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Teachers and the Art of Onboarding

For most parents in North America with school age children, the last several weeks probably involved the first day of school for the new school year. Generally speaking, for children in elementary school (grades P-6), this is a day that they mostly look forward to. They get a chance to start fresh with a new teacher, new school supplies, new classroom, new desk and new things to learn. This is not unlike when someone starts a new job. They leave their old role and company and look forward to starting their new position at the new company. The future is filled with the promise of a new boss, new “tools” to use, new office building/location and new things to learn. The parallels between the first day of school and the first day of a new job are uncanny!

Teacher and studentMy daughter has gone through six “first days” days now and generally speaking they have all gone very well. Once she gets over the initial nerves, she settles in and enjoys things. So why is that? Bottom line – teachers know how to onboard like hell! Seriously though – in what other profession do you have to onboard 30 kids/new hires in one day!? So what is it that teachers do as part of their “onboarding” process that works so well, especially on that critical first day? Typically the teacher focuses more on the experience and orientation elements on the first day of school as opposed to banging through the curriculum on day 1.  Here is what I have observed that teachers do so well and that we as managers, leaders and HR Pros could do/learn from them:

What teachers do: What managers SHOULD do:
  • They have the classroom prepared for the students before they arrive – including name badges/names on the door, books and other resources all neatly organized and the classrooms are pristine.  Everything looks new and welcoming – a place where the students WANT to be.
  • Make sure that reception knows that a new hire is arriving and have them great them by name.  Better yet, ensure that your department (and perhaps organization as a whole) knows that a new hire is starting.  Have the new hire’s desk/work area ready for them. Make sure they have the necessary office supplies, tools, equipment, access, etc. available to them that they will need to do their job.  And oh yeah, make sure their office/work area is clean and clear of clutter.  Nothing says, “you are not welcome here” by having the new hire move garbage and boxes out of their office on Day 1 just to settle in.
  • They have the students introduce themselves and tell the rest of the class about their summer vacation, or some interesting personal facts, etc.
  • Introduce the new hire to the team/department, etc.  Have the team prepared to meet/speak with the new hire to discuss their roles, how they will work with the new hire, what the department norms are, etc.
  • If the school is new to the student(s) or if there have been physical changes, they take the students on a tour to point things out and show them where they need to go for various classes (gym, music, French, etc.) and where important things like the washrooms and cafeteria are located.
  • Take your new hire on a tour of the office/facility.  Show them where important areas such as the lunchroom, washrooms, lockers, cafeteria or gym are located.
  • They have a “fun” work activity for the students to complete.  Typically, it is some sort of writing exercise designed to have the student write about their summer vacation.  It is meant to stimulate their creative juices, get them comfortable writing again about a topic that is easy to write about (themselves) and helps ease into the curriculum.
  • Have a work project ready for the new hire that will allow them to ease into their role while requiring them to leverage knowledge from their previous job and integrate with their new peer group.  Get them comfortable contributing in their new role while making an immediate contribution.
  • Bottom line – they have a PLAN
  • Bottom line – they need to have a PLAN
  • Make it about the students, not themselves
  • Make it about the new hire, not themselves
  • Make school a place where the students WANT to be
  • Make the work environment a place where the new hire WANTS to be
  • Have the student(s) look forward to coming back the next day
  • Have the new hire look forward to coming back the next day

I am sure I have missed some of the great things that teachers do on day 1; however, I think you get the picture. Managers and organizations can learn a lot from teachers and how they orient and onboard students. By putting on our teacher’s hat, I think we can all help our organizations do a much better job at onboarding new hires.
What else have I missed? I would love to hear back from you as we build this best practice list!

Image courtesy of Paul Gooddy/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net




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