Investing in Culture & Vision

Like many others around the country, our district has had a difficult time recruiting and retaining hard-to-fill teachers in the areas of math, science, and special education. Our district has also struggled to fill and keep individuals in positions that many folks don’t associate with school districts; positions such as plumbers, diesel mechanics, and payroll technicians. Yet, these positions are critical to the successful operation of schools.

One of the top issues on my mind as a superintendent concerned with safety, achievement, and fiscal responsibility is employee retention. Every time an employee resigns or retires, I consider it a compromise to our students’ safety and achievement. I also know the dollars add up quickly each time we process a resignation letter; job postings, interviewing, and on-boarding all require significant time and personnel.

And yet, in my experience as a school district leader, I have seen very little effort put into providing a comprehensive induction program for new hires in the support staff category (I like to call them Education Support Professionals, or ESPs). A successful employee induction process provides the opportunity for school districts to sell themselves to new employees, and if done well, can significantly increase the retention of staff and reduce the time it takes for a new employee to settle into their work environment. With up to 20% of staff turnover occurring within the first 45 days of employment, a comprehensive induction process seems to have promising potential.

Articulating Culture and Vision

As leaders, our vision for creating an inclusive culture where students and employees feel a sense of belonging and connection drives our daily practice and undergirds each of our decisions. It would make sense then, that we would take every opportunity we could to communicate our vision – in meetings, on written documents, through social media, in a comprehensive induction process – so there’s no mistake about the values our district shares and champions. This fall, our district started doing just this.

We started a new employee Culture and Vision Induction program to teach our ESPs the information they need to function effectively day-in and day-out within our school system. Our Culture and Vision Induction introduces employees to their new place of work, and is a part of our district’s overall planning process; aligning with our district’s direction and purpose. We started the induction program in November with the goal of catching new employees within their first month of employment.

Some of the goals of our culture and vision induction process include:

  • Creating a positive and inclusive workplace environment
  • Increasing comfort and the feeling of belonging by engaging with one another collegially
  • Increasing knowledge of district departments and the services provided by each
  • Sharing the values of the district and how our values shape our interactions
  • Improving word-of-mouth marketing strategies by strengthening the image of our district

To demonstrate the importance of our new employees, the responsibility of facilitating the induction has been on our entire senior leadership team. As superintendent, not only have I been to every one of our sessions, I’ve started them, ended them, and stayed the entire time; engaging with our new hires throughout the course of their experience. I am deeply invested in our induction program and want it to be successful. I am also deeply invested in our new employees, and see them as culture and climate changers in our district. Their enthusiasm, attitudes, and can-do spirit can be extremely helpful as we work to build more inclusive practices and approaches that take the unique needs of students into consideration.

Induction for All New Employees

Here’s how it works: It is currently set up to be 3-hours in length. Directors from every department across our district spend time teaching our new ESPs about our district’s purpose and direction; in other words, what we do and how we do it. Throughout the day, our workplace “language” is shared and explored in order to help our new employees feel like a insiders; individuals with full membership in our family. We give them the tools they need to navigate the cultural norms that exist within the various departments and schools across our district.

The whole thing is highly interactive and engaging. We begin with an opening ritual that gets all of their voices in the room and helps them get to know others. There is time for personal reflection through use of a graphic organizer for note taking, and likewise, there are structures in place for group reflection and participation. The use of video, online response systems, cooperative learning, and brain-breaks are also used to help engage participants in multiple ways.

A goal of induction is to help our new employees assimilate, and we do so by engaging them in conversations about our district’s history and reputation, our expectations around strength-based practices, and how our expectations for inclusive practices work. It is through this dialogue that we share our beliefs about labels, the damage that deficit language can cause, and our expectations for the use of ‘people-first’ language. We also provide examples and stress ideas related to how the workforce of the future has changed the face of teaching and learning in our classrooms. We help them see that the ways we learned in the past might not be very useful for jobs that require collaboration, creativity, and advanced problem-solving.

Throughout this experience we are defining what good looks like. By using multiple video examples, vivid descriptions, photos, and simulated learning experiences, our ESPs have a clear understanding of our expectations for success. Our hope is that they feel grounded in the way their contributions fit into the larger organization of our district. We want them to gain confidence and feel loyalty to our district more quickly. Many of our best teachers and supervisors came from the ranks of ESPs, and demonstrating our support and commitment to them is just one way to enhance our relationship and keep them motivated to keep working toward their goals.

A Positive and Productive First Year for All

In wanting to retain the talent we’ve spent good money to acquire, we recognize the importance of ensuring a positive and productive first year for our new employees – all of them – teachers, administrators, and ESPs alike. Organizations with a standardized process for supporting new hires experience 62% greater new hire productivity, along with 50% greater new hire retention. Who wouldn’t want that?

I believe that by investing time and effort into our new employees, our students will reap the benefits. I want my district to have strong and excellent schools, and to do so, we have to be seen as an employer of choice for top talent. By investing in our existing employees and beefing up our attention to supporting our new employees, we stand a much better chance of getting there.

  • What is your district doing to support new employees?
  • What does your on-boarding/induction process look like?
  • How are you meeting the wide-range of learning needs your ESPs have?
  • What are the ways you are helping ESPs feel valued and important?

Author: leadershipsoup

I am a learning leader, educator, and equity advocate. I am also the proud Superintendent of the Casa Grande Elementary School District located in Central Arizona. I believe we need to empower students and families by dismantling deficit ideologies and embracing practices that are truly inclusive in nature. I look forward to learning with others as we embark on this journey together.

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