Richard Therrien Hiring Philosophy
The procedures for hiring new personnel for a school system should be a reflection of the goals and values of that system. If the assumption is that all new people hired will make a positive impact on student learning, then many steps can be followed to achieve this goal. A system can be set up that involves the key stakeholders in the new position. The key attributes of a person compatible with the position and with the school culture can be identified. The prospective candidates can be screened to ensure not only that they are the right fit for the position, but also so that they will meet with success in their first days on the job.
When hiring new personnel for a school, it is important that many people are involved in the process. Probably one of the most import aspects is to ensure that the job is advertised correctly. If the position involves extracurricular activities, or is for specific certifications or duties not normally associated with the position, this needs to be specified in whatever posting or advertisement is made. Advertising for a “science teacher needed” is much different from advertising for a “science teacher, able to run environmental club, certified in Biology and Chemistry”.
The first step would be to identify the key person involved in making the final decision on the person, and having them approve the ad or posting. This ensures that the original candidates who apply based on the description will also fit the needs of the decision makers. A curriculum director, principal, or department chair should assist in writing the posting. I firmly believe that the overall focus of curriculum and learning should be hands-on, theme and inquiry based, and involve multiple means of assessment and instruction. Advertising for a “highly qualified” chemistry teacher may get applicants who pride themselves on their years of high level graduate work in the field, rather than those who are able to fit into the culture of the school.
Here is the type of ad that I would envision drawing in the kinds of candidates that an ideal school system would want to interview.
“West Lawn School District seeks a highly energetic, qualified science teacher, certified in Biology and Chemistry. Our ideal candidate would be one who uses theories of multiple intelligences, performance based assessment, and has a strong inquiry approach to science learning. Please submit application as soon as possible to Central Office”
The hiring committee typically would consist of a building principal, department chair or curriculum leader, and at least one to two other staff members. This group should see the ad before it is placed, and then schedule a meeting to brainstorm their ideal wishes and needs in a candidate. The group will produce a list of five to six highly desirable attributes on which to rank candidates for the position.
The list of attributes should focus on the overall skills and characteristics an ideal person would need to succeed in the position and the school culture. They should not focus on the minutia of the job, such as “keeps good records, can set up labs, calls parents when there is a problem”. Rather the group should define the personality that will be able to make a long-term contribution to the organization, and make a difference in the school. The interview process itself should be set enough to focus on the most important teaching skills, such as classroom management, lesson design, and student rapport. This group should be pre setting a high standard of a master teacher or administrator in their system. Too often in the hiring process of schools, decisions are based on intangible “feelings” or “instincts” of the candidate’s personalities. The proposed process will serve to make those desired attributes more tangible, and the decision easier and well supported.
Probably highest on the list of ideal attributes for a new hire in a school system would be the ability to articulate a vision and philosophy of learning and education. The most successful administrators and supervisors are those who have a vision and overall conceptual view of learning, and can articulate it to others. This view does not necessarily have to fit exactly with the school system’s view. The school may be looking for a leader to help, or may be flexible enough. However a candidate who comes in to do a “job” without an overall purpose or idea on how curriculum, instruction, and assessment fit together, is not an educator who will make a high contribution to the school. Most school systems require some sort of statement of philosophy of education on their application essays for that very purpose. The hiring committee should take the time to read these thoroughly before any decisions on interviews.
Communication skills are essential to the education profession. If a prospective candidate cannot communicate effectively in writing or verbally, then any other good qualities will be lost. A new hire should be able to prove their degree of communication skills, both in writing, and in the interview process. Organization is a key skill that many good teachers and administrators sometimes lack. If the entire process itself is organized, then it is more likely to attract and narrow down to educators that can be organized as well. The attribute that most hiring committees respond to is that of charm, charisma, a sense of being comfortable with others. Educators that show and demonstrate that they are “people” persons, are ones who will be willing to seek out students, colleagues, parents, and administrators to work on issues and solve problems.
Once the committee is set on the major skills and attributes desired, they can begin the process of selecting candidates to interview. If it is for a supervisory or shortage area position, chances are that there may not be many candidates from which to pick. Regardless, the task of reading resumes, application essays and familiarizing oneself with the letters of recommendation and transcripts helps define the similarities and differences in the available candidates. A checklist would be useful at this point, rating each candidate 1-3 on areas such as certification, qualification, educational background, and recommendations. Each member of the committee should begin to tentatively rank the other important attributes previously identified as well. Only those who meet the requirements for the position should be interviewed, and preference should be given to those who rank high in two or more areas. It is ideal to have a committee of four to five people interview anywhere from six to twelve candidates for each position if possible.
Probably the most important part, once the candidates have been scheduled for the interview is for the hiring committee to take the time to design and conduct the questions. Each person should be assigned a question designed to probe more into the candidate’s proficiency at one of the major skills previously identified. One person should be assigned as a timekeeper, to move along the interview when needed, and another person should be designated to probe the candidate for questions as well.
In alignment with the list of attributes previously stated, here is a list of questions that could be asked, along with reasons.
“Our position today is that of a tenth grade biology teacher, with some chemistry possible as well. Could you tell us briefly why we would think you are highly qualified for this position?” (A teacher might be the best person to ask this question, to start the interview in a more relaxed manner).
This question is a way of reiterating to all members of the committee the candidate’s qualifications and background are and introducing the person to the group. A good answer needs to be organized, rather than a list of previous colleges and jobs, and will hopefully focus on some personal qualities and strengths the person might bring to the job. If they focus just on educational background, or previous experience, it may show a lack of confidence in their underlying skill set.
“In the administrative position that you are applying for, can you tell us what key interaction would you have during a typical school day that would most impact students?”
This question is to focus the candidate on the goal of any educational position; to improve student learning. They need to be able to talk about their interaction with students in a positive, comfortable manner, and show that they have multiple ways of relating to students both in and out of the classroom. An ideal answer will go on almost too long!
“ What is your overall focus in designing a unit of instruction, and what is your philosophy of science learning” (The person asking this should be tied to curriculum in some manner, such as a department chair, or curriculum coordinator).
This question requires the candidate to demonstrate they have goals and objectives in mind in planning units of instruction. An example topic could be given to help elicit an answer, but an ideal candidate would immediately communicate that they had a vision for the direction of their lessons and plans. A teacher who is unable to answer may be one who view daily lessons as unconnected to each other, larger school curriculum and goals, and will be difficult to get to focus on planning ahead. A prospective administrator should have a more detailed idea of what they want education to be like, and be able to instantly show their strong vision
“What would a typical day in your classroom look and sound like?”
This question focuses more on what the teacher considers important in the classroom, so it is good to note what the teacher leaves out. If they first describe the quietness and calmness of students, their focus is on discipline first, which may or may not leave room for learning. If they talk about lesson design, varied instruction, and active learning, these may be more in align with the goal of the school. There should be a balance in this answer between student learning, and a description of a positive classroom environment. If there is no mention of classroom management whatsoever, a follow up question might be needed to probe on the candidate’s philosophy.
“How and whom would you communicate with if a student was having difficulty in your class?” (The principal should ask this).
A typical answer talks about calling parents, and involving them in the process. It is important to carefully determine the sincerity and willingness of the candidate to really communicate, or whether they view student difficulty as their failure. An ideal answer would include reaching out to administrators, other staff, and especially a way of communicating and working with the individual student.
“What kind of projects or committees might you want to be at our school?”
(A fellow teacher might ask this.)
This answer sets an expectation for the candidate, as well as drawing out ideas about niches they might fill in the school culture. Reluctance to identify areas, or a lack of knowledge about possibilities indicate more of a follower than a leader personality, which is not always desired in a modern school district.
“What do you like to do for professional development?” (The curriculum person could ask this)
Once again, this brings out personal characteristics as well as professional ones. The candidate should talk about general learning, not simply their specific subject matter, and should mention meeting with other professionals, and taking advantages of opportunities beyond that of one school system. An ideal educator is a continuous learner, and recognizes that fact in themselves and others.
“What questions do you have for us?”
(The principal should ask this)
At this point, the candidate should be made fully aware of all aspects of the position, working conditions, as well as unwritten expectations. Hopefully their questions will also indicate things that are important to them, and point out areas that could potentially be a problem.
After thoroughly interviewing the candidates, each member of the committee should jot down notes and either write down an overall holistic impression, or assign a numerical score to each of the major areas: Qualifications, Teaching (Supervision), Educational Philosophy, Communication, Organization, Student Interaction, Working With Others, Professionalism. It is often hard to do this in the first several interviews without others to compare to, but it becomes important to go back to the first few interviews in order to start formulating ideas and comparisons.
Ideally, an interview committee would then select the top three candidates to bring in for a second interview, which may involve other administrators, or even the school superintendent. The second interview should be left as open ended as possible, and include an opportunity to tour the buildings, meet with teachers, look over curriculum, and gauge the candidate’s comfort level with the school and its ideas.
The hiring committee should always keep the attributes in mind that they listed, and use these to rank order the candidates. An administrator should contact the candidate’s recommendations, and ask them similar questions asked in the interview to see if they align with the candidates self perception and responses. A recommendation to the final decision maker, such as the superintendent, should include the reasons why, detailing the strengths and attributes of all the top candidates. If the superintendent does not agree with the top choice, the committee should convene to discuss it before making any offers. This creates a feeling of ownership and respect, so that the person hired can feel confident they were selected for the correct reasons.
Overall, the hiring process in a school system can be very useful. The process of designing a posting, identifying key attributes, reviewing paperwork, conversing with prospective educators, contacting recommendations, and following a structured decision making process can help a school. It helps define the school culture and allows those who have a stake in the school to feel as if they have helped shape its future.