Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Teacher Selection a Process, not an Event

Effective instructional leaders know that people are the heartbeat of the school. For students having adults (teachers, custodians, secretaries, nurses, and the list goes on) who are committed to working with children and youth is essential to school and student success. Education is a team effort, from time to time there may be a MVP, yet points are scored when we all work together. It matters who works in the school, their attitudes, their abilities, and what they can offer to colleagues and students. Teacher selection at its worst is a series of interviews in which someone is hired because they are breathing and have the necessary credentials. Teacher selection at its best is a process – a series of inter-related activities that gather information and insight to arrive at a decision about who will best assume the role of a teacher in a particular school. This blog goes through how each step of the process can build on the previous one. Key to this process is ensuring that information is recorded and shared. For example, why ask an applicant each step of the way what she/he is licensed to teach if the information is readily available on the application.


Keep the website up-to-date with which positions are open. Include a date that application review will occur, so potential applicants know the timeline. Make sure that current employees know what is available as they may have colleagues in other school systems that may be interested or they themselves may want a transfer. Reach out to local colleges if an opening occurs in January as December graduates are looking for jobs.


Develop a credential review so that applications are reviewed for prerequisites that research studies have associated with effective teachers such as: degree in the area being taught, verbal skills, teaching experience, student teaching, etc. This will help narrow the field. The data summary should be available to school system staff seeking to fill a teacher position.

Interview Stage – consider having two

Design a structured screening interview (each applicant for a specific position is asked the same questions) that will solicit applicants telling about their past professional practice. This can be a short 15-20 minute interview done over the telephone, by web cam or at a job fair/on-campus recruitment day. Ask 5-6 questions TOTAL about planning, instructional delivery, classroom management, assessment, and developing rapport with students and their families. The goal of this interview is to determine who should remain in the applicant pool so fewer building level interviews need to be held. Summary data of the interview should be added to the applicant’s file or database record so administrators system wide can review the applicant.

Design a structured building-level interview that asks different questions than those asked in the first interview. Likely the interview will be 45-60 minutes and will query the areas associated with effective teaching (see above). Delve into topics such as experience with working with at-risk populations, technology use, assessment usage, data reviews, and specific instructional strategies. Make sure that the data from this interview is available to other administrators. The goal of this interview is to select a teacher.

Plan for an alternative performance interview in the event the applicant did really well at a building level interview in your school district, but was not selected because there was someone better, consider using a performance interview. After all, the administrator already has data from a face-to-face interview done by a colleague. The performance interview could be asking the applicant to come prepared to teach a demonstration lesson to the interview committee or if school system rules allow, take over a classroom for 30-45 minutes. Some school systems use a performance interview as part of the process. Many more do not since this takes more time.

Reference Checks

Each step in the process narrows the applicant pool. After interviews, spend a little more time on the top 2-3 applicants. Call their references. Acknowledge if a letter was sent and ask a couple of questions such as:

  • How long and in what capacity did you work with [applicant’s name]? In the event, this was not stated in the letter.
  • What strengths did [applicant’s name] bring to your school?
  • What are areas of growth or potential for this applicant professionally?
  • Thinking of all the teachers with whom you have worked, is [applicant’s name] in the bottom 25%, middle 50%, top 25% and why.

Selection Decision

Review all the data sources, consider the school needs, and make the hiring recommendation to the appropriate person in your setting. Some school systems have an additional interview at the central office level while others extend an offer. Keep copies of the documents compiled during the selection process – you may need them if the applicant chooses another worksite or issues arise.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Adolescent Literacy Website

Ever on the lookout for resources, I was delighted when a colleague shared with me a website that had been recommended to her. Ad.Lit ( is a website called All about Adolescent Literacy: Resources for parents and educators of kids in grades 4-12. The website has been around a while given some of the dates on the articles, but if you haven’t visited it, it is worth a stop. My favorite part of the website were the author interviews as they go beyond what students read in the brief “about the author” and address aspects of the authors’ lives that students would find interesting and perhaps connect with. I found additional author’s interviews under the Video and Multimedia section as well. So here is a preview of the site.

Author Interviews: Every want your students to meet an author such as Christopher Paul Curtis or Lois Lowry, they can through if you download their interview from The power of the interview is that the author becomes accessible and “real” to students. To briefly summarize Lowry’s interview, she shares how a series of life experiences made her a writer. From having to recite a poem at age 4 for her grandfather’s friends to one of those friends leaving her enough money when he died to buy a car, so she dropped out of college, got married, had four kids, and then finished her degree.

Classroom Strategies: Looking for additional strategies to add to your teaching tool box or perhaps a refresher on a particular strategy? This website organizes dozens of them in a table divided into reading (vocabulary, comprehension) and writing and further classified as a strategy for before, during, or after. This may sound familiar to Power Tools alumni who have used the Power Tools lesson plan. The explanation of each strategy is done through a series of questions and answers such as “what is it?” and “why is it so great?” then it moves to the how-to use and includes a link to a sample of where the strategy has been applied.

Glossary: Always nice given the alphabet soup laden world of acronyms and terms not defined in the dictionary. Those terms can come in handy though, I once had a colleague pulled over for speeding. When asked where she was going in such a hurry she rattled off that she was late to meeting with the school SPED coordinator to discuss an upcoming IEP as the SWD needed some additional accommodations. She got a warning.

Just for Fun: This page is a bit of everything left over, but should not be missed. Want to know how to get free books before anyone else can buy them – students can sign up to be book reviewers, writing contests, technology links.

Research and Reports: This section is organized by topic and consists of brief annotations with links to the report, if available on the internet.

Topics from A-Z: Additional links to resources are organized by topic. Some topics are rather lacking in resources (e.g., special education), although others fill many screens (e.g., content area literacy strategies). The podcast article under technology is useful to get one started using this technology with students. If you have ever scripted a video production, you know how much reading, writing, and editing is involved. Using the technology is a way to engage students in the reading and writing process.

Consider sharing a web resource that you have found fun, useful, or a combination of both by posting it as a comment to this article.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Teacher Hiring Season is Upon Us

Winter is a common time for students who will be graduating from teacher preparation programs in the spring to start applying to school systems for the next school year. Experienced teachers, whether moving into the area, re-entering the profession, or simply looking to changes school systems start applying in late winter and early spring. The process from application to job offer is filled with challenges for both the applicant and the employer.

  • For applicants, waiting and not knowing generates questions. Did the school system receive my application? Are there openings? When will I be contacted? What is the hiring process? Should I sign with School District A that has offered a contract or wait to see if my preferred school system offers me an interview.

  • For employers, some openings due to retirements, etc. may be known during the winter, but often full list of needs is not known until existing teachers return their contracts, student redistricting is completed, and a host of other factors that tend to create a pressure hiring push in July.

So what can you do to increase your yield of new hires that will be effective and successful in your school? Alternatively, if you are an applicant, how can you enhance your odds that you will be hired and like your new school? Articles, books, websites, etc. contain a plethora of tips, practices, and research. So cut through all of this, the answer is simply to cultivate relationships by treating others as you want to be treated whether you are in central office, in a school, or applying to the school district.

When an application is received, a quick email to the applicant acknowledging its receipt is a first step. Many school systems use online application submissions so there is an automatic confirmation. Employers, providing follow up information (e.g., school districts facts, job fairs), as an email blast to all applicants in the database keeps applicants connected. Applicants, ensure that applications are grammatically correct, legible, and complete (or indicate if something is being sent under separate cover).

In preparation for an interview, employers review your questions to make sure they are job-relevant and well-distributed among the various job responsibilities that the new hire will perform. Building level interviews typically last about one hour, so inquiries need to be made about all quality areas (i.e., classroom management, planning, instruction, assessment, interactions with stakeholders) associated with effective teaching. Applicants prepare by thinking of specific examples that highlight their strengths and demonstrate their learning related to these key areas. One technique is to look at the job description posted by the potential employer and reflect on experiences you have had related to each job responsibility.

During interviews show an interest in the other party. People tend to disclose more when they perceive that someone is interested n them and this helps to forge a connection. Applicants come prepared with a couple of specific questions about the school perhaps gleaned from visiting the school or district’s website. Interviewers ask experienced-based questions that get applicants talking about their past performance. Applicants answer these questions by telling the situation, task that needed to be done, action you took, and results (STAR).

Applicants follow up as appropriate such as a “thank you for your time” email or letter if an interview has been held. An employer (e.g., school) may want to keep the communication door open by having a standard email that all interviewees receive after the interview inviting them to contact the grade level or department chair if they have any questions about the school. These communications should avoid the topic of if a job will be offered as that is often the domain of the personnel department.

In short, relationships are about connections. The ability to connect and accurately assess those connections is key in having a successful hiring season.

FYI: SURN is hosting a workshop on teacher selection March 20, 2009 contact for more information.

I created the Teacher Quality Index: A Teacher Selection Interview Protocol in order to bring together the research-based findings of what constitutes an effective teacher based on co-author James Stronge's writings in that area with my research on effective interviewing practices. The book can be found at It presents the selection-related research and a research-based interview protocol.


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