Building a Team: The First Days – Orientation

I am a huge fan of preparing well – down to the tiniest detail – so that the conversation, the training session, the event, looks like it just happened – effortlessly. I’m the proverbial duck that, while gliding gracefully across the top of the water, is paddling like crazy under the surface. I do much of my work behind the scenes.

So, when it comes to building a team and adding to our staff, I put a lot of effort into the “new” teacher’s first week. When people know what is expected of them, when they know who, what, where, when, why, and how about the child care center, and when they have all of this information in a staff handbook, they begin their work more confidently. We have seen this over and over. But, this process didn’t just happen overnight. It took years of seeking feedback from new hires and tweaking, tweaking, and more tweaking.

Our orientation sets the tone for the entire work experience, and we want to make this first impression a positive, and lasting one.

Several members of the team participate in the orientation – each of us sharing our unique perspectives and experiences – thus providing an immediate “go to” network of colleagues for our newest teammate.

As Director, my meeting is first. Mine is the global, big picture view of the child care center: our philosophy, our vision, our focus, our goals, our work policies and standards, our commitment to quality in all that we do.

During this meeting, I present our new teacher with a staff handbook, which, over the years has grown into a comprehensive resource (a large binder) which contains numerous tabs with lots of specific (and I mean VERY specific) information about:

  • our goals
  • the child care center
  • the staff
  • the program philosophy
  • teacher policies, procedures, and expectations
  • classroom policies, procedures, and expectations
  • parents and the program
  • health, safety, and emergency procedures,
  • and an appendix that includes:
    • teacher job tasks
    • teacher competencies
    • a job description
    • and many of the actual health, safety, and program policies and postings that our licensing authority requires (and that all on our team are expected to follow).

As I said, it is a comprehensive document, but a fabulous resource to have and to refer to often.

I also include a map of our facility (18 classrooms and 40,000 square feet is a “big house” to navigate), and an organization chart (with close to 70 people on our team). We have a brief conversation about setting professional and personal goals, and how these goals, the job tasks, and competencies will become the basis for an end-of-year performance evaluation. There is never a question as to our expectations. But, coupled with these expectations is enormous support.

Depending on the new teacher and skill level, we use a buddy system (a life-line in the way of another colleague), peer coaching, mentor teachers, and several other ways of bringing team members together for the purpose of supporting, guiding, and learning from one another. And, in the process, building our team!

Following my orientation, a detailed tour of the facility (keys and IDs and card readers, oh my!), introductions all around, and a quick welcome in the new classroom with children and teachers, rounds out day one. At this point, armed with the staff handbook, and exhausted from the excitement and jitters of a first day, our new teacher goes home to read and absorb.

The morning of the second day continues with health, safety, and emergency orientation. Much is in the staff handbook, but it is important that this new colleague knows, from the beginning, how to evacuate in an emergency; knows how to administer an EpiPen® to a child in a medical emergency; knows which children have allergies and how we accommodate them. All of the details that, when known by all the players, are handled in a calm, matter-of-fact way (behaving like a duck comes to mind again …).

Out-for-lunch with the new team completes the formal orientation. And the teachers have their opportunity to begin to build their new relationship.

And finally, on the afternoon of day two, our new teachers are ready to join their class!

I learned that it was virtually impossible to pull teachers out of the classroom for orientation once they had begun working in the classroom. Staffing and coverage issues trump everything in a child care center. And they can easily de-rail the good intentions of orientation and training.

But, it is so important to share the details this teacher will need to know in order to function optimally in this new classroom, and to feel competent! So, years ago, I opted for a thoughtfully-paced first two days, packed with training, to give that sense of security and confidence to our new hires – from day one.

And, it seems to have worked well. Training doesn’t stop here, however.  This is only the beginning.

The Training Continues … in the next post with “The Developmental Stages of a Teacher.”

If you would like to have a more in-depth conversation about any, or all, of the programs and resources mentioned in this post, please contact me at

And, please send the link to other directors, or early childhood professionals who might like to know of it.

Finally, I’d love to know how you handle Orienting new employees to your programs. Let the sharing begin …

This entry was posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, For Early Childhood Directors, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Performance Management Skills, Training for Early Childhood Directors. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Building a Team: The First Days – Orientation

  1. Jennie Fitzkee says:

    Excellent, Marcia. You’re so good!

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