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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Difficult Call - A Necessary Call

I never subscribe to the, "This hurts me more than it hurts you" explanation prior to delivering disappointing news, whether it's a parent disciplining a child or, in this case, a superintendent calling candidates who were interviewed for a position to indicate they were not the person ultimately selected for the job. The messenger, no matter how much he or she regrets the necessity of providing the news, can't possibly imagine the full context of the situation and how the receiver processes the information. Despite my own personal experiences as an applicant for educational opportunities, including frustrations and dissatisfaction at not always receiving affirmative responses during these casting calls, I can not equate that to the unique properties and feelings of others.

There was never a doubt that the task would be challenging, but there was never a question regarding the need for the calls. It is unfortunate that many schools and districts simply let the interviewed candidates assume that if they are not contacted afterwards that it means they were unsuccessful in their attempt to gain employment. Others merely distribute form letters conveying the unfortunate news. Those two options are easy, but I don't believe they are necessarily right. I think the district's reaction represents a reflection on the school system in terms of values, dignity, compassion, and professional conduct. It's a matter of respect and courtesy to the individuals. They have marshaled the information - resume, application materials, transcripts, references - and invested the time and effort in preparing for and experiencing the interview. They are owed feedback that will offer them perspectives that could possibly improve their future prospects of securing a teaching position.

The current job market for prospective teachers is extremely difficult. Each person has earned (and either paid for or owes college loans) a teaching degree. As such, they are anxious to enter the teaching profession. The present economy has caused many districts, ours among them, to reduce staff members in budget cuts. There are not many schools advertising vacancies, which increase the anxiety of those seeking positions. There were 120 applicants for the post. The interview committee comprised of teachers and administrators interviewed 16 candidates. The interview alone is an indication of their promise and distinguished them from the deep pool of applicants. Eventually four candidates were selected as finalists and were invited for an additional interview.

When you have that many people applying for a single opening you should have the luxury of inviting more than a handful of excellent candidates in for interviews. We certainly had that experience. Engaging the best of the best in this process leaves you with assurances that you will end up hiring a high calibre instructor. This confluence of talent also poses a challenge to those involved in the decision making process. It can devolve into a hair splitting routine examining details and nuances of interpersonal communication and experience which eventually differentiates the individuals. This exercise produced the person who will fill the position but perhaps left three others feeling like the Olympic athlete who finished fourth in the competition by mere seconds or feet, and returns home without a medal after watching the three people ahead of them stand on the winners platform receiving their gold, silver and bronze medals.

If not the most difficult, these calls are certainly among the most daunting that I have made - and made many times over the course of a school leadership career now stretching thirty-four years. No matter how many staff members participate in this shared decision making process, each anxiously and willingly seeking input into a valuable decision, the final phone calls end up as the sole responsibility of the leader. But, in the end, you treat people how you would want to be treated, and if I was the applicant I would prefer to receive such information personally communicated with dignity and respect, with encouragement and understanding.

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