By Mark Symmonds
Staff support and management has never been so needed. From research, including my own research of 190 international school staff across the globe, to my own experiences in Thailand, Brazil and the UAE, it’s clear that the transition from school to school and how this is managed is a crucial part of staff success. With an average of just three years per contract, what are international schools doing to support new staff – those new to the location, and those who are local but new to the school?
From my research and my own experience, not enough is being done to support new staff, and much of it is a one-size-fits-all exercise. Poor induction can lead to little or no connection with the school or its location. Too often, induction is considered expensive, time-consuming and, in some cases, unnecessary, or merely ‘an HR thing’. This should not be the case; instead, it should be a whole-school approach. A good induction can immediately reflect the values of the school, and there is a strong correlation between a positive induction and staff staying longer. So what can, and should, be done?
A definition of induction within the international school context
Induction is not a one-week process when new staff arrive. The definition of a school induction, which I have formulated based upon research, is the time from when a staff member (and their family) notices your school’s job advert to being fully settled both in your school and its location. Emphasis needs to be stressed on both the family and the location. If either one of these is neglected, then huge problems can arise. I have experienced teachers who have cut their contracts short as their families did not settle in the school or its location. Joining an international school as an expatriate teacher can come with lots of cultural differences. Joining an international school as a local teacher can be just as culturally challenging for different reasons. Staff isolation can emerge in many different forms.
A quality induction can be implemented without much financial expenditure, if given time and strategic planning.
Stage 1: Planning for your new school staff
A strategic induction plan needs to begin after the first month of the new academic year in preparation for the next academic year.
- Get your induction team and any willing buddies in place and evaluate your current practices.
- Talk with new staff from the current year about what helped and what hindered them.
- Is your website attractive to potential new staff members, both local and expatriate?
- Build into your plan how to support staff who might join mid-way through the school year; their induction must not be forgotten. Whilst they do not have the luxury of the typical INSET at the beginning of the year, they can still be supported in most of the same ways as staff arriving at the start of the year.
Stage 2: Your international school recruitment applications
- Are your job adverts attractive to new staff, promoting your values and how you support staff?
- Prepare a clear application communication plan to keep all your applicants well informed at every stage so they remain engaged in your application process.
- Personalise all applicant communication. Never use a ‘Dear Applicant’ opening. At a minimum, their name (spelt correctly) and even a short sentence on their application can go a long way to show you care.
- How warm are you during your interview process, or is it a standard, tick-box interview that does not show value in the applicant? Don’t forget that excellent staff have numerous great international schools to choose from!
Stage 3: Managing job offers – acceptance and rejection of candidates
You will have to reject more candidates than you accept. Rejections should be communicated kindly and personally. It takes a long time to write a good application, so show similar respect in a rejection. The international circuit is a small world – you do not want people talking negatively about how you ignored their application.
For those candidates you accept, good communication is an essential part of good induction.
- Share a plan from offer to arrival with dates indicating when a new hire will receive relevant details such as flight bookings, visa requirements, shipping information, buddy contact, etc.
- With respect to their current job and its time demands, drip-feed relevant policies and guides about your school and its location.
- Set up video calls with relevant staff, human resources and buddies.
- Share a survey to find out about their and their family’s interests – use this information to send details of relevant clubs, groups or activities.
Ensure information includes the following: school philosophy; curriculum; social opportunities; culture of the school and its location; parental culture; and, for those who will be new to the area or country, information on the school location and country; local language(s); climate; and religions.
“There is a strong correlation between a positive induction and staff staying longer.”
Stage 4: Preparing for the arrival of new international school staff
- Ensure new hires know who to call for assistance at any time and who will be meeting them when they arrive. For those new to the location, this includes who will be picking them up at the airport.
- For those with accommodation provided, make sure the apartment has information on the city, who to call for assistance if there is a problem, Wi-Fi codes and some basic provisions. At St. Paul’s, new expatriate staff were given part of their settling-in allowance as local currency upon arrival as well as a SIM card for mobile phones.
- Arrange social events for new staff to meet each other and some current staff before the new school year officially begins. The school does not have to pay, although this is a very welcoming gesture. At Brighton College, we arranged get-to-know-you dinners for staff without families, for the families of staff, and for new staff and their families. We also hosted lunches where new staff met initially and were then joined by existing staff to get to know each other outside school.
Stage 5: First term support of international school staff
No matter their experience, any new staff member will feel like an NQT at a new school, so involve them and make them feel valued as soon as possible.
- Schedule a formal check-in with the Head of School to ensure every new member of staff is being welcomed and supported. Plan informal check-ins with buddies and/or a visit to the teacher’s classroom by a member of SMT.
- Schedule an SMT discussion which focuses on how new staff are settling into the school. Induction is not over until all staff and their family are fully settled.
- What support do you have in place for teachers who are struggling? This happens regularly for many reasons at international schools. At Rugby School Thailand, we meet early on with new staff, talk to their line managers and set up their appraisal with targets. At this point, we can provide support for any struggling teachers, including counselling, opportunities to observe other teachers in their classrooms or early coaching where required. We also make very clear the expectations to fulfil the probationary period.
- Evaluate your current induction plan with new staff at the end of the first term while experiences are still fresh in their minds. You need to start planning next year’s induction soon too.
Stage 6: End of the academic year – gathering feedback from new school staff
Check in with the staff who are completing their first year to evaluate the year and the ways in which the induction process could be improved.
Anything you can do to make the journey of induction easier will lead to new staff settling quicker and, ultimately, being the best possible practitioners for the children at your school.
Mark Symmonds is currently Deputy Head of Pre-Prep at Rugby School Thailand. From August, Mark with be Head of Primary/Vice-Principal at CIS Armenia.