What is the best way to jump into a new organization? While some people feel more comfortable wading in and testing the waters, others prefer to attempt a metaphorical swan dive off the high dive.
After spending two days co-leading Trinity School’s New Faculty Academy, I can honestly say that our fifteen new faculty members experienced a combination of both. While I am officially new to Trinity (I have a New Faculty/Staff notebook, t-shirt, and water bottle to prove it!), I have a deep connection with the School both as a former student and as former sixth grade teacher. As a result, I certainly have a strong understanding of Trinity’s unique culture, but I believe it is essential that our new faculty immediately begin to learn Trinity’s culture in a dynamic, authentic way. I don’t believe all schools approach the initiation of new faculty in a productive, effective manner, and as I reflect on the past two days, there are hallmarks of Trinity’s New Faculty Academy that make me confident that we are equipping the “new people” for a successful entrance into this incredible organization.
In their first year at Trinity, new faculty members form a strong cohort which enables them to navigate the many challenges of being new to an organization. While the first two days of the NFA prove to be an intense initiation, weekly Tuesday meetings allow for the cohort to bond and process many new experiences in a more relaxed environment. Of course we do a few team building, get-to-know-you activities (we are elementary school teachers!), but the majority of the “bonding” happens naturally. Each Tuesday looks different in presentation style and content, but the consistent theme is that we (the Associate Head of School and I) try to provide information on a need-to-know basis and address teachers’ questions and concerns. Our Cooperative Learning class is a highlight of the NFA, and I believe that if we didn’t address cooperative learning in a purposeful way, we could not sustain the high levels of collaboration (teacher and student) at the school.
Over the past two days, we spent five hours focused on Cooperative Learning. Using the ideas presented in Cooperation in the Classroom, new faculty members form base groups which will be their “support groups” for the remainder of the year. A base group is a long-term, heterogeneous, cooperative group which meets regularly (Tuesday afternoons) and provides encouragement, assistance, and accountability. Many Trinity teachers use base groups in the classroom, but it’s important that adults understand all aspects of these types of groups. It’s also hilarious to see how adults mirror the children’s behaviors and attitudes when it comes to these organizational groups. For example, the group names of base groups in the NFA are the Pretty Fishys, the Jumping J.A.K.S., the Lucky Charms, and the Sassy Starfish. Here are the base group folders to prove it!
The Cooperative Learning class runs the length of the school year. The goal is to teach the power of cooperative learning in the classroom in an intentional way. If only a few of our faculty understood our expectations around cooperative learning or we trusted that new faculty would “get it as the year progressed,” our students would suffer and we would not be able to sustain our culture of collaboration. It important that schools communicate their values/philosophy to new faculty, but I believe that it is most essential that we provide the context for what that mission/philosophy looks like in the day-to-day life of the classroom.
While there is certainly a focus on forming connections within the NFA, all members of the school’s administrative team are expected to interface with the new members of the community. All twelve administrative team members eat lunch with the new faculty and today, everyone spent a couple of hours in deep dialogue about the ways in which Trinity’s strategic vision relates to individual jobs in the administrative arena. Each member of the team — from the Director of Finance to the Director of Communications to the Head of School’s Administrative Assistant — highlighted how Trinity’s strategic plan is central to their job and mission. In addition, they made the connection between their daily work and the work of teachers in the classroom. It was a powerful experience for new faculty to see that the strategic vision is alive and real for every member of our community.
While we spent the majority of our time focused on school culture, it’s also nice to know where the bathroom is, what the playground looks like, and what to wear on the first day of pre-planning. The balance between big picture and small detail is what, I think, makes the new faculty a little more comfortable to enter into the week of pre-planning, navigate existing relationships, and successfully overcome a potentially overwhelming time in the school year.