Ongoing Support for New Faculty and Staff

—-This is Part Three of a three-part overview regarding the on boarding of new faculty and staff. —-

Having a comprehensive faculty on-boarding program is a serious consideration for all schools, be they public, independent, charter, private, parochial, and especially international schools. Bringing new hires into the fold, so to speak, presents a unique opportunity to express what the organization holds up as most important, it allows the school to share its values, and it also begins weaving the fabric of community among the new hires – both among themselves as well as with already established employees. It seems so easy, and yet, doing this well actually takes a lot more planning, coordination and effort than many realize. And the larger the school, the more complex the process can become.

So, you might ask… what are the key components of an effective on-boarding program? I would contend that a good program would include three phases: 1. Lead Up, 2. New Employee Seminar, 3. Ongoing Support.

Today we’ll talk about Ongoing Support and the key parts to successfully supporting new hires during the arc of their first year. 

I remember hearing a friend tell me a story about how their mom taught them to walk. Their mom would put clothespins in their hands, and then, rather than holding the child’s hands directly, they held the clothespins. As time went by, my friend’s mom began taking one hand off of a clothespin, and then the other… and soon enough, my friend was walking on their own holding the clothespins. Eventually they dropped the clothespins altogether.

Ongoing support looks a lot like this clothespin analogy… especially for teachers new to the profession. When they first arrive, they need a great deal of support. As time moves on, that level of needed support begins to lesson gradually as the year moves on and they learn the routines and processes of a school and an academic year. Ongoing support can take a lot of different forms. Successful approaches I have seen have three components: “just in time” learning, informal check ins, socialization, and mentor relationships.

“Just in time” learning – setting up a once monthly meeting for new hires that tackles a “just in time” topic can be helpful and also leads to esprit de corps among the new hires. In September, the focus might be parent night. In November, it might be first reporting period procedures for grades. Whatever the topics, having them be relevant to an event that is just around the corner sets up new teachers to be more successful and also provides a good rationale for having the session. Closing each session with 10-15 minutes for the group to share highs and lows, ask questions, or seek clarifications is also a great idea. This can be done in full group or sub-groups, but it is important that new hires feel understood and heard. Having that “report out” at the end is very helpful. It may also give you valuable insight on things to improve in your on boarding process.

Informal check-ins – the principal and/or department chair (or whoever the formal and informal leaders might be) should make time to drop in and informally chat with new hires every so often. At the start of the year, doing this every other week might be most appropriate, tapering to once a month by mid-year, and then less frequently near the close of the year. Ensuring that the new hire knows that they can come by with questions at any time helps the check-ins become more of a two-way street.

Socialization – providing time for the new cohort of faculty to socialize is also helpful. In prior schools we partnered this with “just in time” learning meetings. We would handle our business, share out, and then move off-site for a social activity. Again, this just fosters stronger connective tissue between faculty who are new to the school.

Mentor relationships – having an assigned mentor for all new hires helps them in so many valuable ways! The mentor can help them with non-academic issues or questions, as well as helping the new hire find a social group within the school community. At my current school, department chairs are the “go to” for administrative procedures and curricular support. But we also assign an informal mentor to each new hire that is not a member of the hire’s department. This mentor’s sole focus is to help the new hire acclimate socially and environmentally to the school. Often we have the mentors attend our socialization activities that we hold along the way, and we also ask mentors to ensure new hires are introduced around the faculty at school-wide events too.

The ongoing support portion of new hiring is often overlooked once the chaos of the academic year kicks in. Ongoing support does not need to be enormous and overwhelming, but it does need to be thoughtfully incorporated into the ebb and flow of the school year. This kind of ongoing follow-through helps new hires feel supported in all facets of their new position, and research shows that it will lead to greater retention. I encourage all administrators to ensure they provide ongoing support to new hires!

There are many moving parts to the hiring and on-boarding process, and it can often feel overwhelming. Devoting some time and thought to ensuring it goes off smoothly will be well worth the investment.

The New Faculty and Staff Seminar

—-This is Part Two of a three-part overview regarding the on boarding of new faculty and staff. —-

Having a comprehensive faculty on-boarding program is a serious consideration for all schools, be they public, independent, charter, private, parochial, and especially international schools. Bringing new hires into the fold, so to speak, presents a unique opportunity to express what the organization holds up as most important, it allows the school to share its values, and it also begins weaving the fabric of community among the new hires – both among themselves as well as with already established employees. It seems so easy, and yet, doing this well actually takes a lot more planning, coordination and effort than many realize. And the larger the school, the more complex the process can become.

So, you might ask… what are the key components of an effective on-boarding program? I would contend that a good program would include three phases: 1. Lead Up, 2. New Employee Seminar, 3. Ongoing Support.

Today we’ll talk about the New Employee Seminar and the key parts to include.

Hopefully as you round the bend to the start of a new academic year, you’ve taken the time to carefully enact the various elements of the “Lead Up Phase” as discussed in the prior post. I have found that setting aside a few days prior to the return of all faculty and staff for a “New Employee Seminar” is enormously helpful in the on boarding process. I have seen these seminars last one day and I have seen them take an entire week. It’s really up to the particular school institution to determine the needs and length of time it takes to meet those needs. but there are three general areas to consider:

What are the basic logistics for having a Seminar? There are some primary considerations when setting up a Seminar that are important to handle – logistics is where events usually go wrong.

  • Half-Days. I would suggest that you consider using half-days, with the mornings being devoted to sharing important information and the afternoons being open for employees to work on their own in their new space(s) or handle personal business. This also lets you begin the day with introductions and breakfast, and end the day with lunch together (if your budget for time and food allow).
  • Locations. Make use of this time to move new hires throughout the campus or building, so that they gain familiarity with where things are located. Locations can even open doors to easy conversations about processes in the schools (libraries, tech centers, etc). Ensure that there is ample room for people to be comfortable for the duration of that session, and that there is easy and close restroom access.
  • Food Makes Friends. There is little doubt that providing food helps set a stage for discussion, chit-chat, and sharing among people. I strongly recommend having meals provided during these Seminar days. It doesn’t have to be extra fancy, but creativity can be fun (Food truck anyone? They are cheap and delicious!) or even just having a theme each day can be a great way to anchor informal conversations among the group. Providing meals expresses a level of care to new hires that is rarely matched by any other provisions during the week.
  • Set up Considerations. Be sure you have all locations secured, and that they are clean, ready for learning, and have the appropriate number of chairs and tables. Name tags are hugely helpful as well – be sure you have everyone’s name pre printed for that extra touch of care. Do you need to check that the AC will be on? Lighting? Tech projection? Myriad details handled in advance mean that the day-of will run smoothly.
  • Compensation. Different schools and states and countries have varying requirements for compensation for time. In some cases, it can be voluntary and unpaid, and in others payment might be required. Be sure you know what the drill will be for your Seminar and communicate that with your new people so that they are aware and don’t have to be put in the position of asking awkward questions.
  • Introductions. How will you introduce new folks to one another? To the larger school community?  Having a way to address these questions upfront is helpful. Letting new folks know how they will be introduced also helps them prepare to put their best foot forward.

What do they need to know? As a leadership team, you need to identify the “must know” information from the “nice to know” information, and then figure out what you have time to thoughtfully address. Remember that it is better to provide fewer things well than try to hit your new hires with an avalanche of details.

  • Philosophy of the School. Starting off with a brief overview of the philosophy of the school, how colleagues work together, how the school views the teacher/student relationship, and even a sharing of the history (both recent and ancient) of the institution helps ground new employees in the shared culture and understanding so that when all returning faculty return, all start on a shared foundation of philosophy, purpose, and vision.
  • Technology platforms, devices, procedures. Even though we are elbow deep in the Digital Age, it is not a safe assumption that everyone knows everything about technology. Schools can vary wildly on platforms, devices, and procedures. Setting aside time to walk folks through the basics, and then explain where and how they can receive more detailed support, is essential. At a minimum, people need to get connected to their email, use the LMS (learning management system), attendance modules both for kids and employees, and where collaborative work among colleagues “lives” on the school network.
  • Legal requirements and obligations. Mandatory reporting requirements, how to identify legal guardians, health and safety requirements… we all have them – and before the year starts it is important for new people to be well versed on these things too. If any new hire will be engaging with a high-need student, providing time and support will be critical.
  • Survival 101. How to use the copier, where mailboxes are located, how to take attendance… there are myriad details that might need covering. A great way to do this is to have a solid employee handbook that is well indexed and with a glossary of school-specific lingo. This way you do not have to carve out chunks of time to pepper people with a million details, but they have access to the important information when they need it. One thing that is nice to do is to provide a tour of the campus and make introductions to the essential support staff with whom new folks would be interacting.

How can we make them feel like a part of our team? Finding ways to forge personal connections and begin weaving the fabric of community are important, and they add great value to a New Employee Seminar.

  • Mentors. Many schools already have some type of distributed leadership model that provides a guide for new employees. I frequently make use of department chairs or other established leaders to help with supporting new hires. However, finding and identifying a mentor that is not necessarily in the same department or division as the new hire, but who might be the same age, or have similar interests, or enjoy the same activities is a great way to help forge connections in a new school. It also helps provide a support person that is not part of the evaluative network or process.
  • Building in fun. Why not take a couple of hours and play some mini-golf together? Or engage in some other off-site, inexpensive, but fun activity? The sillier, the better. Activities that are fun yet structured provide another avenue for connection. Having mentors attend these events makes them even better.
  • Social time. Having some social time built into the week is helpful in terms of building rapport and helping new hires find friends in the group. We often will start the mornings with thirty minutes over coffee and treats with informal conversation, with school leadership taking different tables to mingle among our new hires. We have also used more formalized ice-breaker activities during lunch or during break times. All of these things help open doors to connections and friendships!
  • Reminders of where to find help. Providing new hires with phone numbers, email extensions, and locations of support and support personnel is important. If possible, thinking through a “first line, second line, and third line” of support for typical new hire questions or concerns is helpful – then you can provide options for people to find the help they need.
  • Offers of support. Something that makes folks feel welcomed and also like they really can seek help from others is overtly and repeatedly making the offer to help, and then backing that offer up by checking in with people during the Seminar sessions. When all school leaders make these offers, it is a big win for new hires.
  • Feedback. I’ve found that it is always a great idea to have a short post-experience survey to gather information from folks about sessions. So that you get valuable feedback, it is advisable to wait until at least 2 weeks after school starts up, so that your new hires have some experience under their belt and better evaluate what might have been overlooked or what could have been dropped. This is part of any good continual improvement process!

As mentioned at the start of this post, each school has to figure out what works best for them. However, the above suggestions can provide a nice framework that would provide a robust, welcoming, yet not overwhelming New Employee Seminar. Just last week we engaged in our 3-day (half days only!) New Faculty and Staff Institute, and by all accounts it met with success. Taking this time prior to the often hectic start of school sets the right tone for your new people, it welcomes them to your community, and it begins weaving the social/moral fabric of the adults in the school. It is well worth the investment! If you would like to see specific example agendas from prior seminars I have put together, I’m happy to share. Please reference my email address on the “About Me” page.

Next blog post: Ongoing Support for New Faculty and Staff. Stay tuned!