Welcoming Substitutes Into Your School’s Community
Have you ever been far from home and met someone who grew up in your hometown? You know that sense of connection you get when you walk into a room and see someone else wearing a shirt with your college’s name on it? Ever sat in a stadium with 70,000 strangers and felt at one with them as you cheered for the same team?
Emblems, colors, mascots, cities, flags — these things have a way of drawing us together, of connecting us to something bigger than ourselves. They can be used for good or ill, to draw lines of demarcation, to pull people in or push them out.
Let’s use them to pull people in.
Each school is a community, with mascots and colors, history and lore, quirks and triumphs. These things connect students and employees to that community, and this lends rhythm and familiarity. It gives a sense of belonging.
But for substitute teachers, it can be difficult to connect to this community. The typical substitute teacher faces her First Day at a New Job, every day. It can be daunting (“Where do I go?”), awkward (“Is this the right classroom?”) and lonely (“I don’t know anybody here”). Bringing them into your school’s community will not only help attract more quality substitutes as they see you come alongside them, it naturally empowers them to be more effective educators, more engaged in and committed to their work.
Five ways to bring substitutes into your community
Communicate key information to your substitutes.
If something matters to your school, it probably matters to the substitutes who will be working there that day. Don’t let them be the only people who aren’t dressed for School Spirit Day because they didn’t know about it. Letters from the principal in your substitute management system can be a great way to communicate this kind of information.
Communicate with your other staff.
Could you imagine showing up at a school to substitute teach, only to be refused entry by a custodian who was never told you’d be coming? Enlist teachers, secretaries, custodians, cafeteria staff — everyone — into welcoming substitutes.
Make substitutes visibly part of the team.
Asking them to wear big yellow VISITOR badges and treating them like strangers in your building is not too far from putting a sign on them saying, “I don’t belong.” Give them badges that look like the rest of your employees’. Make sure they have access to keys, lesson plans and anything else they may need. Make them part of the team, and make sure your team sees it.
Raise students’ view of substitutes.
Do your students see substitute teachers as full team members as well? The more they do, and the more they realize that substitutes are there to teach and not to babysit, the better. Maybe this means a morning announcement: “A special thanks to Miss Jones for the great work she did while Mr. Smith was out this week.” Maybe it means including substitutes in the group of teachers who welcome students at the beginning of the day. Maybe it’s an assembly where substitutes are recognized.
Celebrate the unique culture of substitutes in your school.
When I was the HR Director at the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System in Tennessee, a pair of flip-flops served as our substitute teachers’ unofficial symbol. It was a way for the school to acknowledge the fact that substitutes flip-flop between buildings, working in a new place each day. It may seem like a small thing, but that simple image, whether on stickers, lanyards or something else, connected substitutes to each other and was a nod to that challenging part of their job.
Substitute teaching is often difficult work. To do it well, substitutes need to build near-instant rapport and trust. Making them part of the team doesn’t have to be difficult, time-consuming or expensive. It does require caring and thoughtfulness — but that’s something any school can afford, and the results will be well worth it.