One of the best parts of my job as a literacy coach is working with new teachers. I love their energy, passion and joy; especially as they prepare for their first days in the classroom. I have spent the last week working with some fantastic new hires to our district and I feel energized by that connection. I have thought a lot over the years about how to best welcome new teachers into our fold. How do we support them, without overloading them? They cannot possibly absorb all of the organizational knowledge and history of a school and ‘get up to speed’ with the rest of the staff on every initiative we’ve been immersed in over the years. So, I am trying to keep my tips simple. Here are a few of the things new teachers and I have talked about recently.
Focus on the kids, not the curriculum for the first few weeks of school. The kids will want to know 2 things when they come into your classroom. 1. Do I have any friends? 2. Does my teacher like me? Your biggest job is to make sure they can answer YES to both of those questions. Creating a classroom community of inclusion, kindness and collaboration takes time. Take that time right at the start to lay the foundation. Create positive relationships with every one of your students. Learn their names. Learn something about them. Let them learn about you!
Set expectations and help everyone find success with them. How do you want them to enter the room? How do you want them to speak up in class? How do you want them to work independently? Make sure they know what it should look like and sound like and feel like and then practice it. Consider every part of the day a teaching opportunity. Kids talking too loud? Great teaching opportunity. Kids having trouble sharing? Great teaching opportunity. Kids jockeying for position in line? Great teaching opportunity.
Seek to understand. It takes time to figure out why some kids are shy, why some are angry, why some are impulsive. Everyone is different and we believe this (on a surface level) yet we frustrate ourselves when we can’t make them all quiet, or patient, or considerate. The same way we know not every child learns to read at the same pace, we need to remember that not every child learns to “do school” at the same pace. Try not to show your frustration, they need to hear and believe the message “I have faith in you. I know you can do this.”
Be patient with yourself! Things won’t go the way you planned. It’s ok. Kids won’t do everything you tell them to. It’s ok. Your beautifully organized classroom will get trashed. It’s ok. It’s not because you are new, believe me. It is happening in every classroom up and down the hall. THAT is what school is about…learning, problem solving, creativity, adapting. Don’t stress about the things you weren’t able to do – the kids will never know!! Don’t stress that things aren’t perfect – they never will be!!
Laugh a lot-it’s usually pretty hilarious! Kids will take a cue from how you react to situations. A little laughter and levity can reduce tension and anxiety and help you hit that ‘restart’ button! Say you’re sorry-model that courtesy whenever possible. Simple comments like “I’m sorry boys and girls, I forgot to show you how I expected you to line up. My fault! Let’s try that again” will go a long way in creating a nurturing classroom climate. Share your problem solving-when things don’t go the way you envision, demonstrate how people are flexible and creative in working through it. “I can’t find that graphic organizer I wanted to show you so I’m going to create my own- they are really just a way to organize our thinking so I’ll show you how I organize my thinking.” Model and notice kindness-They expect kindness from the teacher, but they may not notice it in their classmates. Look for examples, comment on them and you will see an abundance. It could be a public announcement like, “Thank you Marc for sharing your space on the rug.” or you might talk to Marc in private, “I notice when you come to the rug that you make room for your friends. That is a really kind thing to do to help others feel welcome.” Some kids don’t like to be singled out, others relish the spotlight, once you get to know your kids you will get a better sense of their needs.
FOR STAFF WELCOMING NEW TEACHERS
Here’s what I have learned from watching veteran teachers who are masters at welcoming new teachers:
Listen-It’s easy to want to share lots of ideas and activities with new teachers. They can be easily overwhelmed with information. Veteran teachers who ask, “How’s it going?” and then listen, wait, and listen more, allow the new teacher time to process what their questions, concerns and anxieties might be. They let the new teachers know that their thoughts are legit and important. I know personally I sometimes feel like I have asked a silly question if somebody fires back a quick fix answer that makes me think, “Oh, I probably should have known that.” Veteran teachers know that responding to questions is as much about building a relationship as it is offering information. Veterans also know that when new teachers are sharing concerns that they aren’t always looking for someone to fix it, they sometimes just need to share and think out loud to someone they trust. I often see veterans nod and agree and then sometimes ask, “Do you want to know what I did?” to let the new teacher know that we’ve all been in that boat and had to work things out.
Do Things WITH them- I’ve seen veteran teachers volunteer to do a duty with the new teacher to mentor them through playground or lunchroom routines. I’ve seen them roll up their sleeves and sort books, staple paper to bulletin boards, or fill out name tags. Veteran teachers offer to help plan lessons to get the new teacher off to a good start. I’ve seen principals and staff take a new teacher out to lunch or have get-togethers with all staff to build relationships beyond the school walls. This time together is so much more helpful and valued by new teachers than a donation of extra classroom materials (though they truly do appreciate ‘stuff’ so they don’t have to buy it-they are usually broke!)
Give Specific Praise-Veteran teachers know that new teachers won’t get everything “right” in that first year and that they don’t need reminding of that. Pointing out what they are doing “wrong” isn’t helpful, it often reinforces the anxiety or lack of confidence that can hit new teachers. The veterans I have learned from give specific praise to reinforce the great things new teachers are doing. “Wow, I notice you made your class line up 3 times until they got it right. Every kid knows that expectation now.” Because other teachers are busy in their own classrooms and can’t notice the new teachers routines, I’ve watched assistant teachers (ed techs), coaches and principals provide that praise during the day.
Give Them Opportunities to Share-It’s hard to always be on the receiving end of the help hot line! It is empowering to have opportunities to share as well. I have seen some new teachers share ideas in teachers rooms only to be met with, “Yeah, been there, done that.” or “That might work in your classroom.” The veteran teachers who are most welcoming not only listen and welcome new ideas, they seek them out. They’ll ask new teachers “Hey what have you learned about_______?” or “I saw that project your kids did, can you show me where you got that idea?” Those veteran teachers seek to include new teachers and their energy, passion and ideas into the school culture. They realize we are all better together than we are alone.
These first few days and weeks of school are magical moments. They are filled with anticipation, excitement, fear, hope, joy… for students AND teachers. As Charles Dickens said, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” May we all embrace these next few weeks as a time to build community, to celebrate differences and to lighten the burdens of another. Welcome new teachers, we’ve been waiting for you!
What’s On My Book Radar?
I am quickly running out of time for summer reading….AHHHHH! Luckily I had time for this gem. Nine years ago this week, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. My only understanding came from news reports and accounts told from an adult’s perspective (Dave Egger’s Zeitoun). Julie T. Lamana was a literacy specialist in Louisiana when Katrina devastated her state. She gained some amazing insights into the survivors’ experiences and put them to paper in her fictional middle grade novel Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere. I couldn’t put this book down, I wanted to see what would happen to Armani Curtis as she tried to celebrate her tenth birthday in the Lower Nines of New Orleans. I can only say that I felt like I was there, and have greater insight into the chaos, frustration and pain that the victims endured. Though a tragic story it is filled with hope and bravery and love as told through the eyes of a ten year old child who had to grow up much too fast!.