Shelton, Kent, Clover Park, Tacoma, Abu Dhabi---five different districts and five different ways of welcoming and on-boarding new hires. What I’ve learned is that an effective on-boarding program needs to address the logistical, the cultural, and the curricular.
This begins by making induction a priority at both the district and school level. Then, developing a program that is rooted in best practices and research. The program should embed meaningful mentoring that is differentiated for the range of new hires. It should weave the “nuts and bolts” with ongoing professional learning about the larger school community and district culture (mission and values). Lastly, it should be designed with adult learners in mind.
I’m currently in the best induction experience of my career. Hired in November of 2018 at the American Community School of Abu Dhabi, we received info about our new school and their culture almost immediately. Within days of saying “yes to the dress”, we received a transition handbook that systematically walked us through the history of our school, introduced us to the demographics of our families and wove a mix of procedures (apartment details, paychecks), policies (assessment) and expectations (school dress code, laptops) throughout. It even embedded details about language, culture and customs of the UAE and helped orient us to the region. In December, our principal sent us a book about the history and culture of the UAE. In January, I opened my mail to find postcards of famous sights around town, created by ACS photography students. In early spring, we were assigned school email addresses and access to discussions that shed light on the norms of the school community. Besides the rockstar team from HR, Nate and I were matched with a “school buddy” to answer all our curriculum and logistics questions. Then, we met our “social buddies” who answered every other question imaginable. From driving in Abu Dhabi and what to send in our shipment to what football team we should support, we felt well prepared to move across the world.
A Soft Landing
The team who designed our on-boarding process intentionally layered each aspect keeping both human and teacher hierarchy of needs in mind. As humans starting a new life in a new city, we needed to create comfortable living spaces but the constantly whirling teacher brain was also concerned with the logistics of setting up a classroom and adjusting to the school’s systems.
Just before the move, we received a Google doc that detailed of our two-week orientation (can I get an amen for a well-organized spreadsheet?!). When we arrived in the Abu Dhabi airport, (hot, sweaty and delirious) we were cheered by principals and district leadership, given bottles of cold water, and driven to our apartments. The following day we met two teachers who stocked our flats with basic needs, organized Ikea trips, dragged us to the grocery store and build in afternoon naps. If that wasn’t enough, we attended a catered “Welcome to ACS” dinner and were personally welcomed by the superintendent and her staff.
It wasn’t until day four that we stepped foot onto the school campus. The following week centered on orienting us to the school’s physical space and the culture of learning. Mind you, this all occurred while feeding us both breakfast AND lunch each day.
That’s right. Everyday we were shuttled to/from campus and fed. Everyday we were told to take care of ourselves (run home for a couch delivery, etc). Everyday we were given insight into the ways in which teachers are expected to teach and to learn as part of this community. I was asked by at least 17 different people if I needed anything or had a question they could answer. I mention all of this #becauseteacherMaslowshierarchymatters
Information was intentionally released— layered through a mix of Powerpoint (yes, health insurance reps are the same everywhere), interactive small group jigsaws and break out sessions. There was flexible seating arrangements, access to WiFi, and an ongoing supply of coffee and cold water.
When the entire staff arrived for their first day back to work, I felt like I wasn’t just thrown into the deep end. I could follow conversations and most importantly, I was conversant in the language and culture of the school. Because my other needs were met, I was able and eager to engage in conversations about curriculum. In fact, we were dying to plan our lessons and launch our Google classrooms.
Now, almost two months into school, we’ve had individual and group check-ins including a problem solving luncheon. Tomorrow is a “you made it 50 days” celebration. I’m really grateful for the team who built this program and all the people who continue to support the “newbies.”
This is Replicable
What has happened at this international school is scalable and replicable elsewhere.
Meaningful on-boarding in a US context means creating systems that communicate with one another. District, school teams, and unions need to work in collaboration to ensure that all new hires are integrated into their new placements. While central office handles paychecks, policies and procedures, the local school orientation team would ease the transition by deep diving into the mission and vision of the school as well as some nuts and bolts like where to make copies and when common assessments are due. Local education associations can continue as partners offering relevant professional learning, opportunities for leadership, etc. Each of these entities could partner with community businesses to fund aspects of the program or support with coffee and snacks. A little more intentionality would go a very long way.
Certainly it will take work, collaboration and probably some political will to design a comprehensive on-boarding program to support new hires. If major stakeholders in the on-boarding process clearly and intentionally root their choices in the 3 elements (logistics, culture, and curriculum), new hires will be better equipped for the normal chaos of a new school year. Consequently, an adjusted and supported teacher will be more effective in the classroom and likely to stay long term.