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“But ‘trial by fire’ works. You can’t teach them everything at the beginning.”

This statement is a strongly held belief in the education field. Actually, it’s a strongly held belief in many fields.  The problem with continuing to believe that trial by fire is the only way is that 44% of new teachers leave the field in the first five years. Most teachers report feeling like a ‘good’ teacher several years after that five-year mark.  Basically, this means we don’t have time to waste.

Help new hires anticipate some of the more common operational, emotional and instructional aspects of the job from the very beginning. We have seen first hand how important this is to creating a sense of belonging and understanding. Being able to anticipate what the expectations are in this specific school with this group of educators and students can make a big difference in job satisfaction.

Clarify Your Vision

Many years ago, we had the opportunity to complete Disney Insitute’s  “Disney’s Approach to Leadership Excellence” course at Disneyland in California. There were some amazing things that we learned and that have stuck with us since then.  One idea that we feel really defines what successful leadership looks like is to clearly define the vision that you have for your part of the organization.

Disney defines vision as “a picture of the future that is created in the imagination and motivates people to action.” The imagery that this definition provides – ‘created in the imagination’ and ‘motivates into action’ – really helps to conceptualize and picture it.  As leaders, we strive to have a team of creative, motivated, action-orientated employees. Getting the team engaged and working together for the same purpose while appreciating individual differences, however, is a constant challenge. With clarity and effective communication, we’re much more likely to be successful.

So, how do you make that happen? First of all, you have to know what success looks like. Clarifying and defining (or redefining) your vision is at the heart of all of this. Strong leaders regularly check to ensure that the vision or mission of the school is known and consistently used as a way to solve challenges, make decisions, and grow professionally. We urge you to take time to work on your vision statement before you go into your next round of interviews or orientations. You can find those who are aligned (or not) with the vision more quickly.

Define Expectations

The next thing to do it to work to quantify your vision, mission and goals and break them into tangible parts.  What does ‘excellent communication’ look like in real life?  What does it mean to “organize your time to ensure regular professional development?” How is ‘positive peer interaction’ promoted throughout the building?  All of these conceptual or jargony phrases need to be defined and shown in a more logistically realistic light. Providing a road map of how to get to the successful side of this position or a specific task puts everyone on the same page from the beginning and helps to recenter when things fall off track.

Here are some examples of what we’re talking about:

  • Expectation:  Staff must create positive communication opportunities throughout the year.
    • Logistical clarification: At Central School, we use a formula of ‘positive, challenge, positive’ when interacting with caregivers about a challenge or concerning issue. Present example of formula in action. 
  • Expectation: Educators must provide weekly written communication for caregivers
    • Logistical clarification: At Central School, we expect the following information will be provided to caregivers each week: 1. Vision for this week’s work; 2. Specific successes in class this week; 3. An “Ask your child about…” section; and 4. At least one picture.  We have created several newsletter templates for inspiration, but we welcome and encourage your creativity.

There is a lot we can do to provide clarity and direction for our new educators right from the beginning.  Front loading and clarifying their success is possible and something that strong leaders take the time to ensure happens. We know you need and value your team, so it’s time to help them reach the bar that you’re setting for them right from the start.

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