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The first year of teaching is a giant leap from theory to practice. The learning curve is steep even under the best of circumstances. It is hard to fathom the difficulties that lie ahead for this batch of first-years. Many new teachers have never been inside the school where they will teach. Others don’t know if they will teach in person or remotely. As information changes day-to-day, new teachers can’t reach out to colleagues—as they don’t yet know them. Supporting our newest colleagues is more important than ever. Here’s how school leaders are onboarding new teachers during the pandemic.
Dr. Adam Drummond, author of The Instructional Change Agent, suggests school leaders make themselves available. “Never underestimate the power of connecting. We have taken it for granted. If this pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we thrive on human connection.”
First, pick up the phone and call your newest hires. Then, ask what help they need. Finally, give them space to ask questions. If your school is remote, set up a weekly Zoom meeting or office hours where new teachers can connect with you.
Work with parents and staff to put together and mail a welcome package with last year’s yearbook, a tumbler or t-shirt with your school’s mascot, hand sanitizer, and other supplies. Then, celebrate new teachers’ success on social media and at faculty meetings. Help them see they are developing and strengthening the most important muscles a teacher needs: flexibility and resilience.
Onboarding new teachers during the pandemic can feel impossible as information about COVID-19 is changing daily. First, be selective in the type and amount of information you share at new teacher training.
Jennifer Sullivan Currence, a special educator leader at York School District in Rock Hill, South Carolina, says her district is prioritizing setting clear expectations and training new teachers to use virtual tools. “We have a district-wide new teacher program prior to others starting. It’s going to be virtual this year with orientation to our virtual platforms, district info, and chances for breakout time specific to age group/area.”
New teachers aren’t familiar with a school’s communication norms and culture yet. First, be transparent about how, when, and with what tools teachers communicate. Next, encourage new hires to reach out.
Ashley Starns, a first year teacher in Lawrenceville, Georgia, knew exactly how to communicate with her lead teacher during her first year of teaching. “She created a group text for our team and held Zoom sessions every week to check in. She was very open to the questions I emailed her, and responded quickly.”
Seeking feedback is how you will learn if your new teacher training and onboarding are helpful. First, set up and maintain ongoing feedback systems. Use a Google Form, Survey Monkey, Poll Everywhere, or another feedback tool. Ask questions about the training and support. First, is it effective? Next, what do they need that they don’t have? Host socially distanced feedback sessions or schedule virtual sessions. Use tools like Padlet or Flipgrid for asynchronous feedback.
Seek out personalized professional development for new teachers. Research shows instructional coaching and mentoring are effective ways to keep new teachers in their jobs and help them get even better. Set aside funds (if you can) for programs that support new teachers with personalized and ongoing support.
Need ideas? A new program in Virginia, The Virginia New Teacher Support Program, is matching first-and second-year teachers with an instructional coach that first years will meet with every other week during the academic year.
First year teachers spent their last semester of teacher preparation practicing remote learning. They saw what worked and what didn’t. They tested out new tools and teaching methods. Many new teachers are digital natives who know how to use technology effectively. Use their expertise and learn from them.
Dr. Amanda Roth, Professor of Practice and Director of Field Placement at the University of San Diego, recommends that school leaders listen to new teachers and make them feel valued. “Pull out all the stops for these new teachers so that they are energized, mentored, and supported in ways that will encourage them to remain in the field.”
It’s hard not to feel worried or unprepared right now. But it’s more important than ever to lean on each other. Everyone is a first year teacher this year, whether they have been in the field for two days or twenty years. Craig Smith, a principal at Lake Norman Charter School in Huntersville, North Carolina, tweeted, “For ‘20-21, we are ALL first year teachers, counselors, principals, assistant principals, and superintendents. None of us have ever experienced what we are going to endure & accomplish this year. We are all in this TOGETHER. We’ll be our best.”
Remind your newest colleagues that teachers learn how to be flexible and adapt. You can’t dip your toe in or wade in slowly. You have to jump into this profession and teach yourself how to swim. The good news: you aren’t swimming alone.
One resource we love to recommend to new teachers is the Teacher’s Corner from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It’s packed with “bite-sized” professional development resources on reading, math, social studies, digital learning, and more. Thanks to our friends at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for sponsoring this post.
Please share your tips for onboarding new teachers during the pandemic in the comments below.