MelissaHAt Mathnasium of Arcadia, AZ, Instructor retention is high, with staffers staying on board for two or more years—some even as long as five! Center owner Melissa Hardison sheds some insight on building and leading a happy and motivated team of Instructors who love what they do and in turn, impart the joy of math and learning onto their students.

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Pinpointing individuals with the right personality traits and skill set is the first step. Simply put, hire people who want to teach in the sort of environment Mathnasium offers and who thrive on assuming responsibilities unique to the position. “They need to be proficient in math (candidates have to score a minimum of 85% on the Math Literacy Test) and have a great personality. They have to like kids and relate to them; a sense of humor is important.” Emotional maturity and patience are also key. Melissa looks for individuals who can handle constructive criticism and the hustle and bustle of a busy center and remain calm when students experience difficulty. There’s no room at her center for Instructors who are set in their ways as far as teaching styles go—during the interview process, she selects those who seem eager to learn and implement the Mathnasium teaching methodology, even if they’ve never taught in that fashion before.

Clarifying your expectations as a manager can significantly reduce instances of on-the-job miscommunication and frustration. Melissa has customized the Employee Handbook Template (available on M2 here) to reflect her own center policies and has all new hires read it prior to starting. “Everyone has to read it, sign the last two pages, and give those pages to me to put in their file. If I see them doing something [that contradicts what’s established in the Handbook] or if someone asks me a question that can be answered by reading the Handbook, I’ll direct them back to it and [reemphasize] how important it is to understand all the information in there.”

Melissa is very involved in day-to-day activities at her center and keeps a close eye on her team as they work with students. She’s well aware that as a manager, she sets the overall tone for her center and that her demeanor and leadership style has a huge effect on her employees’ job satisfaction. “As much as I can, I try to minimize any drudgery that might be associated with coming to work,” she tells us. “I want it to be fun, relaxed, and informal. It’s a fine line to walk, because you can easily go too far in the wrong direction, so I do monitor [what’s going on in the center] all the time.” Employees consistently receive on-the-spot feedback, encouragement, and corrections, when warranted. “If I see an Instructor chatting too much or not keeping a student on task, I’ll call them into my office right away. If I see them doing something that’s really good, I will compliment them, either in private or in front of the student. Either way, I think they appreciate the honesty.” A team atmosphere is strongly emphasized, with more experienced staff members watching over newer ones and guiding them when necessary.

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Melissa also remains mindful and observant of how each staff member fits into the team dynamic and impacts the overall quality of instruction administered at her center. “I have let people go after they’ve worked here for a month if I discover that they didn’t have the abilities and potential I thought they had,” she says. “There’s just too much on the line to let these things go unnoticed or unchecked.”

These days, Melissa’s teaching team is a mixed bag of fledgling and veteran Instructors. She reports that when Instructors do decide to leave her center, it’s mostly due to various life changes—sometimes they’ve finished school and are moving out of the area, or they’ve had to take on full time positions. “Employees stay on for so long because they love the job,” she says. Melissa recalls a particular employee who had to decide between committing to a full time position or staying at Mathnasium and working as many hours as possible. “It was a struggle for her to decide. Now she comes in and works at the center on Saturdays—she couldn’t tear herself away from it altogether!” With the lighthearted yet productive work environment Melissa’s cultivated over the years, it’s not difficult to see why. Instructors have the opportunity to make a significant impact in the lives of students and they “have the chance to build relationships with the kids and parents—many of whom have been with us for a long time as well. They’re the ones administering the curriculum and working with the kids, so I want them to be happy!”

Melissa’s currently busy brainstorming more fun activities that both staff and students can enjoy, such as game nights at the center. “I think this will help promote team spirit, especially with the new people we have on board!”