Our Blog

A Better Way to Hire

February 16, 2018

This week’s blog is written by guest blogger, Karen Salerno. Her full bio can be found at the conclusion of this post.

As January turns into February, as do school leaders prepare for long days of interviews, making offers, and the anxiety inducing process of designing staffing plans for the year ahead. Historically, teacher selection has been characterized by tight timelines and often less than robust interview processes. In recent years however, with an ever shrinking pool of teacher applications and an ever increasing disparity in teacher preparation programs, school leaders have to up their interview and courting games to identify, attract, and ultimately hire top talent.

I’ll never forget the first time a teacher I had spent months recruiting turned down my teaching offer to teach in another district, on another campus, and for another principal. It felt like a punch in the stomach and I knew I had failed my students. Thankfully, I’ve learned a lot since then and have confidence in leaning on a systematic approach to hiring and recruiting that serves to ensure only the most passionate teachers are in front of the kids I serve. At BRES, we feel passionately that an intentionally created and artfully executed interview process, which we’ll lay out here, will ensure that principals and teachers find matches that create a school ecosystem in which teachers and kids thrive.

A better way to hire:

First, retain your top talent.

We’ll do a blog on this in the coming weeks, but as a preview, below are two baseline questions you should be discussing with your leadership teams:

  1. Do we know who our top talent is? TNTP refers to top teacher talent as “irreplaceables,” and as school leaders, we know this name fits. Explore their article, linked below, and be sure you can identify the irreplaceables on your campus.
  2. Once you know your irreplaceables, don’t expect that they’ll stick with you unless you’ve taken the time to discuss their career trajectory, their dreams and aspirations, and specifically what you as their manager can do to support their professional growth. You should know their 2, 3, and 5 year plans. Moreover, you should know exactly what you need to be doing to support them in achieving those goals.

Check out TNT’s Executive Summary of “The Irreplaceables” here: https://tntp.org/assets/documents/TNTP_Irreplaceables_ExecSum_2012.pdf

Second, interview better.

There are two big ideas school leaders must remember when hiring:

  1. How you and your school are perceived in the interview process can be the delta between mediocre and excellent hiring practices.
  2. If you aren’t recruiting and hiring staff that are fully aligned to your mission and the core values that are critical to executing the school’s mission to close the opportunity gap, you’ll always have a revolving door of staff.

Imagine this scenario:

Principal Garza and her leadership team spend a lot of the instructional day coaching their staff.  Their efforts coaching have been incredibly helpful in increasing the ability and performance of teachers. The leadership team is also thoughtful about staff culture and intentionally plans celebrations of successes. They work hard to cultivate an environment of trust and empowerment on the campus. However, significant time is also spent having critical conversations with those staff that, despite the team’s efforts, do not seem aligned to the school’s mission and core values and do not possess the habits and mindsets necessary to produce change in their teaching and thus meet academic goals and ultimately close the opportunity gap with their students.

As you can see, the leadership team and Principal Garza in this scenario are fighting an uphill battle. They didn’t hire right and now they are paying the price, despite their hard work on the right things. Notice, we aren’t as concerned about the time spent coaching teachers on pedagogy or even content. The key is mission and core value alignment.

So, the question Principal Garza has to answer is this:

How do I recruit and hire staff that is fully aligned to the school’s mission and the core values I know are critical to closing the opportunity gap?

Well, here’s what she has got to do:

  1. Mission: If she hasn’t done so, Principal Garza needs to create a mission statement that is directly connected to student achievement that answers the following questions:
    1. WHY – what is the school’s cause, purpose, and belief? Why does the school exist?
    2. HOW does the school go about accomplishing the mission?
    3. WHAT does the school do?
  2. Core Value Exploration/Ideal Candidate Profile: Next, Principal Garza needs to take the time to identify her ideal candidate/teacher profile. What habits specifically does this ideal candidate possess and what are the core values that drive his/her work? For me, it was always helpful to consider a teacher currently teaching on my campus and thriving. Often, I would arrive at core values like these:
    1. Is highly organized
    2. Has a growth mindset; seeks feedback and utilizes feedback to adjust behaviors
    3. Has resilience and tenacity; perseveres despite obstacles
    4. Approaches adversity with a sense of positivity
    5. Is flexible and adaptable
    6. Demonstrates a strong passion for educational equity
    7. Demonstrates cultural competency and appreciates working in a diverse environment
    8. Has an entrepreneurial mindset
    9. Holds self and others to high expectations
    10. Is comfortable having open and honest communication
    11. Embraces and drives change
    12. Has a high level of humility

    3. Core Value Creation: From the list you create in step #2, decide upon and create a list of three to five core values (beliefs and principles that guide adult behavior and actions) along with a description of how each directly impacts the school’s mission.

    4. Develop a hiring process that ensures the candidate is fully aligned with the school’s mission and core values before either accepting or being offered the position. The process includes:

  1. 20 minute phone screen used for the school leader to communicate the mission and core values to the candidate with clear transparency on what the school is and what it is not
  2. School visit one consisting of:
  1. School tour and classroom observations with a transparent discussion of school systems and structures, viewing it real-time in classrooms
  2. Sample lesson
  3. Lesson debrief with school leader feedback and probing questions
  4. Further candidate and school leader questions and answers, additional role plays performed as necessary
  5. School visit two with additional sample lesson and debrief, if necessary to further test for core value alignment

What we hope you take away from this process is that we have to carefully understand what we are looking for in a candidate, especially relative to his/her core values.  While we want our teachers to come to us with skill and content knowledge, ultimately if our candidates possess core values that we know will help our mission come alive on our campus, we can always teach the technical skills.  It takes time to get to know someone’s internal driving forces, so our hiring process should reflect that.

Finally, provide a warm and welcoming environment.

We’ve all been on those interviews during which we just couldn’t see ourselves as part of the team. Maybe the greeting from our interviewer wasn’t warm or he/she didn’t seem organized. Maybe the communication to coordinate the logistics of your interview weren’t courteous or well-executed. When we don’t set up warm and welcoming environments for candidates to interview in, they may not put their best forward. Remember, this is one of the most high pressure situations our candidate puts themselves in. We don’t want to miss out on a great candidate because he/she didn’t have any opportunity to shine or put his/her best foot forward simply due to their nerves or feelings of unease. Below you’ll find a few tips and tricks for setting the stage for a candidate to shine.

  • This goes without saying, but start on time. Do not keep a candidate waiting. They may have organized childcare or other details around the timeframe provided in your communication about the process. Be respectful of their time and try your best to stay on schedule.
  • Does your school have any extra swag to share? Preparing a goody bag with a school t-shirt, pen, or notebook can be a fun way to show the candidate that you are invested in his/her candidacy.
  • Did your candidate share interests in his/her resume? Maybe you have a shared interest. Take time to review his/her application materials so you can connect on a more personal level.
  • Ever conducted an interview with a messy office? Guilty as charged … I certainly have. I know better now. Present an organized front, even if it means shoving the contents of your desk in a drawer.  Doing so will reflect positively on your leadership capacity.
  • Be warm. Smile. Provide eye contact. Being a school leader is one of the most stressful occupations there is, yet in this process the candidate is already under a high level of stress. Go to your happy place, take deep breaths, and present a calm, positive demeanor with the candidate.
  • Provide opportunity for the candidate to interact with current staff. Try setting up an informal meet and greet during lunchtime or after school so that the candidate may get to know some of your current staff. They’ll have an opportunity to ask questions they might feel unsure of asking you and will get to know whether or not they can really see themselves on your team.
  • Ensure everyone involved in your hiring process knows to treat candidates with a high level of professional respect and a warmth that welcomes them to the campus.

We wish you the best of luck this hiring season! We know you want the very best adults working on your teacher teams. May you go forth and conquer your staffing plans … our kids deserve it.

As always, reach out to BRES for support developing your mission statement, core values, and/or hiring processes!

Karen is a leadership and strategy consultant specializing in school leadership development, school systems development, strategic planning, management strategy, and organizational culture. She started her career as a Teach for America corps member in California and has since served in leadership roles in Washington D.C. and Chicago, and was most recently a founding principal and then principal manager/coach at Uplift Education in Dallas, TX where she led the network in MAP growth gains and specialized in building strong and vibrant campus cultures. She loves yoga, politics, advocating for kids, and spending quality time with her family.