes. For example, if collaboration is a core value, describe how it happens and where the new teacher will have opportunities to engage with new colleagues.
Give Examples. Many adults like to see samples so ensure that new teachers have examples on which to model their own course plans. If your school has particular pedagogical expectations (competency-based learning, Harkness, etc…), the new teacher may have undergone some training but still be unsure what it looks like, so be sure to include particular examples that show the pedagogy in living color.
Provide a smooth onboarding process by planning ahead and communicating openly. And be sure to find the moments to celebrate them, whether that’s coffee, tea, or juice on the first day of school, a hand-written note, or a goofy video. Investing in connection and relationship doesn’t just support your new teachers--it reminds you what you love about your school at the most energizing moment of the year.
Great teaching starts with an intentional onboarding experience. Introduction to Independent Schools is the chance to give your new hires an opportunity to learn about your school’s mission, culture, learning environments and support structures before arriving on campus. Dates Offered: August 2-13, 2021
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)