Effective Practices : Human Resources
New Hire Orientation
Human Resources Section 2
1. Do schools provide a standard orientation for all new hires? If so, how much time does it require and what type of information is covered?
2. How do schools orient new employees hired mid-year?
3. What are the key benefits from a new hire orientation meeting?
4. What are the key philosophies that inform schools’ practices in the area of new orientation?
Do schools provide a standard orientation for all new hires? If so, how much time does it require and what type of information is covered?
Orienting new employees is an important step in helping new colleagues join the Waldorf school community in a positive and professional manner.
- Of the schools surveyed 3/4 provided a standardized orientation for new employees. (See: New Hire Orientation List; New Hire Checklist.) The remainder rely on school appointed mentors or colleagues in the same department to orient new employees.
- The schools without a standardized approach typically provide a package of materials prepared by the administrator including payroll forms, a letter stating salary and benefits, and information on time sheets for hourly personnel and health insurance for full time colleagues. It is interesting to note that the schools that rely on orienting new employees in a less comprehensive way all expressed a desire to have their orientations take on a more formalized approach. It was noted that a regularized procedure could help people feel welcome and prevent misunderstandings due to a lack of information.
- Of the schools providing a comprehensive orientation, many include the orientation as a part of a faculty workweek prior to the start of school in the fall. In these cases the orientation is presented by a team of individuals that remain constant from year to year, with members typically from both the teaching and administrative staff. This constancy in the presenters allows the presenters to gain experience over time and to learn the types of information of greatest value to new employees. It also has the effect of allowing the presenters to be viewed as a resource by the new employees, providing them with contacts on the staff in addition to their mentors.
The sessions are usually 2 to 3 hours in length, and cover sections of the student and employee handbook. General information on topics such as how to handle expenses, the committee structure at the school, and how to arrange substitution are included. Sometimes a brief history of the school and an overview of practices such as consensus decision-making and non-hierarchical organization structures are also covered. A packet similar to the one described above with the employee’s salary and benefit data and a copy of the school calendar are included.
- Several schools that have their orientations focused on more of the operational aspects of life in the school recognized that time to explore some of the philosophy that stands behind our practices would be valuable.
- Some schools have recognized the need to provide such an in-service training for employees that are new to Waldorf education, and have developed “Waldorf 101” classes to fill this need. The structure of these trainings vary though classes usually are conducted in 3 to 5 sessions, and often are conducted by an experienced faculty member who has also taught in a teacher-training program. One school reported that a recent class was so successful it turned into an ongoing study group that has since been opened to parents who volunteer extensively at the school.
How do schools orient new employees hired mid-year?
Due to the infrequency of mid-year hires, orientations for these employees are more typically handled on a case-by-case basis. However, the use of a new hire checklist ensures that all employees, whether hired mid-year or in September, are properly set up on the school’s systems and that all necessary paperwork is completed (see: New Hire Checklist).
One school has named a member of the high school faculty/staff to act as a liaison to guest teachers. This liaison orients the visitor to the school’s general policies and serves as a point person for any concerns that develop. The school has also begun to develop an orientation package just for these guest teachers.
What are the key benefits from a new hire orientation meeting?
- Orientation meetings are a time for the new hires to meet each other and to more closely develop contact with some of the experienced colleagues at the school. An effective orientation meeting dispels a good deal of mystery for new employees.
- The atmosphere of such meetings should be such that there’s no fear about asking “stupid” questions.
- New hires meet other colleagues to whom they can go to in the future to get questions answered. The key is to help people feel welcome and taken care of.
What are the key philosophies that inform schools’ practices in this area?
The following notes highlight the key thoughts from the successful schools interviewed:
- Recognize the value of orientation. Make it a part of the school’s master schedule so it happens routinely each year.
- The responsibility for this work should be assigned to a particular organ of the school, and those providing the orientation should have consistency from year to year.
- A detailed checklist of the material to be covered should be developed and shared with all colleagues so everyone feels that the key elements for all new employees are being covered. (link: New Hire Orientation list)
- The orientation is intended to make the new colleague’s transition into the life of the school as comfortable as possible. It’s a great benefit when employees are well informed, as this can avoid unnecessary difficulties. As an example, the orientation is the right place to let colleagues know of the school’s practice of having all letters to parents reviewed by the new colleague’s mentor before distribution. It is far better to inform someone of this up front rather than to work at rebuilding parent trust and partnership after the fact.
- It is extremely helpful to have the new colleague’s mentor attend the orientation meeting. This allows the mentor to know what their new colleague has been told, and to identify issues that might have gone over an employee’s head at this first meeting.
- The feeling of the meeting should have a warm gesture rather than a focus on control. It allows newcomers to meet a few people in an informal, relaxed atmosphere while getting the lay of the land to optimize their early effectiveness.
- At some schools follow-up orientation meetings are held at the end of the work week, allowing new colleagues to live a bit into the cycle of the school and adding some context for the information presented.
- All schools aspire to hire teachers with Waldorf teacher training. When this is not possible the inclusion of a “Waldorf 101” course in the orientation process gives a summary of key thoughts and practices, mentions various books and gives new employees some guidance as to where to get further training (see: Teacher Training and Foundations of Waldorf Education).