Onboarding New Faculty and Staff

I’ve noticed a theme in my leadership career. Ok, actually, I’ve noticed a few themes. However, one of those themes is really coming to light as we round the bend to the start of a new school year. What is that theme? I have either created or completely re-envisioned (from the ground up) the way the school on-boarded its 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 Lead up phase and the key parts to include.

This phase would include: 

Pre-Planning: Before the hiring season even begins, the leadership of the school needs to come together to ensure they are on the same page about important information, the answers to key questions, vision/mission, and also to set up the dates for the New Employee Seminar (and ongoing support sessions). There also needs to be a clear “hiring path and process” so that new hires have a smooth experience from initial contact to signing the contract, and then through their on-boarding. While this may seem like an obvious point, you would be surprised at how many schools just don’t do this… which then leads to mixed messages to new hires, uncertainty, lack of clarity, and in the worst case, it can sour a new hire’s perspective about the school before they even start.

Communication: Immediately on acceptance of contract from the new hire the principal or division head welcomes them verbally if possible and definitely by email. That first email shares information about the new teacher and staff institute (on-boarding week), how to reach the direct supervisor, and if the person is relocating, an offer to assist connecting them with resources in the local area. It also should include a way for that person to ask any and all questions they might have and a contact person they can reach out to with those questions.

Personalized, Individual Contact with HR: A phone, Skype or in-person session with the HR Director to review the myriad documents, insurance forms, and other assorted required docs is essential. This can include technology agreements, process for fingerprinting or clearing other back ground checks, vehicle registration, etc. Ensuring folks know who to contact for questions and what steps need to be completed when helps immeasurably.

Email Connection: Some institutions prefer to not “turn on” employee email until their start date, and in some cases, email connection can’t happen for legal or contractual reasons. Fair enough. But I would contend that once the technology use agreement is turned in by the new hire, there is no reason to connect them to their enterprise email. This serves several purposes – one, it lets them “listen in” to the various groups, divisions, and teams to which they would be assigned, so that they get a bit of a leg up on what is being planned for the new year (as we all know, many teachers take those final few weeks to get the new year’s planning started). Second, it makes it easier for the school to reach the new teacher and gives an official line of connectivity that helps with summer questions. Finally, it allows the individual to tell their departing school (and the numerous friends they may be leaving there) how to reach them when they move on. It is just a great way to score a big “W” with new hires.

Identifying a Mentor and/or Support Person (People): Introducing the new hire to a non-evaluative support person can be a big plus for new hires. Some schools use existing leadership structures to fulfill mentor roles, such as tapping department or team leaders. Other schools identify mentors who might be similar in terms of outside interests or hobbies so there is a connection point in addition to the formal structures in the school. Either way, identifying this person to the new hire well in advance gives them someone to reach out to, and also provides an additional channel of support.

Sharing Summer Updates: Most schools have some manner of end-of-year communication to faculty and/or parents, as well as summer update information that goes out to faculty and/or parents. Having folks looped in on this, whether through their new school email or their personal email, gives the new hires an idea of what plans are on the horizon as well as perspective on focus areas, the first week of school, and allows them to see what parents are seeing about the year ahead. Part of the summer updating would include sharing the teaching schedule with the new faculty member so that they’re able to get their head around the work day’s flow ahead of time.

The above ideas work well for local schools, independent schools, and charter schools. For international schools, I would also recommend that there is a personal “general session” Skype invitation from the direct supervisor to all new hires to just answer the big questions that any major relocation sets up, as well as establishing some kind of monthly newsletter that updates all new hires on things they need to think about as they plan their move, complete required paperwork, secure visas, and think about housing as they prepare for the relocation. International hiring happens so early in the prior year that there are several months where questions and worry can build to “boiling points” – by proactively providing information on a regular schedule, many of these concerns can be alleviated or even avoided.

Next blog post: The New Faculty and Staff Seminar! Stay tuned.