Here’s an interesting number; 1,800. It’s the number of people who can fit on ten, fully loaded, Airbus A320s. Alternatively, it’s the number of people who can fit into two and a half Olympic sized swimming pools. Also, 1,800 is the number of new teachers that one of the world’s largest school groups, GEMS Education, onboarded last week. Now that is a mammoth task – and I talk with experience from both sides of the desk. Getting 1,800 people to turn up at the right place, at the right time with the right skills, attitudes and equipment comes with similar challenges as trying to knit fog. If the fog was on fire. And your knitting needles were made of cooked spaghetti.
But it doesn’t stop there. Having gone through this herculean task, you would want to make very sure that you keep these people happy, engaged, productive and in their jobsfor as long as possible (hopefully limiting the number of people you have to do this with each year to requirements for growth or expansion). Yes, certainly, there is a natural attrition rate among international teachers, who are often drawn to the excitement of pastures new at the end of a contract. However, when it comes to making the greatest effort you can to retain your best and brightest, the importance of the induction you provide cannot be underestimated.
Firstly, let’s be clear that on-boarding and induction are not the same thing. Induction should extend well beyond the first day, week or even month. In fact, a good induction period should see an employee complete one whole planning and performance cycle. While that may seem like a long time – it could be 6 or even 12 months – it makes sense to consider that it should be a good thing to give extra support to joiners for all the important ‘firsts’. First few days in a new school, and potentially a new country, first time meeting new colleagues and management, first time setting objectives both personal and for teaching and learning and the first time being assessed under the new regime. What form this extra support takes can vary to best compliment the capacity you have – from formal group sessions to a simple buddy system.
Multiple articles and academic studies have been published showing a strong correlation between robust induction programs and both retention and reduced time taken to reach normal performance levels. But why might this be? As grateful as a new teacher must feel the first time they get shown where the stationary cupboard is, surely the long-term impact must come from elsewhere.
Let’s consider for a second the five core human emotional needs (this comes from our research and you can learn more about it here):
- Self Esteem – being recognized and valued
- Control – being on top of things
- Orientation – the desire to know what is happening
- Attachment – the need to form meaningful relationships
- Pleasure – the desire for pleasure or absence of pain/difficulty
Now everyone has the need for each of these five emotional needs to be fulfilled in order to be a happy and engaged person – and yet not everyone is the same. You could think of each of the five as a bucket that needs to be filled. We may have different sized buckets for each of the five and most likely the size of our buckets will be different from the people around us. The larger the bucket, the more it takes to fill it. Also, some of us will keep our buckets full by constantly striving to find new sources – actively pursuing new relationships and opportunities for bonding for example. Others will attempt to keep the buckets full by sealing them tightly to prevent leakage, like having a close group of firm friends and ring-fencing those relationships to aggressively protect them.
Whatever size the bucket and how it is filled one fact remains true: full buckets make happy people, empty buckets cause disruption, unhappiness and disengagement.
A robust induction program works by helping people to fill those buckets. Here is a quick overview of what that might look like.
The fact of having a good induction program in place for your new joiners will start to contribute to self-esteem. Showing you recognise people and value their time and contributions by investing in them in this way can be extremely powerful on its own. Reinforce that with open communication channels for continual feedback in both directions and you have a strong base.
Starting a new role, particularly as an educator in an international school, can be very daunting – no matter how many times you’ve done it before. The potent mix of new country, new job, new people, new culture, new home can quickly lead to the feeling of loss of control or influence on one’s surroundings. A bit of extra hand-holding to speed up the process of ‘normalising’ the new will help to stabilize the situation. Especially for those with larger control buckets!
At its most basic level, this is self-explanatory. Most inductions (even not very good ones) contain some kind of on-boarding or orientation. Don’t scrimp on this as giving people the sense that they know what is happening and what is going to happen is very important. A key part of this is setting out clearly how people will be assessed and on what basis.
It’s no secret that life-long bonds and friendships can be formed through work and professional experiences. The number of ‘teaching couples’ around on the circuit stands testament to that! Using the induction period to provide opportunities for this process to begin will be a big help to those who need these attachments in their lives and perhaps are away from friends and family for the first time. The sense that there are a number of new joiners going through the same process at the same time can help to foster a sense of camaraderie.
Last but, very definitely, not least – pleasure. As I mentioned briefly above, the human need for pleasure is not only the desire for nice or pleasurable experiences but also the idea of the removal of pain. Some of us have relatively small pleasure ‘buckets’ and hence will deal with a larger measure of difficulty in our daily lives without serious disruption. However, when this need does become violated its close to a certainty that unhappiness and disengagement follow closely behind. Induction should be focused on easing people into their new roles and circumstances as easily – and painlessly! – as possible.
There are many different ways to design an induction period, taking into account style, culture and, as previously mentioned, capacity. For those of us who are veterans in our jobs (and let’s face it, on the international circuit more than 2 years in the same place should earn you a long service medal!) it may seem like an abundance of precaution for these new colleagues. But think of it this way; the better we are at keeping those SCOAP buckets full, the more help we will have next year when we do it all over again…