In July, Academic Leaders start to look ahead towards the new possibilities of the academic year to come. That includes welcoming new faculty to campus and making sure they understand and embrace your school culture and community.
Just one of this year’s differences is that in many ways, we’re welcoming two years of new educators. No matter how successful your 20-21 year was (and let me be clear--for most independent schools, it was successful) it certainly wasn’t business as usual. Teachers who were new in Fall 2020 will need similar support to the educators who are joining you in Fall 2021.
And that raises the question: in a year when we know we’re balancing change and tradition, how do you onboard your new faculty in a way that preserves your school culture? The first answer to the question is with intention. It used to be all too easy to put together a checklist of the nuts and bolts teachers need to know, but in the rapidly changing landscape of schools, we can’t rely on what we used to do. Putting together that list has to start with the “why” instead of the “what.”
For example, when we were paper-based, one of the top items on that list for new teachers was always the copy machine. That’s not because photocopying was a key skill; it’s because making sure your materials and resources are accessible to all students is foundational to effective instruction.
This year, beginning your onboarding process by identifying what’s important to your school’s mission and culture is more important than ever. Clarifying what you believe and why it matters provides you with a mission-aligned framework to identify what you need to pass along to new teachers. Whether you’re talking about a concept (communicating with parents) or a task (dining hall supervision), viewing the responsibility through the lens of values makes new community members understand why it’s meaningful, and makes them more likely to follow through.
In 2021, we’ve been gifted with a moment to re-evaluate our traditions and practices. When Academic Leaders view that list of what new community members used to need to know, they’ll have the clarity to determine which systems and practices should move forward, and which have outlived their usefulness.
The truth is that all Academic Leaders share a goal: to have their school’s mission lived out in the classroom experience. If that’s the intention, then the first interactions new educators have at your school need to focus on what your community holds most dear. If you start with the copy machine, you’ll never make it to the core mission. Start with the mission, and you’ll see your community evolve.
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)