A heartfelt congratulation to you if your school culture is the envy of most other school leaders. You, along with so many others, have dedicated countless hours and devoted an inordinate amount of energy to develop a culture where everyone feels a strong sense of belonging and is confident that they can be successful in your school. People are beating down the doors to get in! Or maybe you are in the midst of rebuilding or establishing your culture and are focused on the current students and staff; you are finally feeling like you have hit the sweet spot. Whichever the case, what happens when someone new comes along? Whether it be a student, staff or school leader, schools with strong culture have traditions that ensure that the newcomers feel welcome and they can assimilate successfully into your school and be part of the wonderful things happening in your school. Check out some of the ways you can make this happen:
Welcoming New Students
New students vary in their behavior and/or attitude upon arrival to a new school. Some are very reticent; they just want to be a wallflower and blend in. Others are not so reserved or hesitant, they want to bring their culture with them and have you adapt to it instead of the other way around. So how do you ensure that the students maintain their sense of individuality, but also find a home in your school? The best schools have a student ambassador group that has a procedure to orient all new students upon arrival and an administration intent on ensuring that new students feel part of the school fabric.
Have every new student school meet all members of the school administration and guidance department. They will be immediately reassured by friendly faces that are willing to help them adjust easily. A member of the student ambassador group should tour them through the building the day prior to beginning classes with a school map. Confirm that students’ are comfortable with finding their classes, understanding the “ins and outs” of the cafeteria and lockers or student spaces. Make sure that they have someone to eat lunch with; this is the most terrifying part of a new student’s first day. Anticipate it, and enlist a lunch buddy or group of lunch buddies until they have the opportunity to find their own.
When scheduling students, take into account the students’ previous school success. Carefully choose teachers and classroom environments that will allay fears or anxiousness while meeting the needs of the students and challenging them to reach academically. Bring your staff into the loop; give them the necessary information so that they can help to welcome students and make connections with the new student(s). Assign one staff member to mentor the student through the transition period. Parent connections are so important. Set up a procedure to, not just welcome the student, but the family as well. Postcards, email or phone calls welcoming the family to your school community will resonate long after the first day. Make them feel as though they are family, because after all– they are!
Welcoming New Staff and Administration
You are not just hiring a new staff member, you are welcoming someone to your school family. They may have family members-outside of school, so, why not celebrate ALL of them? Invite new staff and their families to a social event honoring them. Outfit them with some cool school swag and gear. Arrange lunch dates for newbies to get to know other staff members.(Check out how John Deere welcomes their new employees.)
Have new staff members meet EVERY member of the school administration team along with school board members. Putting a face with a name helps to create familiarity. Set-up a a buddy systems for staff; just as there are student ambassadors, there should be staff ambassadors. Encourage your newbies to seek help with designated people who will take the time to show them the ropes in your school.
Be patient—they will not know everything immediately. Face-to face conversation with new staff about missing deadlines, incomplete lesson plans/ documents, or missed duties are much less intimidating than something formal and in writing. Follow up with clear instruction or directives to help staff meet their obligations. Introduce new staff members to as many people as you can; they will unlikely remember everyone’s name, but will recall the genuineness of one’s face. Try making a (cheat sheet) staff directory with pictures next to the name for easy recall. Check in on new staff often–relationships take time and opportunities to build.
Remember “Culture is not created, changed or maintained by one person”, but they can influence it. Make sure expectations are clearly demonstrated to the newcomers and a warm environment has been established–and they will take pride in being part of your school family!
Paul J. Berardelli is a the principal of Delsea Regional High School. Paul has challenged himself to be a true educational leader by inspiring his staff and students to excel. More recently, Paul has been featured in ASCD Journal for his article “Road Tested / Getting Up to Speed with Speed PD” and “Why Every Administrator Should Team Teach”. You can follow Paul on Twitter @PaulBerardelli
Michele Hill is a passionate educator in her 25th year of teaching–students first, curriculum second. Throughout her career as an educator, Michele has been a champion for struggling and impoverished students. Michele has been a guest blogger for ASCD Inservice, McGraw Hill, Principal Leadership and ASCD Road Tested. You can follow Michele on Twitter @HillMrispo or visit her blog: spiritededucator.blogspot.com