How to Maximize Onboarding for Special Education Team Members: The Importance of Training and Coaching

As a Special Education Director, you want your special education team to be fully staffed with team members who become rock stars in their schools and their work with students, families, and other educators. However, if you’re like the Special Education Directors we’ve worked with, you’re wondering how to make this happen, especially in a time of staffing shortages and budget cuts. 

The answer might surprise you: onboarding is one of the most effective strategies to maximize your team’s efficacy. In this blog post, we’ll explore how you can devise an effective onboarding process that sets up new team members for success.

How Does Effective Onboarding Amplify Success?

The concept of onboarding has become more recognizable in the field of education in the last decade—and for good reason. When you have a clear understanding of how onboarding can be used to amplify success, it becomes more than a formality for new hires. Because each special education team member’s role is as multifaceted as it is critical, a robust onboarding, training, and coaching program for new team members lays the foundation upon which their success can be built. 

A comprehensive onboarding program offers a structured introduction to the organization's policies, procedures, culture, and expectations, and provides new hires with the necessary tools to navigate the intricate landscape of special education in schools.

Related: In Search of a Strength-Based Approach to Special Education

Establish Policies & Procedures

The initial task in onboarding involves identifying which materials and guidelines new team members need to know when they start. This typically includes:

  • Employee handbooks
  • Policies for obtaining and sharing necessary materials and curricula
  • Processes to access important information and data

However, it is helpful to go beyond the provision of the basic information that new team members need for their jobs. For example, provide additional resource guides that include commonly used acronyms for the district, how to conduct specific types of meetings according to the school’s guidelines, and/or suggested scripting for family phone calls. This information goes beyond essential paperwork and can help the new team member feel more comfortable and competent as they get started in a new job. 

It is also helpful to think through all of the logistical information that can be useful to new hires. Asking your current employees what information they wish they’d known when they started their jobs will also help identify additional materials to share during the onboarding process. Keep a running list in a living document where questions and areas of need can be added as they occur. This will save you and your department time in having to recreate the wheel for onboarding FAQs with each new hire. 

While this may take a bit of time on the front end, it will save you more time in the long run, given that new hires’ lack of knowledge about straightforward logistical issues can slow them down and get in the way of their immediate effectiveness. In addition, their questions can result in unnecessary interruptions to you or other employees who have to take time to provide them with the information they need. By supplying crucial information up front to new employees, your whole team will lose less work time, which is a win-win for you, your team, and the students. 

Enhance Work Culture & Relationships

Onboarding isn't just about assimilating information; it's also about forging connections. New special education team members benefit from early opportunities to interact with peers, administrators, teachers, and families to foster collaboration and cooperation. New hires also need to acclimate to the district’s unique culture, values, and unwritten rules. 

During onboarding, new hires should be given a thorough orientation on the school’s culture and practices. Introduce them to the mission, vision, and values, and acquaint them with the overall goals of special education programs within the school. Engaging in these activities is part of an effective onboarding process that imparts a sense of belonging, builds confidence, and helps the newly hired team members align themselves with the district and school's mission and vision.

Set Expectations

The onboarding process sets the tone for a special education team's effectiveness and success, and another important part of this process is ensuring that new hires understand the school’s expectations and how success in their role is defined and measured. This allows the new team members to start in a new position with a clear understanding of their job duties and responsibilities. Subsequently, they spend more time supporting their students and less time trying to navigate and understand what their role entails. That leaves more time to actively engage in the actual work activities themselves. 

Provide Training & Coaching

In addition to an explicit process for sharing policies, procedures, work culture, and expectations, training and coaching are also important components of onboarding for new hires.  A comprehensive orientation and onboarding program that includes these essential components for new hires allows you to consistently provide training to new staff members whether they start in a position during pre-planning or even mid-year.   

Effective training is a key component of a successful onboarding program because it builds new employees’ knowledge base and skill set, helps acclimate them to the new role, accelerates their learning curve, and builds their confidence. Online training modules can be particularly helpful as they can be completed at the new employee’s own pace and can cover a range of necessary topics, such as special education law, safety regulations, behavior management strategies, discipline policies, etc.

While onboarding and training provide the initial scaffolding, coaching takes the process a step further by providing a personalized, ongoing support system to help new special education team members apply their knowledge and transfer it to their work with students. Coaching sessions can focus on honing specific skills; for example, if the new team member has limited experience with data analysis or managing an IEP meeting, specific coaching can be provided to help them improve these skills. A skilled coach can also provide individualized guidance and instill confidence by helping new employees navigate complex situations and feel capable of making difficult decisions.

Continuous Improvement To Your Onboarding Process

Finally, it’s important to evaluate and revise your onboarding, training, and coaching program regularly. Solicit feedback from your new employees as well as veteran team members to determine the effectiveness of the process, and adjust as necessary to ensure that new team members receive the support necessary to start strong and succeed in their roles. Special Education Directors can also benefit from additional assistance with this or similar tasks by assigning a lead clinician or task force to review and update onboarding and professional development plans. 

Maximize Your New Hires: Build An Effective Onboarding Plan

As a Special Education Director, you lead the way for your team members in the journey to provide inclusive and meaningful education to all students. By devising an effective onboarding, training, and coaching program, you invest in individual success for every new hire as well as a commitment to the betterment of the entire special education ecosystem. When new team members start in their roles as confident, knowledgeable, and skilled professionals, the impact they make on students' lives grows exponentially. 

Don’t have the time to create a comprehensive onboarding program yourself? Let us help! We offer customized training and coaching that can be curated specifically for your team’s needs.

It’s easy to get a custom professional development plan for your teams:

  1. Get Your Custom Plan - Answer a few questions about your district; we'll evaluate how Psyched Services can help your special education team benefit from high-quality professional development and continuing education that will not only maximize their professional growth, but also outcomes for your students.
  2. Customized Programming - Our experts will craft an individualized professional development program to meet your district's needs.
  3. Experience Growth - Watch your team learn, grow, get more done, and make an even bigger difference in the lives of your students.

So, set your team up for success today and Get Your Custom Plan!

Up next: Learn tips for effectively planning and making the most of your professional development. Stay tuned for additional blogs in this series, including the benefits of customized training, and building a supportive supervision culture for your staff. 

Let us prepare your custom professional development plan and give your team the benefit of: NASP-Approved CEUs, Flexible scheduling and training