I've had the recent privilege of working at three schools in three years. Here are some things I've learnt.
1) Ask questions
If you aren't sure, ask! You know who is great at answering questions? Support Staff! Support Staff know so much about happens behind the scenes and can be a great help when wanting to find out stuff.
While questions are needed sometimes observing people and situations will give you a good idea of the school culture. For example at staff meetings does a certain person always hijack conversations? Do certain people always sit together in the staff room? Is school assembly set up in a certain way?
3) Learn where stuff is and any idiosyncrasies
For example one of the toilets at a school I taught at was directly off the Reading Recovery room and couldn't really be used at certain hours of the day!
You will also want to know about:
-Where spare furniture is kept and any rules for getting it (at one school the caretaker had to accompany the teacher to the basement to get the furniture)
-Emergency supplies, e.g. emergency water, first aid kits, emergency evacuation areas.
-Keys for certain areas, some schools have a separate key for the pool or a certain room.
4) Find out about the school culture
School culture is a funny thing to put your finger on, however it gives you a great insight into how senior management run the school. Here are just a few things you may or may notice.
-Senior management. Approachable? What do they see their role as? Do they prefer email or face to face? Are they up for discussion about things or do they want you to follow? How do they communicate?
-What is the staff room for? Chatting? Meetings? Both?
-Staff Meetings? How many? When? Where?
-How is staff morale? Are there shared morning teas? Random gifts of chocolate in people's pigeon holes? Is there laughter in the school admin areas?
-How is information shared? Email, eTap, whiteboard, daily staff notices?
-What are the school's expectations about communication with parents? Open door policy? Appointments only? Meetings only on certain days?
5) Look after yourself
New schools can be hard. I think we need to be gentle with ourselves not only are we getting used to a new school we are getting used to a new group of people including staff, students and families. Look after yourself, remember to do things that bring you life and leave and arrive at school at a time that works for you wherever possible