How Much Orientation is Enough – or Too Much?


We did a survey a while ago and had nearly 500 responses when we asked numerous questions about the amount of time devoted to staff training for new hires.  (These were hours beyond state mandated time.)

As you can guess, the answers ranged from zero to continuous.  Many made comments after they typed in the number of hours.

  • We’re too small to provide orientation.
  • We tell them to watch what the other teachers do.
  • Ongoing until I’m satisfied.

Well, I remember my very first teaching jobs – in public schools.  Orientation was filling out paperwork, being told where I could and could not park, and showing me my classroom.  There was no principal, mentor, other teacher, etc. in sight on the first day the children came into my classroom.  I was on my own!

I wonder how the principal ever thought I would know what to do – what goals he expected me to achieve – what the building rules were – who I could go to for help?

I taught in a few places over the years.  The process was the same every place – I was on my own.  I said to myself each time, “I’ll never do this anyone I hire if I’m ever in that position.”

Funny the kind of things that make lasting impressions on us, isn’t it?

So, back to the question of how much or how little orientation is “right”.

In my humble (experienced) opinion, NONE is not enough.

Here are things that new employees really deserve when they begin a new job with you:

  • They should see and hear that you’re excited to have them join your tribe. You want them to be successful.
  • They must understand that the primary reason they are there is to help each child flourish every day.
  • They deserve to know your rules, your expectations, and your reporting structure.
  • They need to know what to do “in case” – in case there is an emergency, in case they make a mistake, in case they get in over their head and don’t know what to do
  • They should have a dedicated time to ask questions of your or your designee… every day the first couple of weeks.
  • They will benefit from a senior teacher being in the rooms with them and occasionally co-teaching.
  • They need you to tell them they are doing a good job and you appreciate them showing up and giving their best to the children.

I think these are good guidelines for orientation.

To answer the question of “how much is too much”… too much is when you are micromanaging because you haven’t done a great job teaching.

A new employee is a learner, just as children are learners.  If you want a child to color in the lines on day one, you are setting yourself up for disappointment and the child is being taught to be frustrated.  (I’m not advocating coloring in the lines – just using a visual here.)

Maybe this will help.  There is a difference between orientation and training in a child care center:

Orientation:  learning about the center operation/vision/philosophy, the job responsibilities, the culture, the reporting structure, the policies and procedures.

Training:  learning how to perform or improve a teaching technique, new programs/equipment/skills, child behavior modification, and interactions with parents.

Just a final thought on the initial statements about providing orientation.

  • We’re too small to provide orientation. Even if you are a sole provider and hiring your first employee, she will want to know what you are expecting of her and how you want things to be done. 
  • We tell them to watch what the other teachers do. What if you don’t really love what the others are doing? Are you asking your new hire to learn their bad habits?
  • Ongoing until I’m satisfied. This is the example of the difference between orientation and training.  An employee should be able to learn policies, responsibilities, etc. within a couple of weeks.  If not, that is a big problem that needs big attention.