This week, I started a new teaching assignment at the University of Lethbridge. Despite the incredibly steep learning curve, I feel like I am starting over again from scratch, which brings with it accompanying feelings of anxiety, excitement and renewal. Actually, pure jubilation would be a better term to describe it! This career change, however, has brought with it a 45 minute commute to and from work. Not that I’m complaining…in fact, it has given time that I haven’t had in a number of years to reflect, a critical element of learning that we typically take for granted (a topic for another post!).
Today, I was struck with the notion of how an organization and it’s culture welcomes new additions to its staff, specifically in schools. Starting completely fresh this week has helped me experience this transition from a different set of shoes and think about what we can do in schools (and as leaders) to ensure the smoothest transition as possible for new teaching staff, both those new to the profession and veterans new to the school. Some thoughts, based on my past experiences and my move to the University:
Roll out the welcome mat in Spring
Many hires happen before the conclusion of the prior school year and presents the perfect opportunity to welcome new staff prior to the summer break. What a great chance to meet some people in the organization (often giving at least one friendly, familiar face over the summer to connect with), learn a general layout of the school and provide the opportunity to “process” the upcoming year over the summer. In the past as a principal, I have attempted to find opportunities to have new staff come to the school in May/June (for staff strategic planning meetings, student collaboration meetings, etc.). At the U of L, this orientation meeting included meeting with staff in similar positions who could initiate my thinking for what needed to happen over the next couple of months, as well as share some key documents that left me prepared to come in the fall (with less anxiety over the summer).
Information in one place
Whether it’s a staff handbook or one-page “need to know”, a resource directing staff to the most critical things to know when getting started is incredibly helpful. Reflecting on my role as principal, it would have been great to debrief with new staff in October to ask what they wished would have been shared with them a month ago when starting to help tweak this resource to best meet the needs of the new staff. Having one resource with the “minor stuff” (photocopier codes, where to get keys, etc) is most helpful. It is surprising how many schools leave this up to people “just finding out” or assuming new staff will ask when they need something.
To me, this one is the most critical and I’m not talking about ensuring new staff have a teacher’s guide and the textbooks waiting. I’m talking about new teachers coming into a grade level and receiving a curriculum guide (outcomes at that grade level), common summative assessments used, exemplars and rubrics. The steepest part of my personal learning curve is trying to decide what to teach, when to teach it and what acceptable student evidence looks like. Having a foundation to start from is critical for teachers, who can then adapt and adjust instruction within that framework to bring in their own teaching strengths and personal identity. Expecting new staff (even experienced teachers perhaps at a new grade level) to develop this on their own does not provide the organizational foundation and support that schools should be striving to provide.
Leaders set the tone
As a new staff, I have been very impressed after two days (and some orientation and retreat days in the spring) that the leaders (both formal and informal) of the organization have taken every opportunity to welcome and introduce me to the other faculty, and ensure that others are introduced, helping to form immediate connections. This culture of acceptance and engagement is definitely established, modeled and promoted by leaders. Assigning a mentor or “staff buddy” to take new staff under their wing is not enough – every opportunity available needs to be taken to acknowledge those new to the organization early in the year.
I know this list is not extensive or particularly earth-shattering but has definitely helped me to reflect upon my own role as a leader, including what I did well to welcome new staff to our teaching team and missed opportunities where I could have made this effort more deliberate. A change in roles can be very exciting, anxious and full of opportunities to see schools from another perspective! Have a great start of the school year…both those new and returning staff!