Innovative Interview Process Finds Innovative Teachers

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Opening a new charter school is challenging, yet energizing in so many ways. Over the past few months I have worked as the primary contact of the school. Often times it can feel a bit isolating. However, beginning the process of hiring staff to join me on this journey is exciting. Knowing we are creating a team energized by each other, willing to become trailblazers in school reform, and eager to think from a new perspective gives me a sense of hope and confidence in the work we will embark on with our students at Health Leadership High School.

As an experienced principal, I approach the process of hiring new teachers with a bit of uncertainty and hesitation. I always hope to bring in teachers with positive attitudes, teachers that are enthusiastic about their contribution to their school and society through their work as a classroom teacher. As I look at bringing on new teachers to our staff, I also have to be cognizant of the effect the culture of the school will have on the teachers’ ability to work with students.

Often new teachers coming into the culture of the school are affected by veteran teachers. Their colleagues influence these new teachers as they navigate the culture of the school. Colleagues disenchanted with the work of the school may have a damaging effect on these new teachers and their longevity in the field of education.

In addition to bringing new teachers into an established culture of the school, I often had little choice in the teachers I could hire each year. District offices often give principals a ‘must-hire list’ that includes teachers who need to be placed in other schools due to budget constraints at their current school, as well as other issues that may cause them to be placed on this list. Prior to hiring teachers who apply directly to the school or may be applying from outside of the district, I must hire these teachers who are often placed to work in my school. This process of placing teachers in schools forces the school leader to use their energy on assimilating a new teacher to the school, rather than hiring a teacher who matches the mission from the beginning of the hiring process.

Hiring teachers from the very inception of a new school was so exhilarating to me, I did not know where to start! I contacted Dan Condon at Eagle Rock’s Professional Development Center to help me think through the process and strategize the best way to hire the optimum staff for the opening of the school. This initial staff would be different from a staff of an established school, and I needed help thinking through the most effective hiring process for the inaugural staff. As I worked with Dan, we determined a group interview as well as individual interviews would be essential to the process of finding the best staff for the opening of the school. How often would I be able to have a group interview without involving current staff members? Every individual candidate would bring their own expertise and vision of the school to the table; we do not have an established culture, reputation for teachers, or any preconceived notions about our school. Therefore, conducting a group interview seemed like the optimum plan.

Dan walked me through a group interview process that would help gather the information I was looking for in my ideal candidates. The process would take the candidates through a group project, much like what we will ask our students to do through the project based learning curriculum at Health Leadership High School. After Dan probed me to illustrate the most prevalent qualities I am looking for in our teachers, I found four things I needed to see during the group interview:

1. A combination of leadership and followership.

2. Receptive to out of the box thinking from their peers.

3. Receptive to others ideas.

4. Comfortable taking risks.

Dan created a rubric with these qualities to be used during the group interview. This rubric would be used to evaluate potential employees during the group interview. The rubric was designed to specifically look for those qualities important to our particular school and Dan took great care to design it with our needs in mind.

On the day of the group interview, the candidates were awed by the process of participating in a group interview that was much more of a game, then the traditional panel of questions asked individually of potential employees. This concept was key in teaching the potential staff members about our school, our design, and our commitment to think unconventionally. If we were to have conducted a traditional group interview and proceed with telling the staff to think from a new perspective – we would be hypocrites in our own work. Therefore, Dan worked with us to develop a group interview process that aligned with our own mission and vision of Health Leadership High School.

The group interview was remarkable. Candidates suddenly worked with strangers at their table to create a tower of newspaper, something that sounds so dull and simple. However, suddenly they were immersed in work that was intriguing, unconventional, and thrilling – just as we expect to see in their classrooms. Some candidates were hesitant, uncomfortable, and suspicious. Yet, most candidates were comfortable, positive, and exhilarated. Every few minutes we would hear candidates exhibiting a balance of leadership and followership as they listed to others ideas and jumped in to take risks in the unnerving creation of their tower. These candidates were the future employees of Health Leadership High School.

After conducting individual interviews and working with Eagle Rock Professional Development Center to conduct a group interview, I was able to form the most unconventional, passionate, risk-takers willing to embark on education reform dedicated to the students who need them the most. These staff members will be key to creating the future culture of our school and mentoring future staff members along the way. I will never again be able to conduct a group interview without preconceived notions about our school. However, with the help of Eagle Rock Professional Development Center, I was able to utilize an exceptional process to find the group of individuals that will be trailblazers for the future staff members of Health Leadership High School for years to come.

What do you think are the top 2 or 3 dispositions that schools should select teachers for?

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