With recruitment and retention such an important issue for schools, it matters even more than ever that new staff are able to settle quickly into their new schools. A significant part of that is how they are welcomed in the first place, according to Claudi BenDavid.

Like many teachers around the country, at the beginning of September, I started a new job. It’s essentially the same role as before, just at a different school, and technically my job title is “Teacher of Chemistry” instead of “Science Teacher” but it’s all much of a muchness.

Those who know me, know I hate change. During one particularly stressful week mid-pandemic, I came back after teaching double Year 9 to find the entire Science office had been rearranged and it completely threw me off my game. I prefer to be prepared for change, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.

I’m also both queer and Jewish, so starting somewhere new always comes with a fear that I’m walking into a minefield of prejudices. And yet, I felt confident about this change, this new beginning, and my confidence was far from misplaced.

Almost all of it is because of actions taken by my new school, my new team, and my new HoD. They weren’t actions that were particularly special, or impossible to replicate, and I’m sharing them with you today so that perhaps the new starters who join schools in the upcoming “transfer period” can feel welcomed and comfortable, just as I did and still do.

1. Sufficient Contact
Contact came from a variety of sources: from HR, the Head, my department directly and it was just the right amount.

Despite the September start date, I got the job way back in February. This meant that there was potential for a lot of dead time” between employment and starting. HR were fantastic, and were very clear in exactly what was needed, when it was needed and also when all the various cogs would turn. This meant I wasn’t left worrying “I’ve not had X, yet” or “Should I have sent them Y?”

A week or so after the induction day (more on that later) I got an unexpected text from the Head. He was contacting all of the new starters, and he asked if I could drop him a line. I said yes. He then rang me and we discussed what September would be like. He was absolutely fantastic about making sure they were doing everything necessary to make me feel comfortable, from checking I had what I needed, to asking whether I’d prefer Sir or Madam. It was, as I said, unexpected. But it very much set the tone for September.

All in all, communication wasn’t overwhelming and I didn’t feel like I was trying to work for two places at once. It was more that if there were questions, they were answered and if there were things that were relevant, they were shared.

2. Early Setup
We received our email addresses and login details on the induction day in July and they worked. Often when you start somewhere new you get given these things, but they haven’t been activated yet and won’t be until September. By having functional emails and logins before starting at the new school, it meant that we could more easily liaise with our new department and find out what we’d be teaching.

As well as the IT information, most of the new starters also got their ID cards, which means they could rock up on that first day of term and not have to ask to be let in. There’s little that makes you feel less welcome than having to wait around for permission to enter!

3. Useful Induction
At the beginning of the induction day there was an opportunity to have coffee and pastries, which was obviously nice, but what was better was that my HoD came down during this time to have a very quick chat with us new starters. Running a department is busy work, and him taking that little smidgen of time to chat to us before the day started went a long way to making me feel like I was a valued member of the team.

The Head of Year 7 also popped by to have a chat with me about the tutor group I’d be getting, what the kids were like and how the week is structured in terms of form times. Whilst it was a little bit of a surprise, I felt a lot more confident knowing the ins and outs than if I’d just been told “oh, by the way…”, or worse, turned up in September to be greeted with an extra block on my timetable.

Also on the schedule for the day was a bit of department time. This was run exactly like a department meeting, so we got to meet the team and, more importantly, we got to work alongside our new colleagues on some stuff that would be relevant in the coming year.

There was also further opportunity later where it was just us newbies which meant that we could ask a whole bunch of questions without feeling like we were boring and/or imposing on those veteran members of the department.

4. ”Pre-joining”
This is obviously a made-up phrase, but it’s the best way to describe what my department did. Anything that was relevant and/or useful to us for prepping for September was shared with us via the same methods we’d be using to communicate next year. This meant we could engage with it if we wanted to and start planning, but because it wasn’t via our personal emails it was very easy to completely ignore it until our start date. It also meant that when we did start, everything was in one, sensible, logical place, instead of floating around an inbox as a bunch of super-important attachments.

My new department has a very strong sense of ownership over their departmental policies. Each year, they get together and make any necessary changes or updates to the department handbook. Despite the fact that we very much hadn’t started yet, both myself and my fellow new starter were included in this process.

We were also invited, personally, to the traditional end of year meal. Often when invites go out they say things like “new starters are welcome to join us” which is lovely, but if you’re the sort of person who runs low on confidence, you can trick yourself into thinking they’re just saying that, and that if you went, you’d be the only new starter there. This wasn’t the case here. Both I and my fellow non-trainee starter went along and it was a thoroughly enjoyable time. It was an opportunity to meet my new colleagues outside of work and to sort of get to know them (and also, the food was fantastic).

5. Make Enthusiasm Visible:
Even after I’d got the job, any contact I had with my HoD about the school was filled with enthusiasm. At one point I joked that I didn’t need the sales pitch anymore, I had already accepted the job! But in all honesty, knowing that he was so enthusiastic about our school made me feel very much like I’d made the right choice.

In Summary:

Treat new starters like they’re part of the team. Keep them in the loop. Show off your enthusiasm for your school, department or team.

Author

Claudi is a Chemistry teacher at a North London academy. They are a massive nerd for all things T&L, blog regularly at not-matthew.blogspot.com, and aren't nearly as miserable as they look.

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