Hiring the right people

This is another guest blog from my administrative intern, Nate Lischwe. Nate has been immersed in the MRH culture throughout this first quarter, and we continue to have conversations about some of the big questions in education. This post is some his thinking on hiring the right people. Enjoy.

In today’s educational landscape, an open teaching position in the St. Louis area often produces upwards of one hundred applicants. Thus, the importance of effective hiring is magnified. I remember reading about “getting the right people on the bus” from Jim Collins’s book Good to Great, and my teaching and graduate school experience has served to strengthen my belief that having the right people in our schools makes everyone’s job much easier and is better for our students. With this point established, how does a school leader hire the right person from a stack of resumes that approaches the thickness of a ream of paper?

Effective hiring starts with a purposefully developed application process. School leaders should meticulously examine each aspect of this process and make sure that it accurately reflects the values and needs of the school and its students. The process should not only include penetrating questions that give the school leader a picture of the applicant’s teaching practice, but also give the applicant a chance to actually put that practice into action. To give a clearer picture of what this process should look like, let’s use data-driven instruction as an example.

In a pool of one hundred applicants, a majority of candidates would probably be able to say that data should be used to drive instruction. But what does this actually mean to the candidate? We as school leaders have to go deeper.

The applicant should be able to give concrete examples of how he/she used data to improve outcomes in previous experience. The applicant’s resume should show concrete examples of the teacher using and producing results from data-driven instruction. The resume should also show quantifiable achievements and should showcase the candidate’s abilities as a teacher, collaborator, and leader. For example, the statement “taught math” on a resume could be enhanced to “planned and delivered instruction in 7th grade math” and “led students to at least 5% improvement each year on the 7th grade mathematics MAP test.” Statements like these help to differentiate the applicant’s resume. The school leader at this point has probably significantly narrowed the number of applicant choices, but more work still needs to be done.

The leader should have the applicant show a tracking system that he/she has used and demonstrate specific examples of how the data is used to increase student achievement. However, the school leader could go even farther.The applicant could teach a model lesson, and the school leader could critique and evaluate it through the lens of data-driven instruction, as well as other characteristics of an effective teacher.

Another challenge that a school leader faces in the hiring process is how to learn the intangibles about people. This skill can be harder to master than other parts of assessing a candidate. Part of the solution is dependent on the school leader’s intuition, but the hiring process can be crafted to help bring out these intangibles in candidates.

The Harvard Business Review suggests the following three steps in hiring to assess intangibles:
1) Determine which intangibles you want and are most important for success in the open position.
2) Craft targeted questions that reveal a candidate’s personality traits.
3) Distinguish real from rote by assessing signals consciously and unconsciously given by the candidate.

Steps like these help shine the light on applicants who go beyond saying the right things and actually put them into practice for the benefit of students and screen out applicants who simply know the right things to say. While no hiring process perfectly guarantees the best hire, purposeful development of a process with a focus on student achievement can go a long way in this direction. And in the end, our students are the people for whom we as educators work.