In Jim Collins classic book Good To Great, he urges that managers 'get the right people on the bus' and stresses that 'who' is more important than 'what.' It's generally been my belief that far too many administrators are far too lazy about what I consider their most important duty- hiring staff. It seems that far too many principals and central office leaders don't have the patience to endure sometimes endless interviewing in search of 'the one.'
This astonishes me. With all the recent and ongoing efforts and reforms in the areas of teacher evaluation, elevation of test scores, and how to improve instructional practices, let's all (hopefully) agree to a few things:
- Hiring a great teacher up front will get you more bang for your buck than evaluations, coaching, professional development, etc. can do.
- Hiring great teachers makes your life significantly easier in all areas.
- It's way easier to say 'no thank you' after an interview than it is after you award someone a job.
The time spent up front is worth it! While certain positions like bilingual psychologists or physics teachers you may have a smaller pool than others, but with planning and focus, quality (often times amazing) hires can be found. It's tougher if you school district doesn't pay as well as neighboring school districts, but never impossible.
Besides general laziness, hiring administrators frequently make other mistakes. Interviewing isn't a science. People can beat an interview and no person who holds the responsibility of hiring can boast of perfect record. But if we employ a systemic approach, we can minimize the likelihood we inadvertently hire a turd.
- Hire people for what they can become- not what they currently are.
Sure, it's nice if you find a candidate that already knows how to use a Smartboard, has familiarity with AIMSweb software, and came from a school that used PBIS. Not to diminish the value of those fine skills, but those things are easily taught (and learned). Instead, look for the intangibles. Are their responses to questions student centered? Can they provide concrete examples as they speak or only offer theory and buzz terms? Are they creative? Do they have a sense of humor? Do they smile? These things are harder/impossible to teach. Do they always come out in an interview? No. But they might, and if we're not looking for them and instead focusing on what they've already done, we may miss them. I've been forced to co-interview (which I HATE) with other principals who will pass on a strong candidate for second grade position because they student taught 5th grade and candidate B who was average has student taught 2nd grade already. Curriculum can be taught and learned. Intangibles can't.
- Be critical.
I often see administrators make excuses for candidates or attempt to clarify statements on their own. "She was nervous, I think what she was trying to say was...." Don't do this! While nerves may play a part in a candidates interview performance, it isn't our obligation to take that into consideration. Work with what's been presented. If your gut tells you that you had a potentially great teacher in front of you who wasn't getting at the depth of response you hoped for because of nerves, bring them back for a second interview. Sometimes candidates will say things that should be red flags, and sometimes my colleagues tell me I'm being to 'nitpicky.' Remember- in an interview you hold 100% of the cards. It costs nothing to bring them in, and nothing to tell them 'no thank you.' Once you offer them a job, the balance begins to shift. They join a union. They get rights. They form political friendships and maybe even friendships with you. It's emotionally draining and professionally messy to not bring a teacher back. Calling someone and politely saying, "you were great but..." is much easier. If your 'spidey sense' tells you somethings off with a potential hire- listen to it.
- Avoid interviewing connections.
I say avoid, because there may be circumstances where you'd want to break this rule. But it must come with a professional rational. "My neighbor's son is finishing his student teaching" doesn't cut it. "My neighbors son is a National Board Certified teacher who moving back to the area and looking for a new job" is different.
My staff know not to bring me names when job openings are posted, and they know if they do that I will intentionally not interview those people if they do. I've politely explained why and I hope they understand or at least respect that. If their friends want a job, they should apply like everyone else and let their credentials speak for them. Getting a job should be about your ability or aptitude- not who you know as is so often the case.
- Hire for your building and need.
- Think with your head (not that head).
I recently read that in Finland's prized education, where teachers are are held in the same regard as doctors, that it is much, much more difficult to get into the profession. In the United States, we have little control over who acquires licenses to teach. We most definitely control who teacher in our buildings. Let's not screw it up.