Friday, July 18, 2014

Teacher Selection

As a principal, I was successful at hiring good teachers who were also good fits. Of the staff I hired, more than 90% were great or fantastic. Of the rest, one continued to be pleasant and urbane but also a non-producer, one allowed her fundamental religious beliefs to take over in her third year and two or three others were just average. Only one was truly bad and I still believe it was spousal pressure which led to his dramatic performance failures.

My hiring successes were the result of the hiring process I followed.

Firstly, I or my staff create both a Position Profile and a Person Profile. The former relates to the job to be done, now and in the conceivable future, including non-classroom duties such as sports-coaching or leading a subject review. The latter relates to the team which s/he will be joining, and importantly, to any gaps in that team which need to be filled.

Secondly, I or my staff do a search of our resume files. I am fortunate in that my schools' reputations have been such that unsolicited applications were common and I keep most or all of these for 'possible future consideration'. This resume search is focused on the Position Profile. My goal is to create a pool of perhaps a dozen candidates who can all do the job I had in mind, so that we can focus on finding the right Person.

If my filesearch does not produce a suitable pool, I email related, previous applicants asking for recommendations, or for them to pass my needs on to their colleagues. I may also advertise at this time, although in general terms I prefer to advertise only for new positions such as when opening a new program or due to school growth.

Thirdly, I contact my initial pool and ask them if they are interested and would like to interview. If they are not, I ask them for recommendations, or to pass on my needs to their colleagues. I hope to interview 5 - 8 suitable candidates at this time.

Fourthly, I conduct the initial interviews where I do three things. I describe carefully the nature of the school, its mission and its expectation of teachers. I review the Position Profile. I ask the candidate about his/her professional views and philosophies and experiences using a printed question-sheet for consistency and fairness, and where I record the responses for future discussion if needed. I usually allow 30 minutes for the explanations and 30 minutes for the interviewing.

I also ask candidates to write me a short paragraph on a generic topic so that I can see if s/he can write. I do this because I feel it is essential all teachers can write effectively and coherently, and not just for student report cards.

Candidates who pass this initial screening move to round two which is where the real selection occurs. I hope to have a second-round pool of 3 - 5 candidates, each of whom can do the job. The question now is whether s/he is a good fit. If I do not have enough for the second round, I re-open the initial screening or more usually, I advertise. This first round is the most time-consuming and is not suited to an immediate hire. For this, I suggest an interim or temporary appointment to give you time to conduct a complete search process.

For this, I construct a panel of perhaps three current staff members. One is the division head such as Elementary Principal, or the head of department. One is another teacher of the same level such as Grade Two or Middle School Humanities. The third is another staff member, perhaps one I am coaching towards being a middle manager. This reflects the collaborative nature of teaching, the team approaches in our school, and above all the fact that as a school leader I do not constantly work alongside the new hire. HIs/her colleagues do, and so they must be involved in the selection.

Each panel member interviews the candidates with his/her own printed question-sheet covering both technical aspects such as "how do you teach x?" or "what do you do in y situation?". Importantly, each of these round two interviews is conducted separately and not as a panel. Each should take about 30 minutes, so in the end the candidates spend about three hours in the school.

When we have completed second-round interviews, we meet with our notes and review each candidate. Typically, the candidate choice is unanimous so an offer can be made. I retain all the completed question-sheets in the applicant files in case of a future complaint, although to date I have not had any. Should none of the candidates be considered suitable, I re-start the process. Should the candidate reject the offer, we can often go to the second candidate. If not, I re-start the process.

The success of this can be seen in an example where a candidate revealed in one interview that he loses his temper and hits his own children. Another revealed that his motives in applying were to move to our city, not to work in our school. Another was available for me, but not to the "lesser mortal" who was his professional peer. Another had lied about her educational background, and what she had really studied in getting her degree.

One last essential point. I absolutely reject the frequently-heard argument that a hire should be made so that we have a teacher for Monday. This trivializes the students and their learning, and if they are not our sine qua non we have no right to be in the positions we are in. Yes, this process is time-consuming. But if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well.

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