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Will they fit in?

Now and again, we’ll have newbies join our school community. Sometimes it will be staff, but mostly it’s students. Occasionally, they’ll dribble in throughout the term or, more often than not, wait and join us en masse for upcoming transition days and then again at the beginning of the new school year.

For the large part, it’s enjoyable welcoming new people to your school, but there is the odd exception to that…especially when they join you for the wrong reasons. Maybe they’ve run their race at their last school and are looking for a fresh start, or perhaps they’ve settled in your town or neighbourhood with a reputation that precedes them.

It’s often for these reasons, and plenty more that we hit the panic button and start to worry. For a range of reasons, we go to the worst-case scenario and worry about all the bad things that could happen. Effectively, we fear that there is a risk the newbies could destroy our culture.

My first encouragement is not to let this drag you down. Rather than focus on what we can’t control, put your efforts into what you can control. I’m confident that with the right approach, you’ll be fine. New people joining your school won’t necessarily dictate the direction. That is, providing your culture is strong enough to weather the storm. Instead, they’ll conform to the cultural cues that surround them. That is, they are more likely to follow the unwritten rules and replicate the behaviours of the majority rather than let their previous behaviour patterns thrive. They are also unlikely to lead their own coalition that collides with how you do things around your school.

One reason this happens is because context is a strong driver of behaviour. Humans will behave the way the setting or the environment demands. Think about when you go to a sporting match and cheer for your team or even yell the odd remark at the opposition or umpires. We do it because the environment places an expectation on us. It’s human behaviour to want to fit in and be part of the tribe, especially for young people.

But be aware the opposite of this also happens. If the culture is already damaged, even new people with worthy intentions will be influenced by the large majority for the wrong reasons.

Here are my top three tips for onboarding new people to your community so they don’t damage your culture or, for that matter, even dent it.

  1. Ensure you and others are crystal clear on what matters. The easiest starting point here is demonstrating that our people matter.
  2. A fresh start really needs to be a fresh start. We’ll have a bias to make assumptions and stigmatise based on reputation. The minute you place these labels on a person, they’ll live up to the label and behave accordingly.
  3. Be clear on your methodology. For us, it’s RP2.0. You need to know it, believe it, talk about it and practice it. A paragraph in your policy won’t be enough, and the odd staff meeting won’t make a difference either.
  4. Regularly spend time working on and maintaining your culture. Do you talk about culture with your team? Don’t leave cultural improvement to luck. A simple starting point is to tackle the questions below:
    1. What are the behaviours we want to see more of?
    2. What are the behaviours we want to see less of?

The above questions aren’t just about student behaviour. It’s our staff, too.

I’ve witnessed enough good news stories to believe a fresh start will work, but it doesn’t just happen by luck, it happens because of an experience of cultural immersion.