Last month we wrote about teacher preparation and what colleges may consider doing in an effort to better prepare teachers for the workforce. This blog entry examines options for districts to explore through an explanation of the orientation that takes place in our district.
A formal orientation began 12 years ago, due to an influx in new hires. New staff orientation is four days in length and includes a plethora of meetings, trainings, and activities to familiarize the teachers with the history of the district, its policies, initiatives, and practices. It has proven to be an effective approach to getting new teachers on level playing ground as those who have been teaching in the district for three or more years. Below is a brief explanation of what occurs on each day of orientation.
Day One: Historical and Philosophical Lessons
The day begins with a room full of nervous teachers welcoming each other with shy voices and shaky hands. The Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent of Instuction (ASI), and Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources (ASHR), make the first introductions and attempt to learn the new employees’ names through an ice-breaker. This lightens the mood a bit, as the teachers have to come up with a unique way for the central office administrators to recall their names. The stories they share behind their choices allows them to laugh a bit. This is where the bond begins to develop.
Following the introductions, the ASI provides some history about the district and presents some basic instructional philosophy, which centers around the district’s mission statement, “Educate for Personal Excellence.” This presentation is followed by a tour of the district, where central office administrators and the new staff members hop on and off a school bus and are provided with more information about the district and a walking tour of each of the five elementary schools, and the middle and high school. Lunch follows the tour, which allows the teachers time to talk with one another. The afternoon session includes time with the Superintendent who explains the district’s philosophy, as well as some current research in education, more thoroughly.
Day Two: Classroom Expectations
After a full day of learning and socializing as a group, the new hires are more relaxed upon entering the conference room on day two of orientation. They spend the morning with the ASI and ASHR who introduce them to the the goal setting model practiced in the district: Danielson Model. Teachers become familiar with the four domains of the model, the components within each domain, and learn about the areas of focus they are responsible for accomplishing throughout their probationary years. The activities used throughout the morning help the teachers understand the four domains and how they apply to both the district’s goal setting and observation model.
In addition to learning about the Danielson model, the teachers are informed about the special education department and the variety of services offered at each of the grade levels (elementary, middle school, high school). An explanation of the inclusion co-teaching model, push-in/pull-out and resource room services are also discussed. Naturally, this conversation leads to information about RTI and differentiations.
Instead of having lunch as a whole group on this day, teachers report to their individual buildings for a working lunch with their building administrators. This time is spent answering questions about some of the information teachers learned, as well as building level policies, of which teachers need to be made aware. Many teachers ask for another tour of the building so they can learn the layout, and, for some, they are given the key to their classrooms.
Day Three: James’ Tech Showcase Showdown!
The third day can be one of the most exciting and intimidating day for new teachers. James spends the entire day introducing and reviewing all of the Web based instructional software, as well as databases related to curriculum mapping, professional development and our student management system. He also explains NYS data, how the district handles the administration of state exams, and the dissemination of data. Without a doubt, this is one of the most informative days for the teachers, and their reactions are generally all the same: 1) they cannot believe all the resources the district has in terms of technology, 2) they are stunned by the amount of data the district collects and the tools they have to help them analyze it, and 3) they think James Yap is one of the most intelligent and patient men to ever walk the Earth! They know, almost immediately upon meeting him, that they can and will learn how to use technology for instructional and planning purposes, and that they can access his help at any time.
Day Four: The Nitty Gritty
The teachers’ union spends a good portion of the morning with the new staff on the morning of the fourth day. They review their expectations of the teachers and reinforce the district’s policies. The time with the union allows teachers to ask questions about things they may be less likely to ask administrators. It is a good opportunity for them to continue to bond with each other and other teachers, as well. Following the union, the ASHR and her staff spend time reviewing benefits and make sure the staff are signed up for what they would like. Teachers return to their individual buildings later in the day and spend time preparing for opening day.
Day four ends with an evening out to dinner with all the administrators from central office and each school building. Union representatives are also in attendance, as are Board of Education (BOE) members. The evening includes brief introductions to the new staff by the Superintendent, ASHR, President of the BOE, Union President, and each building principal. New teachers sit among their colleagues and administrators in a non-threatening, social environment, where they share stories from the week and talk about anything from their favorite TV shows to what high school sport they played. And, unlike the tense and nervous energy upon first introductions, the room buzzes with excitement and anticipation of starting the school year.
Though brief, we hope that the information we shared has sparked some interest in starting an orientation program at your district or some new ideas to add to one you already have. We are always interested in feedback and invite you to share your practices or make suggestions that could enhance our district’s orientation.
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