conversation with new employee

Increase School Staff Retention with These Two Critical Conversations

To enhance school staff retention, initiate crucial 30- and 90-day conversations with new hires, ensuring positive experiences and fostering engagement from day one. Implementing these practices, along with regular check-ins and supportive onboarding activities, cultivates a culture where employees feel valued and heard, ultimately bolstering retention and organizational success.

Take the first step towards fostering a supportive and thriving workplace culture by downloading the Studer Education 30/90-day conversation guide.

New employees bring renewed energy and diverse experience to your district.

They are also the most vulnerable to first impressions. Ensure their initial experiences as a team member are positive, engaging, and supportive – provide them with a 30- and 90-day conversation plan on their first day.

When planning onboarding for new hires, remember that the initial 45 days for a new hire are the most critical, with approximately 20 percent of staff turnovers occurring during this time. Prioritizing employee retention from day one is a smart move in keeping your new team member for the long haul.

Build a supportive workforce culture so problems are proactively addressed, and individuals are recognized for good work that produces results. Start by holding a 30-day touch-base meeting with the new team member as well as a 90-day meeting, alongside regular leader one-on-ones (rounding) with other staff. This also shows the new staff member that all employees are heard and their voices matter within the district.

Having 30/90-day conversations with new employees is a crucial practice for organizations and school districts. These conversations serve multiple purposes:

  1. Engaging New Hires: They help engage and support new employees during their critical early days in the organization.
  2. Gaining a Fresh Perspective: As a leader, these conversations provide an opportunity to gain insights and a fresh perspective on the organization.
  3. Driving Positive Changes: By actively listening to new hires, leaders can identify areas for improvement and make necessary changes to enhance the organization’s functioning.

Conducting Effective 30/90-day Conversations with Dr. JoAnn Sternke

Dr. Sternke, former Superintendent of the Pewaukee School District (PSD) in Wisconsin, shares her expertise in having these important conversations.

As a former superintendent, what do you recommend as the best ways to hold 30- and 90-day conversations with new employees?

The 30- and 90-day interviews are not only good for developing relationships and making sure people feel listened to and valued, but through the hardwiring of this process, we were able to capitalize on learning opportunities.

When I had that first 30-day conversation with a new employee, I always asked the question – ‘What was your previous school district doing well that we could be doing better here?’

Those conversations with new staff helped me make bigger decisions. If I hadn’t asked, I never would have known.

The 30- and 90-day interviews are not only good for developing relationships and making sure people feel listened to and valued, but through the hardwiring of this process, we were able to capitalize on learning opportunities.

I really like the idea of a fresh perspective. I think when you talk to someone within 30 days of being a part of your organization, you really have the chance to see those powerful, initial perceptions that they bring about in your organization. Listening and asking those probing questions is tremendously important.

And when an employee hit the 90-day mark, I asked another key question – ‘Who is someone in your previous district that, if we had an opening, would be a good fit for this district?’

While it seems like you’re taking away from the employee’s experience, if they are happy with working at your district, they will be more than happy to provide recommendations. It’s also such a good question for attracting new talent.

Anything you can do to make sure you are developing and attracting talent is really important. The question allows you to get to know the employee better and learn more information from their fresh perspective.

In our experience at Studer Education, superintendents are usually very intentional about key messages to the new hire during onboarding. What are some specific onboarding practices that you saw really make a difference?

In my district, we included a very intentional onboarding activity that made a big difference for new employees. We took all new teachers on a school bus ride around the town and the neighborhoods in which their students live. It helped them to feel what it’s like to be a child in the district. I am always on the bus with the hires. We go all over the community so that they see the district boundaries, the homes in the community, and the areas where children are in poverty. It really gives them a chance to see the community first-hand.

Another practice we put into place within those first 90 days is a lunch with new hires and board members. Seating is intentional so board members can meet new teachers and staff and form opportunities for communication with them. At this lunch, the board gives the new hires a gift certificate from the booster club for spirit wear so they can dress in Pewaukee clothing for the first day.

The PTO also gives them a gift certificate to outfit their classrooms. Anything you can do to build the relationship is key. It’s not about the stuff, it’s about the employees realizing they are cared for.

Anything you can do to build the relationship is key. It’s not about the stuff, it’s about the employee realizing they are cared for.

What are some best practices that facilitated retention of your employees in the first 90 days and throughout the year?

There are so many opportunities here. One idea is to send a personalized email on the employee’s birthday. When you do that, there is an opportunity to reinforce the mission and thank the employee for their work in the district. This is very easy to do and sends a powerful message.

Before teacher appreciation days throughout the school year, I sent out emails to parents asking them to write a note to a teacher who has meant something to his or her child. This allowed teachers to hear the direct impact they have on their students and families. It’s so important to accentuate the heroic work they do.

Do you have any guidance to offer fellow superintendents and education leaders regarding conducting crucial conversations and enhancing employee retention during the initial 90 days and beyond?

My advice would be to do anything you can do to make a best practice a habit and a ritual. For me, I write three ‘thank-you’ notes first thing every morning. That is a ritual that has become non-negotiable. It makes no difference if I’m on the road or in the office. It starts your day off right and puts you in the right mindset to ensure you are grateful to the people you work with.

Systematically carrying out best practices for new hires in the first 30 and 90 days sends a message, sets the stage, and positively presents the culture and values within your district. These conversations, along with regular check-ins with leaders and with other staff, build a supportive workforce culture where problems are proactively addressed and individuals are recognized for work that produces results.

Consider putting these practices into place in your organization to ensure employees are heard, retained, and valued.


Download the Studer Education 30/90-day conversation guide to help you adopt these practices.

Explore ways to integrate Dr. Sternke's proven methods into your district. Start by adopting a consistent communication approach, whether through email or handwritten notes, to express gratitude towards your team regularly. Make this habit a cornerstone of your leadership practices.


Think differently.

Encourage innovative thinking throughout your faculty by challenging conventional approaches. Embrace diverse perspectives to drive creativity and problem-solving within the first 90 days.

Plan differently.

Prioritize strategic planning over-reactive decision-making while aligning district goals with long-term vision and adapting plans as needed.

Act differently.

Execute with purpose and agility by involving 30/90-day conversations in your onboarding. Continuously learn, iterate, and improve to stay ahead while creating trust.

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