In The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath share the following:
The lack of attention paid to an employee’s first day is mind-boggling. What a wasted opportunity to make a new team member feel included and appreciated. To avoid this kind of oversight, we must understand when special moments are needed … to spot the occasions that are worthy of investment.
How do you approach your employees’ first day of work?
Do you treat it as just another day?
Or, do you create special moments?
When Todd Whitaker wrote What Great Principals Do Differently in 2013, he said, “A principal’s single most precious commodity is an opening in the teaching staff.” A decade later, Whitaker’s words could not be more true as we navigate the worst teacher shortage in our nation’s history.
Given how difficult it is to find quality teachers, one would think school leaders would do everything in their power to make a good first impression on new employees. Unfortunately, many administrators fail to capitalize on this golden opportunity. Rather than treat new teachers as their most valuable asset, leaders prioritize “more important” tasks on their calendar.
“I wish I could,” say some school leaders when asked to spend more than 15 minutes with new employees, “But I’m just too busy.”
Listen, I’m all for delegating new-teacher orientation and other onboarding tasks to subordinates. However, I continue to be amazed by how infrequently new employees report interacting with “high level” leaders.
“You’ve spent more time with me today than I’ve ever spent with my superintendent,” said one new teacher during an icebreaker activity a few years ago. “My superintendent didn’t even know my name,” said another. Unfortunately, I've heard dozens of similar stories.
“I’m guessing these teachers came from large districts,” you may be thinking. I thought the same thing too ... until I asked. It ends up new teachers from small districts report “never seeing” their district leaders as often as new teachers from large districts.
Again, this begs the question: What could possibly be more important than a new employee's first day of work?
In The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni shares the following:
“The most memorable time of an employee's career, and the time with the biggest impact, are his or her first days and weeks on a new job. The impact of first impressions is just that powerful, and healthy companies take advantage of that to move new employees in the right direction.”
“Leaders of organizations need to understand the value of bringing in new employees with clarity, enthusiasm, and a sense of their importance. It is an opportunity that disappears within days or weeks of a new employee's arrival and should never be wasted.”
Below are seven ideas to consider when revamping your onboarding processes. To be clear, I'm not suggesting these ideas will not eliminate your teacher turnover issues. However, I am suggesting that the induction process deserves much more attention than most schools currently afford:
Mentoring: To help new employees feel comfortable, assign them a mentor. I'm not talking when the job begins in August ... I'm talking the moment the employee accepts the job. Mentors in our district are expected to immediately serve as district liaisons for new employees. Having this "point person" comes in handy when new staff have questions about paperwork, schedules, and expectations in the months leading up to their start date.
Communication: In addition to assigning mentors to the new teachers, leaders should also make immediate contact with new employees. As a former high school principal and current superintendent, I embrace this mindset by sending each new teacher a congratulatory text shortly after they are officially hired. Furthermore, I ask them to end a personal picture to be shared on social media.
Community Introduction: Once I have the employee’s picture, we create a social media post announcing the new hire. Not only do our community love seeing these pictures, our new employees love seeing how much attention their post receives. I often tell new employees "I hope you're ready to become a local celebrity!" because our community eats up these posts.
Utopia: During orientation, most schools outline a litany of expectations for new teachers. I believe we have this backwards. Rather than tell them how to behave, why not ask new teachers how they wish to be treated? We do this by asking new faculty to define their "dream school” – the ideal school environment in which they want to work. With hopes of meeting these expectations, we ask new teachers how accurately their definition matches current reality during their check-in meetings (see below).
Check-In Meetings: Leaders must connect early and often to ensure new teachers are feeling supported. Whereas most administrators invest time during the first couple days … few administrators intentionally check-in on employees once school begins. In our district, it is the expectation that both the principal and the superintendent complete 30-minute 1:1 meetings with each new teacher during first semester. Not only do teachers appreciate these meetings … I have found these conversations to be among my favorite professional practices!
Special Delivery: As was previously discussed, our local florist delivers a school-themed plant to every new teacher on the first day of school. These gifts look great in classrooms and help new staff feel special. To make the moment extra special, leaders should write each new teacher a personalized note explaining how lucky they are to have them in their building.
Get Real: The onboarding experience must align with the “real” culture. School leaders must ensure that the values they preach on day one match the values employees can expect year-round. If your school has some work to do, own it! Don’t be afraid to mention your weaknesses and discuss the goals you are working towards. Unfortunately, many new teachers suffer long-term shock when they realize the pollyannaish stories they heard during orientation is much different than day-to-day reality.
During one new-teacher orientation, a teacher pulled me aside and say the following: “Thanks for texting me after I got the job, meeting with us today, and for everything you do to make us feel important. I don’t think I saw my superintendent during my three years at my previous district.”
To be fair, this teacher’s previous district was much larger than ours. However, I couldn’t believe this employee had never met her district leader. A few days later, I saw on social media that this particular district was dozens of teachers short to start the upcoming school year.
While it’s unlikely this district’s teacher shortage was a direct result of the leader’s inaccessibility, it makes you wonder how many staff would stay if leadership showed genuine interest in employees.
What are you doing to make a good first impression?
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