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Onboarding for Student Success

Eric Haines, Curriculum, Instruction, and Innovation



What is it?

Think about all of the routines and procedures we teach students at the beginning of the school year.  We teach students rules for sharpening pencils, turning in papers, and leaving the classroom.  We teach students how to evacuate the building, open a combination lock, and memorize their lunch numbers.  But what about teaching students about the culture of learning in our classrooms?  What kinds of routines and expectations do we teach that prepare our students to engage in a blended learning environment?  

In chapter 8 of Blended Learning in Action by Tucker, Wycoff, and Green, the authors define onboarding as the “specific practices used by organizations to successfully help recent employees enter their new work environment” (p. 96). Even though many of our students are digital natives, the blended learning environment and the skills necessary to thrive in that environment can be very new.  It is our responsibility to teach our students how to navigate and be successful in this personalized setting.  Check out these tips for how to successfully onboard students.   


Eating your own dog food or “dogfooding” is the practice of using one's own products or services.  When thinking about onboarding, a good place to start is to think about what your students will need to complete the assignment.  You should put yourselves in the shoes of your students.  Think about how they will access the assignment, read through the directions, complete the assignment, and eventually turn in the assignment.  As you walk through it, take note of the student experience and continually ask yourself if students will know how to complete each step.  What directions might need to be repeated?  Students may wonder what they should do when they finish, when something breaks or is not working, or what to do if they have a question.  Is there a place you could provide helpful reminders?  You might want to consider using a “starter slide,” like this one, to help organize this information for students.

THINK BIG, start small

When implementing a blended learning model in your classroom, it is important to have a vision of what the ideal student experience looks like.  However, to get there, you have to start small.  Students have to build their muscles for independence, agency, and the instructional model in your classroom.  When lifting weights, it would be unwise to start with extremely heavy weights.  Instead, start small and add weight a little at a time.  This process makes sure that you can handle the weight, while building muscle over time.  A gradual release model is best.  Make independent student activities short and then lengthen the amount of time as the year progresses.  Similarly, provide students with a few, simple choices and increase the number and complexity of those choices over time.