Cultivating a Positive School Culture Through Hiring & Onboarding
Have you ever worked in a school with an amazingly positive, supportive culture? The type where relationships are characterized by respect, trust and transparency; where mistakes are seen as opportunities for growth; where individual successes are recognized and celebrated. If you’ve been lucky enough to work in such a place, you know that a positive school culture has a certain magic to it — you can’t see or touch it, but there’s no denying that it’s there, uplifting students and staff alike.
While strategic leadership is vital to cultivating that kind of culture, building and maintaining it involves effort from everyone in the school — including your newest hires. So, it’s crucial that your school’s mission, vision and values are clearly communicated (and actively modeled!) throughout the onboarding process.
Here’s how to do it.
Align Culture and Hiring
School culture starts with hiring extraordinary staff who believe in the organization’s mission and vision, and are closely aligned with the school’s values. This means your first step should be looking at your hiring process and making sure that your culture shines through in job postings and interviews. You want to recruit candidates who believe in your mission, and make sure that you’re hiring the ones who are likely to positively contribute to the school’s culture.
At one school, the HR department and principals came together to determine the qualities possessed by exemplary teachers. They came up with a tagline (“Dedication. Collaboration. Innovation.”) that is now used to guide administrators in hiring candidates who are likely to be a good fit. Now, they’re able to hire educators who are not only qualified for the position, but are also closely aligned to the district’s goal of improving student success.
Communicate and Model the School’s Values
There’s no single set of characteristics that define whether a school’s culture is positive or not. But you know what it is that makes your school a wonderful place to be — and you know your values aren’t just words on a wall.
Take a close look at what you think are the most important qualities that contribute to your school culture and shout them from the rooftops! Are they clearly communicated in job postings? What about in new hires’ welcome packets? This is part of building your district’s brand as an employer, and sets the stage for hiring talented “culture carriers.”
Even more importantly, make sure your school’s values are intentionally modeled throughout the hiring and onboarding process. For example, if collaboration is a key part of your culture, don’t let new hires feel isolated. Plan networking activities to welcome new employees into the school’s community and consider setting up more coaching or mentoring programs. Likewise, if your schools prize innovation, don’t make new hires slog through an inefficient, old-fashioned paper-laden onboarding process — find an onboarding system that makes the process easier.
Focus on What Matters in Onboarding
Onboarding and induction should inspire new hires to be enthusiastic stakeholders in the school’s culture. But in many school districts, employee onboarding is focused on paperwork and process — not supporting new hires and ensuring their success. It’s understandable how this happens: the sheer volume of paperwork necessary to bring a new employee into the district can be overwhelming. But it’s necessary to “tame the paper beast” in order to focus on what really matters in onboarding: setting the stage for each employee’s success.
So, don’t let paper or process distract you (or new hires) from building relationships and being a present, positive force in the organization. Obviously, you can’t just let onboarding paperwork go by the wayside — the information collected during onboarding is crucial to actually employing someone to work in the district. But the paperwork itself shouldn’t be the focus on onboarding, it should be an administrative task that doesn’t take up too much of anybody’s time. When you’re able to automate the paperwork and process necessary to onboard new employees, you can find time for new hires. You’re able to look for opportunities to maximize the human element of employee onboarding whenever possible: answering new hire’s questions, building relationships, and wholeheartedly welcoming them into the community.
That’s when you can really show what your school culture is all about.
Annie is a writer and part of the award-winning content team at Frontline Education. She's passionate about learning, exploring data and sharing knowledge. Her specialties include substitute management, the K-12 staffing shortage, and best practices in human capital management.