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COVID-19 Quick View: Remote Learning Guidance & Resources

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Today’s One Thing for Leaders: Hiring Teachers in a Remote Setting, Part 2 – Teacher Onboarding

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Jeremy Jones

The Learning Accelerator

Due to recent school closures, school leaders are having to get creative to recruit and select teachers remotely and to design onboarding plans that prepare them for success in the coming year – whatever that may look like. Effective school systems and principals create smooth and efficient processes to support teacher engagement throughout the onboarding process, which should be focused on specific teacher needs and based on leader observations (made from the time of recruitment to the first day of work), as well as teacher reflections, personal assessments, and the right content to ensure teacher success.

This week’s big question is: How can school leaders best onboard new teachers remotely and set them up for success in a remote teaching environment?

Onboarding new teachers (including teachers who are new to the profession and experienced teachers new to the school) requires school leaders to manage relationships effectively while also managing and monitoring progress. School leaders are often skilled at both relationship and process management. The most effective school leaders get it right in these three areas: clear communication and coordination; learning, training and coaching; and building connections with the community.

Clear Communication and Coordination

Often, there are multiple stakeholders involved in hiring teachers. Clear communication and coordination with all of those stakeholder groups right from the beginning will ensure that a teacher’s onboarding experience positions them for success. Working closely with your district’s human resources team will ensure processes are efficient and adapted appropriately in this time of school closures.

When thinking through this component, ask yourself: What are all of the parts of the onboarding process? Who owns each of those stages?

  • Who should know about new hires? How do we best involve them in the welcoming process in a way that is inviting and not overwhelming?
  • What are the essentials for the new teacher to know now, during the summer, during professional development, and in the first weeks of school?
  • How will we welcome a new teacher on their first day of work?
  • How can we communicate in a way that lets the new teacher know what to expect, when to expect it, and how to be successful?

Answering these questions will provide clarity for the process. An example from YES Prep Northbrook Middle School breaks down these questions and organizes them into a series of onboarding days.

Learning, Training, and Coaching

What to Learn

Great training and coaching begin with crystal-clear competencies that new teachers must build to be successful in their new school. These competencies should be aligned to a school’s mission and goals. School leaders might need to do an analysis of what skills incoming teachers are bringing to the team while also articulating what they’ll need to be successful in a new setting – including the skills that will help them succeed in facilitating remote learning. Once these competencies are identified, principals and their instructional coaching teams can determine the best way to support incoming teachers with those skills.

In addition to competencies, school leaders should ensure teachers clearly understand the context of where they will be working, including school goals and mission, instructional approaches used in their school, and information about the community.

How to Learn

After clarifying competencies that lead to success and assessing areas of strength and opportunities for coaching, school leaders can create systems to personalize professional learning. When professional learning is personalized to the needs of incoming teachers, it creates deeper ownership, development, and buy-in to the school’s support structures. As always, these supports should be linked to identified competencies that will allow teachers to be successful.

Below, we have listed a few resources from school systems currently offering personalized support within the online space, as well considerations for the design of online adult learning.

Trailblazer Elementary School’s PLCs: Trailblazer Elementary School in Colorado Springs, CO, prompts its teachers to develop a personalized professional growth plan that helps them identify their own needs to better support personalized learning for students.

Online Professional Learning: Remote environments provide opportunities for schools to be creative about professional learning. TLA has developed a series of resources to support school leaders making this shift to online professional learning.

Changing the Approach to Teacher Development: At Lovett Elementary in Chicago, teachers received additional training in learning science that helped them continue to personalize instruction for students.

There are a lot of opportunities to transition these systems into a remote environment. Through leveraging technology tools and being creative about the use of time, school leaders have the opportunity to increase teacher effectiveness in remote settings. Online professional learning for instructional staff can best support teachers when school leaders ensure that the platform for learning is strong, there is a rigorous focus on content, and adults can engage with learning actively.

Building Community, Connection, and Support Systems

Making new teachers feel welcome in an unfamiliar school is an important priority in the onboarding process. Nurturing a sense of connection and community provides a valuable support system for new teachers as they integrate into a new environment. Some strategies to consider are:

    • Create a curated playlist of news articles: Creating a playlist of curated, local news articles that feature both the assets and challenges in the community can help incoming teachers identify sources of strength and give even more importance to their work. When paired with a video conference debrief about those articles, school leaders are able to shape the mindsets of incoming teachers about the community.

    • Use Google Maps to create a graphical representation of local assets: Invest experienced teachers by surveying them, asking them to provide one or two key community locations that are important to the neighborhood and to their students and families. These could be local hangouts, grocery stores, parks, or other community assets that help shape the place where they live. After compiling all of these locations, plot them on a Google Map for incoming teachers to study and reference.
  • Team Spirit: Many schools have T-shirts, sweatshirts, or other school spirit gear that feature identifiable logos, mascots, and slogans that are important to your school. Sending an incoming teacher some school swag is a great way to introduce them to school culture and make them a part of the team. If you aren’t able to send incoming teachers school spirit items because of closures, think about ways to replicate the messages and emotions your school swag conveys in a remote way.
    • Post a welcome message on school social media accounts: Try using the template features in Canva to create fun welcome messages for incoming teachers that you can post on school social media accounts as a way to create enthusiasm, excitement, and buzz for your new recruits while making incoming teachers feel welcomed.
  • Peer Support: Making connections between incoming teachers and teachers who have experience at the school is a great way to involve your current team in the onboarding process. Depending on the size and organizational structure of the school, having new teachers connect with grade-level leads or department chairs helps to build a strong network of support. There are some easy substitutes to generating peer support in remote settings. To get started, you might try one of the ideas listed below.
    • Have a peer send a quick welcome video: Using your current team of teachers, have an experienced teacher at your school create a video using their computer or smartphone to welcome an incoming teacher. There is no need to get fancy (although some more tech-savvy teachers might want to!) with these videos. Snapping a quick video and sending it over by email or text message is a great way to build comradery and convey a human-to-human connection.

    • Team culture orientation with teammates: To facilitate a more formal process, department heads or grade-level leaders may consider hosting an online forum or orientation to the team for new recruits. To make things less intimidating, these school leaders can schedule one-on-one meetings that position them to support incoming teachers and help familiarize new teachers with direct contacts they can make when they need help.
  • Introductory Emails: Hiring new teachers is an exciting event, and having everyone share in that excitement can build a stronger community. When onboarding new teachers, an introductory email to the school staff and other stakeholders can make a new teacher feel welcome and keep the rest of the team up-to-date about new hires.
  • Personal Inventory: A great way for teachers to feel included and known is by asking them to complete a personal inventory of things they like. You might include questions about their favorite song or snack, or you may also ask how they like to be recognized or celebrate their wins. This is a great thing to keep on hand for all teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week.

Next Steps

Teacher onboarding will continue despite the challenges we are facing with school closures. As many organizations begin planning for the possibility of school resuming in a variety of formats this fall, it is important that school leaders plan for successfully onboarding new teachers for many possible situations. Want to go deeper? Check out our Problem of Practice series on teacher onboarding:

Let us know what your plans are for bringing new teachers onto your team by Tweeting us @LearningAccel.

Jeremy Jones

Jeremy Jones

The Learning Accelerator

Jeremy Jones is a Partner at The Learning Accelerator, where he brings insight to TLA's schools and systems strategy work. Jeremy has spent 15 years working alongside students and families in schools across the country to close the academic achievement gap.