Teacher Retention: It Starts with Strong Onboarding
Efforts to welcome new teachers to your school community and prepare them for the new school year are critical, but establishing and maintaining a strong school culture is an ongoing part of the job. Here are five tips that will strengthen your teacher onboarding process.
If you’re not still scrambling to fill those last teacher openings, you’ve probably spent your summer meticulously planning for the onboarding and professional development of your teaching staff. Your efforts to welcome new teachers to your school community and prepare them for the new school year are critical, but once the year gets started, the momentum and excitement felt at the start often disappears.
So what happens when the honeymoon period comes to an end, and the chaos of the school year takes over?
The fact is, as a school leader, the process of onboarding your staff doesn’t stop when the kids show up day one. It doesn’t end that first week, or even that first month. Establishing and maintaining a strong school culture is an ongoing part of the job - and we’d argue, one of the most important. Because, with a strong school culture, you’re not only keeping teachers enthusiastic and optimistic about this year - you’re likely increasing your rate of retention across the board. People want to be where they feel valued and important.
Here are a few ideas to help strengthen your onboarding plan for teachers:
Schedule Time with Your Staff
Time is love, and everyone wants time with their school leader. Be sure to set one-on-ones with every new hire - and don’t neglect your opportunities to strengthen the relationships you’ve established with your returning staff members. Ideally, you would do this once during their first week on the team and again after the honeymoon is over, six weeks or so into the school year. You don’t need a ton of time for this, and you don’t need a highly detailed agenda. Twenty minutes will do.
- How are you?
- What is going really well?
- What unit are you most excited about?
- What suggestions do you have for us as a leadership team?
Boom. Instant love and connectivity. People don’t come to work for organizations, they come to work for you. Make it count.
Assign Mentors for All New Team Members
Who are your culture leaders on staff? Pair them up with new team members and schedule regular, quick, 20 minute check-ins on a bi-weekly basis. The reality is that new teachers aren’t going to divulge everything to you in your one-on-one, but give them a colleague they trust, and they will often be more willing to share how things are going. This isn’t about having veterans report back on what new members are complaining about. It’s about building trust and building team. In fact, unless a serious flag arises, you should be intentional about mentors not reporting anything back to you.
Though you want these to feel informal, you can establish some structure by creating a list of check-in questions for mentors to use as a guide. Examples include:
- “How are things going?”
- “What was one win you’ve had this week in your classroom?”
- “Are there any pain points in your day that I can help you troubleshoot?”
Create Inclusive Social Time
Find time during normal working hours for staff to socialize informally and get to know each other better. School leaders often default to happy hours as a way for staff to interact outside of work; however, happy hours may not be inclusive of everyone. Instead, try using the first 30 minutes of a monthly all staff meeting or PD session for a pizza party, potluck, or ice cream social. Everyone loves free food.
Establish Open Communication
Send a weekly all staff email that outlines the week, ideally on Sunday afternoons. Consider whether there are any events happening that teachers need to attend. Will there be visitors coming in to observe classes? Teachers appreciate a heads up on these sorts of things. Plus, you can highlight wins from the previous week or even profile different staff members in a way that authentically highlights best practices and models what you’d like to see from all teachers. Set yourself a calendar reminder so that it comes out at a predictable time each week.
Pro Tip: Create the same sort of regular email communication for newly hired teachers who haven’t yet started. This can go out on a monthly basis. Include pictures and even videos to help them see the awesomeness that awaits when they join the team!
Send Thank You Notes
These go a long way! Get yourself a box of blank cards and keep them handy on your desk. Calendar 10 minutes, twice per week, to write 2-3 short thank you cards to new (and any) team members. Put them in an envelope and personally deliver it or leave it in their mailbox. The only rule here is that these must be genuine. This is separate and apart from the feedback teachers would get from an observation.
Pro Tip: Create a tracker so that you don’t leave anyone out - and make sure everyone gets one thank you, before anyone gets a second.
There are so many ways to increase the effectiveness and impact of your onboarding process. No matter what you try, the most important thing is to be purposeful in what you do and systematic in how you create structures to make this happen. Once you do, you’ll find the good vibes of summer onboarding flowing throughout the school year.
Have a great idea for others to include in their onboarding plans? Tweet it here @getselectedco.
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