In my almost twenty years in education, seventeen of those internationally, my journey has explored a range of cultures, schools, and teams. As expected, some were good, some were bad, and some were rather ugly. In the six different schools I have been part of internationally, one thing that never reached an acceptable level, which amazed me, was the induction of expatriate staff into schools. Yes, there have been a few parts here and there that have been good, but never have I, or it would seem 190 people I interviewed, been part of a well thought out induction into a school.
Inductions seem to range from information dumps, to being lectured at in the school theatre, and some schools... none at all! This gives the impression that staff need to “get on with it, stop expecting that we care, and are expected to do the job.” I would find it hard to believe most schools do not care but are they demonstrating this? The staff member is likely new to the country, and may feel lost, and with any new school, no matter if it is in Venezuela or just down the road, the culture, systems, and teaching style is shown to make staff feel like a newly qualified teacher (NQT). As this article will point out, welcoming new educators and their families in a constructive way is vitally important, especially as the school has spent a large sum of money to get the teacher to the school. The school is also putting faith in the new arrival that, for the next two years, they will provide excellent education and learning for the children at the school.
What can be done? Should this just be left to human resources? Does this cost a lot of time and money? How much difference can a well-planned induction process make? From my own experience and interviewing 190 staff on all four corners of the Earth, I believe this article has a range of suggestions to answer all the questions.
The Need for an Excellent Induction
First, let us start with the definition of effective staff induction. “Induction is the process for welcoming newly recruited employees and supporting them to adjust to their new roles and working environments” (https://www.hr.admin.cam.ac.uk/hr-staff/information-new-starters/induction), but I would take it one step further and state that it is "The period from when an applicant first notices your school to them being settled in both your school and your location." Please note that neither of these quotes state two weeks at the start of term or employment. The critical point here is the period of time which for some maybe a week, for others, it may be two months or even a year.
"A standard induction to the local area is a fast way of showing someone how 'completely unimportant they are' to the organisation" - Stirzaker (2004)
If you spent a lot of money on a new car, you would certainly look after it. You may think that schools spending large sums of money and time to recruit staff would lead to schools doing all they can to ensure that this considerable investment settles in nicely. A few of the quotes from my research read a very different picture:
"…had basically no induction programme nor effective systems in place. Felt no real connection with the school nor city and its people."
"…having a school takes time to make you feel at home can only benefit the education of the children in the College. A happy and secure teacher is a good teacher!"
"It helped me to feel comfortable in my first year, which then led to me staying longer."
"The induction programme is a reflection of the values of the school."
"Fundamental, it sets out the stall! First impressions count so much."
"Feeling settled in home and school is essential to retain staff for another contract.
So, with 12,853 international schools worldwide (ISC Research) and with the average teacher staying internationally for approximately three years, does a good induction make any difference? From the outset, please do not think that I am stating that staff should expect the school to do everything; an effective international educator is proactive and flexible at their core.
There is substantial research to show that new staff will decide if they will be staying beyond their first contract within the first six months of their international school. Furthermore, research on first impressions indicates a strong link between an inadequate induction with early leavers. Douglas Ota states in his book Safe Passage, “…it takes six months for an individual to 'pack up their heart' and a further six months to 'unpack their heart.’” Furthermore, international schools are a melting pot of cultures, past training, and teaching styles which can often be contradictory and often leads to friction within the school. Finally, in his book Visible Learning, John Hattie notes that “… mobility is neither good nor bad; it is just a massive challenge.”
So, if you are willing to take on that challenge, you should read on as there are things that we can put in place to assist staff, and I will briefly outline them here.
What can be done? Induction through six different stages:
Stage 1 – Planning
Internationally recruitment starts around October or November, and a critical point that needs to be made is that induction begins when you post your job advert. This needs to start a month into the new school year for the following school year. Staff will be making judgements on your school, job advert, and website as soon as they know there is a vacant position at your school.
Setting up an induction planning team a month into the new school year is essential. Ensure your induction team is made up of staff across all areas of the school and family circumstances. You do not want an induction planning team made up of all single staff or ones that have families. Create a SWOT Analysis to assess where your current induction and recruitment practices currently are, identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to them in ensuring new staff can arrive successfully. What time, resources do you have to offer?
Mid-Year inductions are often forgotten. Staff do not always arrive at the start of the school year; what do you have in place to induct staff who arrive during Term Two or at Christmas? Communication, Communication, Communication. It would help if you were purposeful with what information you are sending out. However, you also need to firmly get away from the “Dear Applicant” or bcc reply as this is the first communication this staff member will have with your school; is this how impersonal you want staff to think of you?
Finally, another critical error in induction planning in schools thinking that it is just the teacher they have hired they need to induct. This is a colossal error, and I have seen how wrong this can go with my own eyes. You need to induct the whole family!
Stage 2 – Application Process
It goes without saying that in your job advert, safeguarding needs to be vital in highlighting what you do. Also, be careful not to copy the job advert from the senior school or one from last year. Again, this will be the first communication the applicant reads from you, so make it impactful and not just copied from your website; remember, many schools are looking for excellent staff; how will you stand out? As stated above, ensure your communication is personable. We get hundreds of applicants each year, but I always ensure that I reply to each one. I may use a blanket statement, but I ensure I write the candidate's name and one line I took from their CV. A simple spreadsheet where our secretary puts the information on each candidate makes this process easier.
Another area to consider is interviews. Being international, it is often challenging to meet the candidate in person, so how do you find the excellent teachers who may or may not be confident speaking and selling themselves on Zoom? How can your interview determine the candidates' mindset and their actual values? Is your interview going to be the standard teaching one in which, truth be told, we could train anybody to answer 80% of the questions asked? How can you make the applicant think, “Wow, that was a good interview?”
Finally, what information will you share, school development plans, salary scales, or staff handbooks? All can have a significant impact on that individual's final decision.
Stage 3 – Offers
So, you are ready to offer some candidates the job. Again, remember, candidates may have many offers on the table, so you still need to stand out. What will you include? For one, I would say you need to show how organized you are and share the plan of arrival. How you will look after them when they arrive with the offer letter. Share your School Development Plan and highlight where they could make a big difference. Staff want to feel valued and part of the team when they arrive; this is an excellent first step. Remember applications take hours, for some senior positions sometimes days. So, again, kindly reject those you are not hiring as they will talk about your personalization to other staff you may wish to hire in the future. If you ignore staff (it happens more than you would imagine!), then remember the international circuit is a small one. You do not want that staff member talking to a colleague applying the following year to your school saying, “they did not even bother to reply to my application.” Your planning team need to have that plan from now to arrival in place. What communication will be sent? When will staff receive their contract? When will staff know their flight details?
Prepare for culture shock. No matter how experienced a staff member is, culture shock impacts everyone to some degree. Make staff aware of this and that it will happen and what they and you can do to assist. What do teachers need to know before they arrive? What is it like living in your town/city? What should they bring/not bring? Can you now put them in contact through WhatsApp or email with their year/subject leader? Will you set up a social buddy and an academic buddy?
Stage 4 – Staff Arrival
Your new staff have accepted and are excited to join your school. Again, you need a plan for their arrival; what will the first month look like? What social events will you set up? Staff should mix with fellow new staff and time with existing staff. From my research, the induction in your school has ten areas you need to induct the staff in, and I have listed them in order of importance from my own 190 staff research:
- Philosophy of the School
- Culture of the Schools Location
- Financial Expectations
- Social Opportunities
- Information of the city/country
- Parental Culture
- Local language/s
- Weather Climate
Before arrival, you should send a survey to new staff to discover their and their family's interests. This is a great quick win in sending them information on the local hockey or football club, the local theatre and the plays that are being performed the month they arrive, or the local beaches they may enjoy. Yes, they could do this themselves, but what a great statement that “we care” and takes a few minutes for each staff member.
Stage 5 – First Term
No matter their experience, all new staff will have that “NQT Feeling.” The school is new; the children are new, the curriculum, even if it is the same, will be delivered in a new way to take the time to ensure this is inducted well. It is your responsibility to ensure the teacher/s and their family are settled and competent in their new life before your induction job is done. Have regular check-ins, formal and informal; what advice do the new staff have for you after being in the school for a few weeks? How will you develop teamwork within your school?
Another area to consider and be ready for is for failing teachers. It will happen; teachers will struggle from a personal or professional point of view. How will you handle this? What will you have in place? Towards the end of the first term, you need to evaluate induction and speak with the inductees on what went well and what needs improvement. Invite one of the new staff members to join your planning committee for next year; they will be invaluable in ensuring your program is excellent.
Stage 6 – End of the Academic Year
It is now time to take a break before going again! You have reached the end of the academic year, so you need to ensure that your staff are settled and reflect on the past year again. Send out that survey to all staff but ensure you allow respondents to note if they are new this year or an existing member of staff. Hopefully, your induction for the new teachers next year is well in place and going well.
As you can see, very little of this mentioned above will take up many resources other than time. I have developed two induction processes and am now working with several schools to refine their induction. I hear how this impacts the teacher's life, how well they settle, and ultimately how effective they are in the classroom. It is impossible to fit all the guidance and advice into such an article, so feel free to read my website for more information. There are a million more things you can do or not do but taking a little time to consider their arrival goes a long way. Take that time, and if you need any support, please feel free to reach out. Good luck! --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Mark is the Deputy Head, Pre-Prep at Rugby School Thailand. After working for three years at a primary school in south London, Mark ventured to explore what the world of education across the globe offered and how it could shape him as an educator. His first port of call was Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, a KS2 teacher and then Director of Sport. Next, he moved to Singapore, where he learned all things IB and PYP. Then with a new wife, he moved to São Paulo, Brazil, where he learnt the value of working with a sizeable host-native staffing team. From here, with a new baby in tow, he moved to the Middle East to a high-end Prep school, where we learned the value of a very different culture to his own. With another baby now in tow, he moved to his current location, Thailand, where the trials and tribulations of senior leadership are being explored.