Staff Onboarding: Developing A Smooth and Meaningful Process

Over time, a school or center develops a particular culture, refines processes, and establishes traditions and ways to connect with families. As new teachers and staff members join your school or center, it is important that they are seamlessly integrated into the school community. A smooth and thoughtful onboarding process ensures that new staff can quickly acclimate to a school and have early opportunities to build connections, while minimizing disruptions to learning with the transition.    

To facilitate an easy on-ramp for new staff members to join a center at any point in the year, it is important for school directors and leaders to create a plan to organize the necessary paperwork and ensure staff complete the requisite trainings, find ways to connect staff members to students, families, and colleagues, and embed support into their first days, weeks, and months. A holistic approach to the onboarding process promotes a warm welcome for new staff and ensures that new teachers feel supported and adequately prepared to begin working with students. 

Plan

While some hiring processes fall on a predictable timeline as new positions are created or new staff members are hired to fill in for those retiring, there are times when a teacher needs to be hired quickly and move through an onboarding process within a few days. Consider maintaining a file of the necessary paperwork along with a checklist of forms and trainings that need to be completed. Set a date to update the file each year to ensure that it is ready to go as needed. Having all of the necessary materials in one place allows for an organized, efficient onboarding process. 

Beyond the basics of state requirements, health forms, and getting the teacher connected to your email and information system, consider what a new teacher would need to know to quickly acclimate to your school or center. Consider these questions as you think through the process:

  • What teaching materials or educational philosophies should the teacher know about before beginning their planning? Making sure the teacher has access to learn about the curricular materials ensures consistency as new teachers come into the school. 
  • Is there a family and/or staff handbook? It is important for a new teacher to be aware of how a school or center describes their guiding principles and approach as well as important protocols in relation to school processes, rules, and health and safety measures. Providing a new teacher with access to those materials can help them to align their teaching practices and approach to fit the school’s philosophy and help prepare them to work with students and communicate with families.
  • Is there a schoolwide method for communicating with families such as a weekly newsletter or family communication app? Ensuring that a new teacher knows the best way to connect with families can prevent any disconnection during a transition. 

Connect

Beyond the logistics of staff onboarding, it is important for new teachers and staff to feel connected to others at the school. This helps them to feel comfortable asking questions and sharing ideas both during the transition and beyond and improves the teaching and learning experience for all. Moreover, a teacher that feels connected to their colleagues, students, and families is more likely to remain at a school, helping to ensure long-term continuity and staffing for a center. 

As part of the onboarding process, take the time to introduce the new staff person to colleagues, students, and families. You might send out an email or post to a social media page to welcome the new staff person. Include a picture and a short bio along with what skills the new teacher brings to the center. You might share that they have a gentle, supportive approach to teaching, years of experience working with young children, or a fun energy and passion for working with busy toddlers. These first words and acknowledgements will not only make the new hire feel special and supported, but sharing your enthusiasm will also help colleagues and families to be excited about the new addition or change. 

Additionally, consider planning a social gathering a couple of weeks after someone new is hired. You might plan an activity during the evening hours or even have a special breakfast or lunch at the school. Any gathering that encourages teachers to talk and connect will help the new teacher to begin feeling comfortable and part of the school community. 

Support

Transitions to new roles or new buildings can be nerve-racking and challenging for even seasoned professionals. One of the most important parts of onboarding is to make sure that a new hire feels supported as they navigate their new role. By embedding opportunities for encouragement and assistance into a new teacher’s first days and weeks, you can help them to feel more confident and make sure that they are productively acclimating to their new school or center. 

As standard practice, you might invite a new teacher to visit the classroom of another teacher who has been at the school for a while or even work alongside them for a day or two. Consider connecting a new teacher with a mentor teacher–someone that is not a supervisor, but is available to brainstorm ideas or answer questions. Discuss training and professional development opportunities for teachers to learn additional teaching strategies, and set aside structured time to connect with the new staff person a few weeks after they have started to ask what else they might need to be successful. 

It is vital to proactively create these opportunities and channels for a new teacher to benefit from the support of staff, rather than assuming or hoping that they will organically develop. Doing this will mean that, starting on day one, new teachers will be part of a collaborative work environment, understand and contribute to the rich culture of a school, and ultimately become an integral part of the teaching and learning community.