Some schools are already back in session, here in Maine we have a few more weeks. All across the country new teachers are walking into schools and taking their first baby steps into the most rewarding career/life I can think of. In my district we nearly always have a dozen or so new hires each year and as a literacy coach, I try hard to help them feel comfortable and welcome before I ever begin to talk curriculum.
I’ve mentored many new teachers and as I watch them set up their classrooms, engage with the staff, and prepare to meet their students I am in awe of their enthusiasm, creativity, and courage. We are so lucky when our schools are bestowed with this infusion of positive energy. How can we best welcome them, support them, and embrace the gifts they bring to us?
I compare their arrival to helping someone move in to a new home. We need to first remember they come with many, many things and may just need some help with the heavy lifting. They are probably pondering where to settle all the ‘stuff’ they brought along with them before they even think about acquiring more. They may not need 5 toasters (stacks of lesson plans, bulletin board ideas, teachers’ guides, etc.). They may have more modern appliances than we have to offer (cutting edge lessons, digital tools, social media, etc.) They may not know what they need until they have a chance to unpack and organize. In our zest to be kind and supportive, we may not be helpful – if we don’t know what it is they need for help! So the best thing we can do is…
Listening is one of the most generous acts we can offer others. We are giving our attention and our time which conveys the message, “You are important. I care about you.” We can introduce ourselves and then invite them to do the same. A few questions/prompts that might start the conversation before the school year begins could include:
- How is it going?
- Welcome! What brought you here?
- How was your summer?
- What are you wondering about our school?
- What are you most excited about? Nervous about?
- What would you like to accomplish today? This week? Before school starts?
As we listen, we can tune in to what it is that could be most helpful. We can give them an opportunity to voice their thinking-this often leads to deeper thinking and even problem solving on their own. How often have we started talking about something and found that just processing our thoughts has provided us with greater insights?
When we jump in too quickly to offer advice, give ideas, and fix problems we can easily intimidate new teachers. We all have experienced doubt when venturing into new territory-“Am I up to this?” “Do I know what I’m doing?” “What if I’m not good enough?” When we listen to others and provide support that reflects our confidence in their ability-we are sending the message, “You’ve got this, and we are here for you whenever you need us.” Then we can roll up our sleeves and continue to listen as we help them unpack!
Once the school year begins…we can continue to listen. We don’t need to rush to offer advice when they share their “failures”. Letting them talk out these situations with someone they don’t feel is judging them, will again give them opportunities to learn and grow. Invite them to reflect:
- “What did you do? How did that work?”
- “What were you thinking?”
- “What are you thinking now?”
- “Is there anything you need?”
Encourage them to share their “successes”. Too often we tend to perseverate on what didn’t go well and subsequently forget the dozens and dozens of things that DID work well. We want to encourage repetition of the positive. Success breeds success!
- “What went well today?”
- “Why do you think that worked so well?”
- “What did you learn from that?”
Listening is easier one-on-one. It’s harder in the teachers’ room or in a staff meeting. Well-intentioned (and sometimes not so well-intentioned) advice is often tossed out in large doses. We can be mindful about how quickly we rush in to warn about, prevent, or fix issues for new staff. We can invite them into the conversations and encourage them to share without judgement.
We can encourage them to listen to themselves! I like to give new teachers a journal. I tell them, “You think you’ll never forget this first year…but so much of it you will. Make some time for yourself to write some of it down.” Sure, writing captures memories, but there is a growing body of research on writing to learn and as a vehicle for discovery. As we put our ideas down on paper we are thinking more deeply about them. Which ideas are ‘important’ enough to write about? How do we choose to frame that idea? What am I thinking about as I write it? We don’t need to write it as a narrative or a diary. We can ‘doodle‘ our day much more easily to help us focus and think more creatively! (I’ll talk more about the power of doodling in future blogs!)
Sure, there are MANY things we can do to welcome new teachers (chocolate being very HIGH on that list) but I strongly encourage each of us to start with the gift of listening. After that the other gifts we offer will almost certainly be the right “size”!
What’s On My Book Radar?
I just finished one of our Maine Student Book Award (MSBA) nominees that I think kids are going to LOVE! Jaleigh Johnson‘s Mark of the Dragonfly is a fantasy novel about a scrappy orphan (Piper) who saves a young girl (Anna) after she is injured in a meteor shower. She discovers the girl has a dragonfly tatoo that signifies she is protected by the king. However, the girl has no memory and they soon find they are being pursued by a man they call “the wolf”. They escape by stowing away on a train and an adventurous journey begins. Wonderfully strong characters, imaginative settings, and a compelling plot make this a fun read!