Whether starting as an NQT, head of department or a member of SLT, the first day of a new job is full of trepidation: for both employer and employee alike.
I remember my first day as a senior leader following what felt like months of waiting since accepting the post. Would I live up to the head’s expectations? Would the staff take to my style of leadership? Would the students eat me alive?
Needless to say, once I found the courage to get out of the car and enter the building, all these fears and worries were allayed. There was a smiling face to greet me; a clear, well-structured induction and the students’ constant interrogations that made me feel like I belonged.
All of the normal anxieties wrapped up in new employment can usually be calmed by the knowledge that "we’ve all been there".
However, this isn’t a normal time and none of us have been here before, so questions that we usually have easy answers for need to be thought about anew.
Making new starters feel at home amid the coronavirus crisis
So how can we ensure that the new starters feel like vital members of the team in a brave new world of social distancing and self-isolation?
1. Reach out
First and foremost, pre-emptive contact is vital. In the period between interview and induction, most people may get the odd email, safeguarding checks, scheme of work in the post, but the real contact begins when you enter the door. After all, daily school life and the departure of your predecessor usually dominate the new school’s headspace.
With no physical building to walk through or any half-recognised faces to put new starters at ease, it would be comforting for both parties to establish contact as early as possible.
We need staff to remember why they chose our school and to instantly feel part of our team.
2. Buddy up
Phone calls and FaceTime meetings might be a great way to break the ice and share information but it is probably more important to have a more personal "buddy".
We know from our experiences of inducting new children into a school that forming a bond with one individual who represents the whole can help to ease transition and build confidence.
In light of Covid-19, it would greatly benefit new staff members to have that personal one-to-one approach, someone who can text and allow those silly little questions we all have to be asked.
With the best will in the world, a Microsoft Teams meeting of 40 staff isn’t going to help the newbie feel at home. Knowing someone's current personal situation also suddenly has a new sense of importance in order to ensure the new starter is actually ready to start and isn't sitting at home panicking about home-schooling their own three children and worrying about their isolated husband.
Honesty and kindness will stand the school in good stead further down the line.
3. Integrate gently
Inviting new staff into social situations is always tricky; finding that right balance between embracing and embarrassing. During these testing times, there are WhatsApp groups and Houseparty groups full of teachers letting off steam.
Whilst your trusted colleagues know your eccentricities and foibles, new staff won't be ready for it. The last thing we want is new staff questioning their decision to join the school after watching a colleague crying into their wine or being freaked out by the staff joker recounting episodes of Tiger King.
Introducing them to a few reliable key players via a group chat should be a lot less overwhelming.
From the personal pre-start contact you can then grow the relationships with other staff and really start to make new starters feel like they are important parts of the virtual school jigsaw, which, let’s face it, they absolutely are.
4. Define their role
With relationships beginning to build and the online inductions done, you can start to navigate their post. The job will clearly be different to what they were expecting pre-coronavirus but they will expect you to have a clear role for them to play.
While we are all finding our feet at breakneck speed at the moment, and poor outgoing staff have to navigate leaving school, having left the building weeks ago, it is never more important to make the right first impression on new staff.
The leadership we show now in this toughest of times will potentially pay dividends when we return to functioning as post-pandemic schools and will help the new recruit feel confident that, national crisis or not, the school is the right one for them.
Natalie Spears is an assistant principal in Stoke