Onboarding New Faculty-A Balancing Act

In the boarding school world, August is a month of duality. In one sense, summer is still present and thinking of it ending brings about a myriad of emotions. On the other hand, August is a time of excitement for what the new school year will bring. Each August new faculty make their way to boarding schools throughout the nation. There is the ever-present anxiety for teacher and schools combined with the excitement that a new school may be "it" or that a new faculty member may be the answer to a need the school sees as paramount. In both cases, hopes are high and initial days and weeks on campus can either reinforce the good feelings that exist between the school and a new hire or be a stressful mix unfulfilled expectations and awkward beginnings. 

How new faculty are onboarded should be fairly straightforward: Housing assignments are clear and the maintenance staff has residences in move-in condition. Schedules are ready and class rosters printed. Classrooms are assigned and have been cleared and cleaned prior to the new teachers arriving. Keys and IDs are on hand along with all of the forms needed by the school. Coaching assignments are complete and new faculty are given a clear inventory of gear. The music room/theater/studio are all ready for the new teacher's arrival.

In a likewise perfect scenario, new faculty members would have spent time over the summer organizing the content of their new classes, getting paperwork filed (background checks, fingerprints, etc.), researching their new school's location for banks, restaurants, and dentists, and reaching out to other members of their departments to begin collaborating.

Unfortunetly, neither of these sides of the coin roll out as easy as the above. From the school's standpoint, summer is a time to reenergize and most faculty and administration take some time away from campus. A skeleton crew is left to man the ship and much of the work needed for the next year is put off until August. Maintenance is working hard to meet the competing demands placed on them in fixing longstanding deferred projects, keeping the grounds maintained, renovating different areas, and doing the general work in the dorms that can't be done while students are present. Schedules are left in a semi-completed state, as new students will enroll throughout the summer and requests for course changes make finalizing a schedule a lesson in futility. Coaching and dorm assignments may be known, but as the housing carousel turns and last minute needs at the thirds B soccer level arise, some new faculty are left waiting for answers.

While some of this is avoidable, some simply is not. How then, do schools effectively onboard new faculty in a manner that gets them ready for their new job in a way that reduces axiety and stress but is also a reasonable effort for the school? Some schools invite new faculty members to campus in June to get aquainted with the community and fill out paperwork. Other schools have a clear point person to work with new faculty throughout the summer and organize all of the items needed for new faculty upon their arrival.

Move-in dates are one area schools can look to reduce the negative impacts of transitioning new faculty to campus. With most departing faculty expected to vacate campus housing by late June, some schools have taken the step to allow new faculty to move to campus as early as the second week in July. For many schools, this is not feasible for a variety of reasons including summer camps and maintenance work. However, expecting new faculty to move to a new location, unpack their lives, learn a new community, prep for the upcoming year, and be rested, ready and excited for the fall is unreasonable if they are showing up just a few days before meetings begin.

What does your school's mentor program look like for new faculty? Are they paired early in the summer so as to facilitate as much conversation as possible before the start of the year? Is the onboarding process (paperwork, due dates, backgrounds, pictures of housing assignments, lists of doctors etc.) made available in June? Do mentors have training and a clear purpose to their role?

Faculty are the engine that make schools go and are the single most important factor in the student experience. Identifying candidates and hiring them is only the start of the process that brings new hires into your school community and the lives of the students in your care. Having a plan in place to welcome, train, nurture, mentor, and retain new hires is simply sound practice, and one that should be atop lists with regard to admissions, development, and student retention.