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Friday, October 1, 2010

The Hiring Process

There are few if any decisions that a superintendent makes that are more important than recommending someone to be hire for a position that involves the responsibility of interacting with children in cooperatively developing their future. So, here's an essay describing the process proposed for hiring staff members as we move forward.

Teacher Selection: DNA vs. GPA

      We hire for attitude and train for skill.
      We’ll train you on whatever it is you have
      to do, but the one thing that Southwest Airlines
      cannot change in people is inherent attitudes.
      There is one fundamental, consistent principle
–   hire people with the right spirit. Southwest
looks for people with other-oriented, outgoing personalities,
individuals who become part of an extended family of people
who work hard and have
fun at the same time.”
                  From Nuts, by Freiberg and Freiberg

What would you do with a million dollars? Who hasn’t daydreamed about the many possibilities? Imagine the choices and the opportunities, the potential benefits and the inherent risks. It’s a great deal of money, with so many different ways to spend it, and you’d want to spend it wisely. As school leaders we routinely make decisions with similar financial consequences. A million dollars is less than what a district allocates in salary and benefits over the career of an individual teacher. It’s a great deal of money. With so many qualified candidates to hire, and you’d want to decide wisely.

How does our school determine who to hire? Considering the significant investment a district makes when hiring a teacher, both instructionally in the vast numbers of learners within the teacher’s responsibility, and financially, paying salary and providing benefits for an entire teaching career, the process is critically important. There are almost as many different selection strategies as there are schools.

Our process will begin with a list of desired attributes resulting from an analysis conducted by members of the search committee. For purposes of explanation, let’s assume the vacancy is in a self contained third grade classroom. The teacher selection group would be comprised of the two school leaders - principal and assistant principal, and approximately five teachers who are directly or indirectly linked to the vacancy. For example, we would solicit volunteers from among the elementary teachers, as well as teachers who provide services to the third grade, such as special education or remedial services, and teachers in special areas in like art, music, physical education and technology.

We start by examining our current third grade classroom to determine what we actually need to balance the diversity of instructional delivery programs and learning environments. That is, in order to accommodate varied learning styles we attempt to offer multiple teaching styles. In reading for instance, some teachers might employ whole language while others might use a basal driven phonics program. No matter how instruction is conveyed, every teacher is expected to follow the curriculum of their grade level. Similarly, classroom environments vary from the structure of the traditional, with students seated in a row with teacher directed instruction, to the less structured setting with groups of learners around tables in teacher facilitated cooperative learning. We may also have an interest in candidates with a strong background in a particular subject area, like science or social studies; a unique experience that broadens our perspective, like teaching overseas for instance; or a unique skill set, such as training in an area outside of education, like anthropology or marketing.

Some schools develop a list of questions that each candidate is asked, without exception or variation, to insure reliability through uniformity. Some schools have timers that confine candidates to preordained limits for their responses. Some schools create a gauntlet of interviews that challenge the perseverance of candidates and encourage the expanded participation of current staff members while offering a system of checks and balances among constituent groups. There are extensive reference checks, analysis of grade point averages, values accorded the reputation of the candidate’s college, and exhausting written responses to challenging questions, case studies, and contrived scenarios. Considering the potential effect a teacher has on learners and the investment the public has in teachers with respect to salary and benefits, it’s imperative that our hiring decisions are effective. But how do you know what to look for before committing to an expensive selection on who interacts with the children in your schools?

Twenty some years ago, I sat in a class at an Ivy League school and listened while a professor explained a few of the proposed curriculum changes at the college. There was a perception, that while the institution provided future lawyers, doctors, and financiers with an excellent foundation of skills, graduates in these areas were leaving school without formal and systematic exposure to ethics.

Granted, aspiring physicians were receiving training from instructors who were arguably among the best medical theoreticians and practitioners in the country using the finest technology and versed in the latest research, but they were entering the profession without training in people skills needed during interactions with patients. There appeared to be a void in the all important “bedside manners” aspect of doctor patient interactions, an area of significance made abundantly clear in Malcolm Gladwell’s best seller, Blink (see page 40) where he referred to a study conducted by an insurance company seeking to identify the profile of doctors likely to be sued for malpractice. The company desired to manage their liability and risk. The initial focus examined the objective data of doctors, such as medical school attended; grade point average; diagnostic skills; access to technology; years of experience, and other measurable information. That review did not yield any firm correlates. The study then began to probe the subjective realm by shadowing doctors as they interacted with patients. The researchers detected a discernable pattern that discriminated among those who had been litigated against and those who had not. The areas identified as deterrents to malpractice included the power of active listening, attention, humor, empathy and personal orientation. Its one thing to have the capacity to accurately diagnose a rare, terminal disease within a young child but an entirely different challenge altogether to sit down with the parents of that child and demonstrate understanding and compassion while you inform them of the dire consequences.

Similarly, some of the financial wizards produced by the school were ensnared in Wall Street scandals of insider trading, money laundering schemes, and deceptive accounting exercises. In addition, some of the lawyers were involved in questionable practices and bizarre applications of the law while representing disreputable clients.

The response of the university was to infuse the curricula at the colleges of law, medicine and business with philosophy and ethics. The point is, the intellectual resources that these individuals possessed to meet with success at an Ivy League school did not insure that they would make the principled decisions on volatile and significant issues and policies, or express themselves on sensitive issues with care and compassion. Since that time, a growing amount of research and literature and has emerged devoted to EQ - Emotional Quotient.(see Daniel Goleman’s two works, Social Intelligence; and, Emotional Intelligence, Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.)

The selection process is a critical gate-keeping exercise designed to determine which candidates will join in our efforts to make a positive and constructive difference in the lives of children by nurturing dreams and sustaining hope. This process reflects the importance of emotional intelligence, or, at the very least, the need to avoid ascribing disproportionate significance upon the candidate’s objective qualities, such as grade point average and which school they attended. Instead, our questioning procedures are intended to find out what kind of person they are, what subjective qualities they will contribute to the classroom and the school. As such, our questions may ask the candidate to:
1.  tell us about the last book they read (or their favorite book) and why they chose that particular book,
2.  identify someone they consider to be a hero, with reasons to support the designation of that person,
3.  share the characteristics of their favorite teacher among all of the teachers they have learned from in school, from kindergarten through college,
4.  think of a time in their life when they experienced a winning moment or extraordinary success and describe how they felt and why, and what produced the success,
5.  share their best moment and worst moment as a learner,
6.  volunteer the attributes of the teacher they consider to have been the least successful of all the teachers they’ve ever experienced as a learner,
7.  select a personal experience of encountering an obstacle, and explain how they surmounted the challenge and experienced success,
8.  recall a time when someone helped them, and describe how and why that individual provided assistance,
9.  think of a time when they failed at something, explain the incident, and offer what lesson they learned from the experience,
10.         tell us what they enjoy doing outside of school and the educational arena,  

And, many more questions follow.

We also place a high value on the types of questions the candidate asks us when given the opportunity. Oftentimes, these questions are as revealing of their attitude as the answers they provide to our inquiries.
Notice something missing from the questions listed above? Not one question about Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning; Madeline Hunter’s model of effective teaching; Block’s mastery learning; No Child Left Behind, or any specific principle of teaching and learning. Why? Like Southwest Airlines, we will hire people for their attitude and train them for skill. We expect college teacher preparation programs, together with the student teaching experience, to sufficiently meet their responsibility to provide their graduates with the skills necessary to meet with success in the classroom. If not, it is our responsibility as instructional leaders to identify the deficiencies and obtain the supportive resources – a constructive observation process, improvement plans, mentor teachers, staff development activities, training programs, conferences, books and video tapes… On the other hand, we can only model desired attitudes, not teach them. 


Recruiting brochures developed by Southwest Airlines encourage people to consider joining their company if they want a future without boundaries, the opportunity to be original, and a chance to work your tail off. What should our school’s recruiting brochure feature?

There is much more to examine beyond the grade point average, college attended, number of credits, certification and other units of measure. We put a holistic comprehensive approach in perspective with the following words that have appeared, and will periodically continue to appear on this Blog site.

First, from Sir George Pickering:

"Not everything that counts can be counted. Not everything that can be counted counts."

And, finally, this anonymous quote guides our selection process by serving as a constant reminder of the value of care and compassion in working within a human service arena.

People don’t care about what you know, until they know that you care.”


Blink; Gladwell, Malcolm. Little, Brown and Company, Boston, Massachusetts 2005

Nuts; Freiberg, Kevin, and Freiberg, Jackie. Broadway Books, New York, New York. 1996

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