August 14, 1995. My first official day as a professional educator. Yes, I had done some substitute teaching, even a long-term gig, but this was different. This was my very first day…new teacher day! We have all been there – that exciting first day when you meet your new colleagues, get to be in the room with other new, or new to the district, teachers. I remember my first day, but not a lot of the details that were shared with me. I remember some of the new faces I met, I remember feeling a bit star-struck, and I remember thinking how I couldn’t wait to meet my students.
Why did I open the blog with this bit of nostalgia? Because so many of us, as leaders, tend to forget the feelings our new staff will be having early in their time with our school or district. As leaders, we get excited too – right? We get excited about the new theme we have for the year. We are pumped up for the changes we have in store for our staff. But we forget that very few of our new staff will have any clue about the previous year in our school, about any previous initiatives, or the first inkling of how all the stuff fits together. So, when you start thinking about your opening staff meeting (don’t pretend like you aren’t already doing that), consider the following:
Be so clear about everything you ask that even the newest staff member understands it.
We all have initiatives we want to take on and have a plan how it gets accomplished. It’s kind of like your average science experiment or baking a cake. You gather all your chemicals, or ingredients, and see how it all comes together. And, yes, I was a science teacher. But we have to ensure everyone understands what we are doing and what the long term outcome should be, or what success looks like. At times, I did not do this very well. I will be honest, especially early in my leadership journey. I recall one of my assistant principals asking me, “hey, how do we catch our new people up on all that is happening and is expected of them?” That was a ‘two-roads’ moment for me. (not sure what that is, click here). In a recent conversation related to planning a leadership workshop (yep, I do those too), the superintendent and I talked about how many new people were joining their district and their leadership team. It was clear to both of us that the focused work and initiatives for her district needed to be brought to a granular level. Our hope is that everyone in her district has absolute clarity around what the work is, why it is important, and how it all fits together. The focus from my end, ensure that even the newest member of the district has a clear understanding of what is happening and what is expected.
How do I know that they know what I expect?
Both new and experienced leaders have this exact challenge. How do I know that they know what I expect? Let’s dig into that a little deeper. First, do you have absolute clarity regarding what you expect? Do you know what success will look like? Do you know where you’ll find that success? Who are your champions, who will resist, and how will you support both groups and those who fall in the middle? And what about the new people?!?!? Ok, ok, that is a lot of questions and can feel intimidating. It’s overwhelming just writing it.
The Bottom Line
You will have new members of your school or district this year. It’s pretty much a guarantee, every year. But you have many who are returning from the previous year as well. It can be easy to run with the flow based on the overwhelming majority of staff having been around for a period of time. But don’t make the mistake of thinking they have a full grasp of everything you expect of them. Take the step back, think it all through and invest your time in making sure they all can share in the vision and the goals you have set for the organization. If you look at your opening meetings, your initiatives, your plans and know that even your newest employee can understand the expectations and how it all comes together, then you’ve really nailed it. If not, pause and make sure you can get to this place. Clarity is essential and they will thank you for it.
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