NQTs: First job - getting to know your new school

14th August 2009 at 01:00
Your first job is a chance to make your mark, but avoid `new broom' syndrome or you may find some colleagues give you the brush off

Original magazine headline: First step - getting to know your new school - A clean sweep

The sooner you get to know your new school and colleagues, the more efficient you will be. If you have landed a job in the school where you did your teaching practice, you will already know some of the staff and be familiar with the ethos of the school. But the chances are it will all be new to you. A move to a new school, perhaps in a new local authority, means new people, policies and practices.

First impressions are lasting and can shape how people react to you. You only have a few seconds when you first meet people to make a good impression, so make sure that you present the real you and not a caricature of who you would like to be.

Make sure that you turn up on time, so plan your route to work. Remember that, when schools start back, your travelling time may increase due to the extra traffic.

It is worth spreading out beyond your year team or department to get to know a range of people, from the admin staff to the teaching assistants, technicians and support staff. Staying in a close-knit group can alienate you from other teachers.

Be sure to join in social activities, as this is a great way of networking and getting to know your colleagues. But do not go mad on a night out or social event until you know the staff and they know you.

Policies vary from school to school. Every school has protocols on behaviour, homework, child protection and health and safety, but there will be many more less well-known policies tucked away in the files. Getting to grips with them can seem daunting, but what matters is how the policies are put into practice.

Do not be surprised if colleagues claim that they do not know about various policies and never follow them. You still need to know what they are and bear them in mind. Following the custom and practice of your department or colleagues is fine up to a point, but you still need to know what the management of the school expects and be ready to justify why you did not follow a policy if something goes wrong. Ignorance is no defence.

The move from trainee to professional teacher means that some things you did as a student will no longer work - for example, very detailed lesson planning and evaluations. While colleagues should help and back you when dealing with poor behaviour or problems in class, you will be expected to stand on your own two feet.

It is important to fit in with the routines and ethos of the school. The day-to-day practices of the staff and pupils will have been built up over time. If behaviour is poor, staff will be working hard to change that and you can play an active part. But many staff will object when a "new broom" comes in and tries to sweep away established working practices.

Take a lead from your induction mentor or department head and get to know how people work, especially how information is communicated. For example, do most people prefer email, instant messaging, phone calls or face-to- face communication? Do not assume that your preferred method of communication is theirs.

  • James Williams is a lecturer in education at the University of Sussex

    • Things to think about

      • Ask to see the school handbook andor policies. Think about how it may influence you.
      • Discuss your job description with your managermentor and how your position fits into the school "big picture".
      • Make a note of the general work ethic in the school. Arrive on time and leave when the majority of staff do.
      • Become familiar with the key policies that will affect you, such as behaviour, homework and health and safety. Review your practices to ensure you are meeting these policies.
      • Be yourself. Try not to put on a false "you". Relax and smile, but make it genuine, not a rictus grin.
      • Be open, confident and positive, but choose your words carefully.
      • Talk a little about yourself, but not too much, and don't keep going on about what you did in your last school practice.
      • Be courteous and attentive to others.
      • Mind your meeting manners. There are unofficial guidelines that dictate decorum during meetings. Some are free-for-alls, where the loudest person gets the floor; in others, opinions are only given when asked for.
      • Do not rock the boat too soon. Even if you have an innovative idea, wait until you have established a credible reputation and rapport with your colleagues before proposing a change.

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