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Always Strive to Be a Better You

Teacher Selection Counts:
Six Steps to Hiring

If there was a HELP WANTED sign on the principal's door, this might be how that sign would read:

Teacher. Must work extraordinary hours for measly pay. Must shoulder great responsibility for student success. Must balance curricular requirements with individual student needs. Must follow orders lock-step but also initiate creative efforts. Summers off (just kidding). Must remain emotionally detached but psychologically connected at the same time. Must possess otherworldly sense of humor. Required characteristics: self-starter, reflective, sensitive, dedicated, data-savvy, street-smart. Acting and dancing experience preferred.

As principals, there is an enormous amount of pressure on us to staff our buildings with strong, effective, intelligent people. We feel the push to hire the best person and to simultaneously make the right fit and appease local political forces (district offices, teachers associations, parent groups, neighborhood councils, the current teaching staffs, and so on). Doing that is not as easy as one might think.


Consider the words of experts:

  • Great teaching matters: Bob Marzano, author of What Works in Schools, says, "It is clear that effective teachers have a profound influence on student achievement" (2003).
  • Great teaching makes a difference: Charlotte Danielson, author of Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching, tells us, "High-level learning by students requires high-level instruction by their teachers (2007)."
  • Great teaching is the key: Mike Schmoker, author of Results Now: How We Can Achieve Unprecedented Improvements in Teaching and Learning, claims, "The single greatest determinant of learning is not socioeconomic factors or funding levels. It is instruction (2006)."


First, we can train and maximize what our current teaching staff can do through effective use of coaching, professional development opportunities, differentiated supervision practices, and hot, caffeinated beverages.

Second, and this is the topic of the column du jour, we can hire great teachers. And if you're a principal who has ever had to fill a teaching vacancy, you know how hard that is: Hard as a coffin nail.

It's difficult to do what leadership expert Jim Collins (Good to Great, Built to Last) suggests is necessary: Get the right people on the bus, and put them in the right seats (2001). Fortunately, we have a set of guidelines for you to follow the next time you're faced with a spot on your teaching roster with no name next to it.


  • Recruit. Public relations is not someone else's job. Go find the great people, and encourage them to apply. Talk to your colleagues about potential candidates. Put a school brochure on the billboard in the local university's school of education building. Rent a biplane that trails a banner with your school's phone number on it. Get the word out that your fantastic school needs another fantastic team member.
  • Scour. When the applications and resumes are in, go through them with a fine-toothed comb. Know what you're looking for, and look for it. If you need some fresh ideas, search for someone educated in another state. If you need an infusion of spirit and attitude, check personal e-mail addresses: there's probably a [email protected] in there somewhere. Dont just fall victim to the blas, mind-numbing page-turning exercises that are so enticing. Scour.

    And, while you are scouring, if writing skills are important to you (aren't they?), don't even look twice at those resumes that include misspelled words, bad spacing, inconsistent fonts, and so on. Pitch them! Throw them away! If the person didn't take the time to represent himself in a glowingly positive light in that all-too-critical first-impression document, he probably won't in the back-to-school letter to the parents either. Ugh! Save yourself!

    "Public relations is not someone else's job. Go find the great people, and encourage them to apply. Get the word out that your fantastic school needs another fantastic team member.
    And when the candidates come in for an interview, don't hesitate to ask them to do some on-the-spot writing. You will learn whether that meticulous resume was a carefully proofed facade or if the applicant can, indeed, string together a few words.
  • Collaborate. Hiring isn't something the principal should ever do solo. Invite the key players in the position to participate in screening papers, describing desirable traits, and interviewing. This isn't to absolve you of any culpability if the person turns out sour; it provides wider perspectives to help ensure you're selecting the right person.
  • Elicit. During the interview, elicit the information you really need. Keep in mind what soft skills (qualities like work ethic, resourcefulness, personality) and hard skills (technical expertise, knowledge, experience) you require in this position. Craft and ask the questions that will elicit that information. Look for the candidate's true colors peeking through the veil of finely crafted answers -- really take this time to figure out who this person really is.
  • Scrutinize. When you have narrowed your field to a finalist (or two), dig into their closets and check out the skeletons. Call their references, even if they wrote glowing letters. If you hadn't noticed, it seems anyone can get a fabulous letter (or seven) in his or her file, and it's hard to determine how authentic they are. Go back and re-read everything in the application folder -- check handwriting, spelling, grades in appropriate coursework, trends in work patterns, and test scores. Pick up every bit of information you can.
  • Ensure. Eliminate vacillation. If you're not sure, the answer is always "no," and you start over. If you're sure, and I mean really, deeply, truly, assuredly positive that this is the right person at the right time for the right seat on your bus, then (and only then) go for it.

    I can't stress that last point enough: Unless youre absolutely, positively, unequivocally, irreparably certain that this person is the right person, then remember the words of wisdom from Nancy Reagan: "Just say no." You can't expect to get the right people on the right seats of the bus if you simply pick "the best person of the field of candidates we interviewed."

    It's preferable to wait, fill the position with a qualified substitute, and keep searching. Wouldn't you rather have the right person for 163 days (and a sub for 17) than have to put up with the wrong person for 180 days (and allow it to drain you of your resources, sanity, self-confidence, and your remaining non-gray hairs)?

    If you're not convinced, call your colleagues and ask them to tell you about a time that they hired the wrong person. Hear the still-simmering frustration in their voice. Feel the anguish in their expressions. Dab the tears from the corners of their eyes. Censor the profanity with which they describe this horrible series of events. Just learn from their mistakes so you don't repeat them.

    Let's select teachers better.

    Our students deserve the best. The very best. The right people. In the right seats.

    You drive the bus. It's up to you!

    Always strive to be a better you,

    Article by Pete Hall
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2007 Education World