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The onboarding process: 7 tips to combat cold feet

Buddy systems, relocation advice and homework are all good ways that international schools can keep new staff excited before they arrive

Mark Steed

Staff arriving at school

As the international recruitment window moves ever earlier, the gap between a job being accepted and the actual start date can drag on, risking candidates getting cold feet and changing their mind about taking up a role. 

As such, it’s important that schools do all they can to keep their new signings warm, engaged and fired up for the move.

Here are seven ways that international schools can build an effective induction programme to support staff moving abroad.

1. Make regular contact

It’s really important for the school to keep in regular contact with new staff, just to show that they value the person joining the organisation. The HR department will do this routinely, but it makes a real difference if others get in touch as well.

It takes very little effort for a subject leader to send the occasional email, or even just to include new staff in the distribution of departmental meeting minutes.

Keeping in touch is particularly important when the city or region is facing a crisis, such as political protests, extreme weather events or concerns about outbreaks, such as the coronavirus in Asia.

It is quite understandable that new recruits and their families will be having second thoughts if they are being bombarded by the media with negative images.

It is vital that schools keep open lines of communication to allay fears and to give reassurance at these times.

2. Guide new staff through the red tape

The induction process for teachers moving to work abroad usually starts months before the adventure begins.

Certain paperwork is much easier to do while still in the UK, such as getting local police clearance or producing attested copies of degree and teaching qualification certificates and, where relevant, marriage certificates.  

It cannot be underestimated how important it is that schools have a strong (and patient) HR team, who will put new joiners at ease by guiding them through what they need to do in a timely manner.

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3. Offer relocation advice

One of the most difficult elements for someone moving abroad can be working out what they need to bring with them.

The temptation is to ship too much out of a fear that it won’t be available or will be too expensive abroad. Rather than reinventing the wheel, school HR teams can help by pointing new staff to local online forums and networks (such as ExpatWoman.com).

It is also well worthwhile for schools to collate a list of frequently asked questions that they can share with new recruits.

4. Assign teacher buddies at an early stage

Schools often allocate new staff with teacher buddies when they join the school but, for international schools, it is worthwhile considering bringing this whole process forward prior to the move.

A like-minded buddy, who is in a similar role and has similar personal circumstances (married/single; children similar age, etc) can make all the difference, as they are able to give the new recruit advice and perspective.

Having helped the new staff member before their arrival, the buddy is then even better placed to help the new starter to settle into the school and the expat community.

5. Induction visits

One of the curious things about the international circuit is that, now that recruitment fairs and Skype interviews are becoming much more commonplace, it is quite possible that the person appointed has not even visited the school.

At Kellett, we routinely fly out senior leadership appointees to spend some time in the school to meet their teams and to do some planning for the coming year.

Given that few international schools have a summer half-term, this is often an ideal time.

It’s also worth schools extending an open invitation to visit if you happen to be “passing through” – I’ve been surprised how many candidates do.

6. Set some homework

There is a wave of enthusiasm that new recruits experience when about to embark on the adventure of moving abroad and schools would do well to tap into this.

The period between appointment and arrival is an ideal time to give an insight into the new country and what it is like to live there.

Schools can do this by sending through local lifestyle magazines and even by suggesting a list of films and books that provide some background.

I spent the summer after my appointment reading Frank Welsh’s A History of Hong Kong, James Clavell’s Tai-Pan and John Lanchester’s Fragrant Harbour.

7. Use social media to connect new staff

Teachers who are moving abroad can feel quite distant and isolated from the school community they are joining. One way to overcome this is to connect them via social media.

Some schools host a new-starters group on Facebook that allows the new cohort to get to know each other and ask questions.

Over time, these can become a repository for frequently asked questions.

The group can foster a sense of camaraderie and sense of identity for the ”Class of 2020”, so that when its members finally meet at the new staff social, they already “know” each other.

A welcoming school culture

First impressions count – and that applies as much to schools as it does to teachers.

HR departments may be in the front line when it comes to recruitment and on-boarding of staff, but what makes the greatest difference is fostering a school culture that makes newcomers welcome.

In the highly competitive and precarious world of international teacher recruitment, it is increasingly important that on-boarding isn’t just left to the HR department.

Senior and middle leaders and teacher colleagues all have an important role in helping staff and their families through the process of moving abroad and finding their feet in what is often a strange, new country.

Mark S Steed is principal and chief executive of Kellett School, the British School in Hong Kong; and previously ran schools in Devon, Hertfordshire and Dubai. He tweets @independenthead

Mark Steed

Mark Steed is the principal and CEO of Kellett School, the British School in Hong Kong; and previously ran schools in Devon, Hertfordshire and Dubai.

Find me on Twitter @independenthead

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