HOW EFFECTIVE IS YOUR INDUCTION?
So, it’s coming up to that time of year again, when most FE Colleges will be offering some form of induction for its new joiners. (I’m talking in this article about student joiners - though the issue of induction for new staff should not be neglected…).
So, what’s your plan? And will you be able to carry it out?
To begin with, have a go at answering the following questions:
- How will you know how effective it has been? What are your measures, and when will you test them?
- Is it adequately resourced?
- Does it address the students’ WIIFM factor?
- Are there any key/crucial messages to be included?
- Have staff and new joiners been given (adequate) notice of the above 4 points?
- How will it be delivered (including where)?
- What’s the programme content?
- When is it happening?
- What’s the purpose of induction?
- Has the above been informed by previous years’ experience, and the learning drawn from it?
- How much input into induction has been provided by your students?
- Is the programme informed by best practice elsewhere?
- Has it been informed by your feeder schools?
- Can you deliver all commitments and promises made to students at induction?
- Will staff role model and reinforce expectations set for students?
- What are you going to do about absent or late new joiners, to ensure they feel fully included?
- Who should be there?
The above, in my view, constitute an outline brief or checklist for good practice. Of course, you may have additional items to add, but I feel the above list is the minimum set of questions to be considered by the design and delivery team (assuming you have one).
So here are some of my further thoughts on each of these questions:
1. What’s the purpose of induction?
Students and staff need to know why induction is taking place; they need to know its relevance for each learner. Each student should feel that the induction programme is speaking to them, addressing their concerns and needs, and answering their questions. My dad, bless him, told me when I was 11 that all effective communication boiled down to answering these two questions:
- What do they want to know?
- What do I want to tell them?
I think they still hold good, and for induction, 50 years or so later…
2. When is it happening?
The obvious answer is ‘at the beginning of the academic year’. The issues really are: how long should it be? And should it be a ‘standalone’ (i.e. with no teaching taking place) or integrated (i.e. a mix of normal course work AND induction). There are pros and cons for each option, but in my view most inductions are probably too short. I think 2 weeks stand alone then 2 weeks integrated is a good model. I can hear voices worried about the time left for the curriculum – but if induction is done well (and perhaps ideally followed up with and excellent Group Tutorial programme) it will help, rather than compromise, curriculum completion.
3. What’s the programme content?
Unless you have a record of, and have surveyed, the likely joiners, then since you cannot know (only guess) what your new joiners want, there needs to be some element of consultation during the programme, to give the learner a voice. There are any number of ways of doing this, from Q&A, to drop in sessions, to ‘fab/drab’ post it boards in use throughout the programme. Whatever device is used, there should be a delivered commitment to responding to their questions, and issues and concerns they raise.
4. How will it be delivered (including where)?
It is of course each college’s decision as to what the purpose is, but in addition to dealing with everyday operational issues, I think it should deliver, through its practice, a demonstration of core values that are so important to any new student:
New students need to feel:
- A sense of belonging; integrated into the college community
- Safe - physically and emotionally
- Accepted, welcome and welcomed
- Excited, encouraged, inspired
- Confident in the institution and its staff
Successful colleges know this, and successfully address these feelings through induction. In my view, managing these feelings – being emotionally intelligent – is perhaps the most important purpose of induction. You can give a handout on timetables; but you cannot give a handout on any of the above.
The collective sense of wellbeing that follows from the above is through how the programme is run, and how staff interact with the new joiners, rather than what is said or printed….process, rather than content, will truly set the tone…
‘Where’ is a useful issue to consider: for most new joiners, the induction is where college life really starts – so first impressions count. So, as with everything else, the ‘where’ sets an expectation of what’s to follow.
So, for example, if the students are told ‘you will typically be in small groups, working on your own, using case studies, and often outdoors’, but their induction experience is of one large group gathered in the main hall listening to staff talking at them, there will be a clear disconnect between what they are hearing and what they are experiencing…as with everything else, the induction ‘where’ should be a microcosm, a representation of how it will be for real.
5. Have staff and new joiners been given (adequate) notice of the above 4 points?
By the time this article appears, the answer should already be ‘yes’. Without students, there would be no college; they need to feel that, through induction, there is nowhere else they’d rather be studying, and ideally nowhere else they’d rather be. To make that happen needs commitment, organisation and preparation time.
One of my most embarrassing experiences is of an induction programme that was utter chaos; as an example of this, a group of students were seen to be looking at a sheet of paper, in a corridor, and looking confused. A nearby teacher asked if they could help. One of the group said: “there’s a room on our timetable that features a lot, but we can’t find it.” The teacher asked to have a look at the timetable – and the room was ‘tbc’….
6. Are there any key/crucial messages to be included?
As I’ve already emphasised, perhaps the main messages are set through how the staff behave, and interact with the new joiners, rather than through formal spoken, set-piece messaging. Everyone, including students, tends to trust deeds rather than words. In my view it is crucial that all staff are briefed ahead of induction to be ‘on message’ during induction (and, of course, afterwards). Induction is perhaps the main time students observe staff, rather than the other way round…and first impressions count.
I’m not suggesting that staff should somehow ‘manufacture’ a positive impression that won’t hold up later; quite the reverse. I’m saying that induction is an opportunity not only for students, but also for staff, to identify key expectations, aspirations and behaviours that are core to the effective wellbeing of everyone at the college – and deliver them at induction and beyond. It’s induction for students, but an entrance exam for staff.
7. Does it address the students’ WIIFM factor?
WIIFM: “what’s in it for me?”. Many will arrive indifferent, even sceptical, prepared to be disengaged. Induction is a key opportunity to challenge and change that state.
Ideally, you’ll have learned from previous years’ experience and the views of last year’s students, of what will float their boat or sink their sub. It’s not just induction: it’s conversion.
8. Is it adequately resourced?
Again, you should know by now, and the answer should be a confident ‘yes’.
There should be a checklist and ownership for each of these:
- Human resources (committed staff of course, – and perhaps some of last year’s students and other alumni, and employers and maybe parents);
Any good college will have these prepared and ready.
9. How will you know how effective it has been?
What are your measures, and when will you test them?
Again, this is up to each college, but knowing what your purpose and ideal outcomes are before induction will help you devise appropriate evaluation after induction.
There is a case for evaluating immediately after completion, then later in the year, and perhaps at year end…
10. Has the above been informed by previous years’ experience, and the learning drawn from it?
There should be an immediate post-induction review by the design and delivery team, perhaps using feedback from any immediate evaluation. No induction should be ‘signed off’ unless such a review has taken place – it is the starting point for the planning of next year’s induction.
Another idea worth considering is asking all staff to send through to a central ‘induction’ point (a staff member or a shared folder) anything picked up during the year that should have been covered at this year’s induction, but wasn’t, or should be included next year….to keep induction alive.
11. How much input into induction has been provided by your students?
If you have a formal consultation/engagement process such as ‘The Learner Voice’, make sure it addresses induction – what went well/less well; what could improve it for next time; how can current learners support the programme? How can new joiners be more effectively involved?
12. Is the programme informed by best practice elsewhere?
How does the purpose, design, delivery and evaluation of your programme measure up against best practice elsewhere? In one FE College I worked in, we wrote to 20 other colleges to see if they would exchange their details for ours – and that gave us access to 10 other programmes.
13. Has it been informed by your feeder schools?
One potential difficulty with induction is that it covers the same ground, in the same way, that has already been covered in the feeder schools. So, it is worth checking with the main ones what has been covered in the areas you are planning to cover…
14. Can you deliver all commitments and promises made to students at induction?
Honour your commitments.
So, if you promise any of these at induction, make sure they are deliverable – AND delivered:
- Regular (?) student consultation and feedback
- 24/7 pastoral support
- Differentiated provision
- Equal opportunity
- …and so, on
15. Will staff role model and reinforce expectations set for students?
Students hate double standards. So, don’t have expectations of students that you as a staff collectively cannot or don’t deliver yourself. If you ban food and drink (other than water) from all classrooms, yet teachers wander in with a coffee from their staffroom, students lose all respect…
16. What are you going to do about absent or late new joiners, to ensure they feel fully included?
There is an understandable temptation to put all your induction eggs into one basket, at the beginning of the academic year. But this can leave late joiners or those absent from the main induction detached from the main group when they eventually arrive.
It’s worth having a mini-induction (possibly some of it video-ed from the main induction) to integrate this group into the mainstream, possibly with a student buddy as primary support…
17. Who should be there?
Students and staff, obviously; but there’s a case for a more wholistic attendance, with representation from key stakeholders, as both audience and providers, as appropriate.
These might include:
- Existing students and alumni
- Parents, siblings and carers
- Feeder school representatives
Arnie Skelton, Managing Director, Effective Training & Development Ltd
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