Collaborative Practices to Hire for Excellence

A few weeks ago, at Montana’s State Administrator conference, I had the opportunity to listen to Jimmy Casas, author of Start. Right. Now.and Culturize. He asked a question that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind. In talking about the importance of hiring quality teachers, he asked, “How do we train people on hiring committees to hire people for excellence?”

I’ve continued to think about this question and reflect on the importance of the hiring process and how we can set our buildings up to hire the best possible candidates. There are some things I think we do well and some things our team can work to improve in the future. Here are a few tips about how we’ve developed collaborative partnerships to hire and retain an outstanding teaching staff.

Post Positions as Early as Possible

Over the past several years, we have worked collaboratively with our district administration to bump up our posting dates as early as possible in the spring. Montana’s legislature meets every other year and sometimes school funding is one of the last topics of the session. As a result, school funding formulas may not be finalized until mid-May, meaning we have posted positions in June and interviewed later in the summer. In a state like Montana where the population is low, often the strongest candidates have already signed contracts with other districts by June. As we collaborated with our district funding and human resource offices, we have been able to move postings up into April and have noticed a larger and higher quality candidate pool. We even post as early as March for hard-to-fill positions.

Cultivate Connections With Local College and University Programs

We are fortunate to be a university town and often have student teachers and practicum students in our building. For the past four years we have collaborated with our local field placement office to modify the process by which student teachers are assigned to teachers. University students now complete a resume and personal statement and teachers interview candidates to find the best placement match. This supports the university students as it provides an opportunity to practice their interviewing skills before they are on a real job search, and it benefits our teachers because they are part of the process and not just working with someone who was randomly assigned. We also worked with the university education department to change the rules allowing teachers to request a student teacher if they have worked with them through their practicum placement and know they would be a good match.

Work With Other Administrators in Your Area to Promote Success Across buildings and Districts

Our district is growing, and soon we will open a second high school. The planning for this transition has forced us to think about hiring in a different, more collaborative way. We don’t want a situation where the perception exists that one school has all of the “good” teachers. Administrators will have to work together to ensure both schools have high-quality teaching staff. We’ve started planning how we can be proactive and collaborative during the hiring process to set both schools up for success.

Work With Department or Team Leaders to Establish a Clear Vision of What Kind of Teacher Would be a Good Fit With Their Team

This is a step we need to work on in our building. Discussions typically develop in an informal way throughout the interview process. However, articulating a vision and measuring candidates against that vision would greatly improve our interview process.

Provide Some Guidance for Your Interview Committee Before the Interview Process

This is another area in which we could improve. Typically, we have a department leader and a teacher or two on each interview panel. We normally pass out paperwork, all furiously take notes during the interview, and then discuss each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. This process has been adequate, but as leaders in our building, our administrative team could do more to actively engage our teachers in this process. Doing so would help them feel empowered, serve as a reminder of what it means to be an outstanding teacher in our building, and help continue to build a strong community.

Support Your Teachers Once They’re in Your Building

We are lucky to have one full-time employee who is both a part-time teacher and part-time instructional coach to work with our first- and second-year teachers. This person serves as a support and is not evaluative  . Our coach has provided support for goal development, completed class observations, helped with long-term planning, and provided any support as requested by teachers. Unfortunately, due to funding restrictions, it is likely we’ll lose this valuable support. Fortunately, due to partnership with our local union, each new teacher is also provided with a building mentor who helps provide curricular support as well as building orientation and a sounding board for first-year struggles. Teachers in our district are required to complete 12 hours of professional development on their own time, and this mentorship doubles as those hours in order to encourage and reward veteran teachers for supporting teachers new to our building.

We strive to continue to refine our hiring process and, with the help of collaborative partnerships, continue toward our goal of hiring and retaining high quality teaching staff.

Reflect on your own hiring practices and seek out collaborative partners and creative solutions to ensure you are hiring for excellence. What are your best hiring practices? 

Erica Schnee is a nationally board-certified teacher who has been a high school educator for the past 22 years. She is currently an assistant principal at Bozeman High School and teaches AP Government for the Montana Digital Academy. She is the 2018 Montana Assistant Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter @MsSchneeGov.

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