It’s been difficult for me these last two months, and I haven’t been posting much. At first, I thought perhaps it was just the difficulty of an election year, which bombards us with so much information that it is difficult to sort. On reflection, though, I realized I was struggling with a bout of frustration and anxiety regarding school. A teacher leader I met via Twitter years ago has been there for me, and reminded me that there are things I cannot fix immediately. It was because of her help that I was able to start reflecting on my journey and how it resembled that of a new teacher.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the vocation to which I am called, and working with kids and colleagues at this district. The ideas I share are not about any one district, either, but about how systems change and adapt.How many teachers are hired in an average school year? I wondered that, but the data I found was old, from an NCES 2005 report, suggesting a mobility of between 550,000-600,000 teachers per year. Of that, only about 10% of those are new graduates. Surprisingly, that’s a comfort to me, because it means I am not unique. There are many other professionals in my field who move from one space to another, or one level to another.
What structures, then, exist, to help schools in planning for experienced staff hires? Turns out, it’s a niche question worth exploring. To start, I asked myself how the drivers for new teachers vary from that of experienced educators?
Driver 1—District vision and procedures. When someone takes on a new teaching position, there are all sorts of hoops to jump, regardless of district, so this is the one thing all teachers need. Some schools have carefully outlined materials for every procedure, and others do not, but focus your time on what is most important. Split up these efforts over multiple meetings. Remember, each building usually has that people that are the keepers of the common knowledge, so it is just as effective to assign point people the new employees can go to as it is to read every procedure.
Driver 2—Plan based on competency, not assumption. An entrance survey can check employee strengths, and avoid repetitive, tedious meetings. Effective planning here is key. A good start is a team of teachers and administration to decide what the highest educational priorities are (visual learning, response to intervention, smart goals, etc.). By seeing which teachers already have that knowledge and background via either micro-credentials, transcripts, or resume-mining, skills of experienced teachers can immediately add to the diversity and strength of a staff and avoid the issue of little voice for a new teacher in a district. From there, personalize the schedule to meet the needs of the individuals, rather than providing a one-size-fits-all vision.
Driver 3—Empathize with new employees. Very few schools get this right, because design thinking is not a common strategy for most schools. Asking employees about their specific needs for the position is a critical part of building relationship but most go way beyond ‘working in the classroom’ time. It requires the back-to-school planners to be nimble. For example, employees who have multiple buildings to visit have much different questions than a teacher focused mainly on one content area or grade level.
Driver 4—Show the joy in the culture. With more than twenty years in educational systems and the approaches of multiple districts to similar issues, I have seen different approaches. I’ve taken bus rides to see the highs and lows of the districts in which I teach, and interviewed with teacher/admin teams. There have been welcomes with multiple meals and gift baskets from the communities, and sometimes only a barbecue. There are times when I been exhilarated by the learning and others where I have tried to sleep with my eyes open. But my longest tenures have come in systems where other colleagues welcomed me from day one in each building and level, stopping by my room to say hi, and building relationships with me. These small relational kindness, more than any other reason, encourage me to fully utilize my skills for the students which I teach daily.
It’s not to early to begin the conversations and to involve others in the leadership that reimagines this staple of employment. Thoughts?