Jennifer Gonzalez and her Cult of Pedagogy site is one to follow on social media. Her YouTube Channel is full of great and immediately usable how-to videos ranging from classroom management strategies to the Jigsaw Method. She recently published a series of interviews with educators in various administration positions that have extensive experience in the teacher hiring process. I was very interested to listen to the podcast and follow the transcript of the conversation for a couple reasons.
First, I am going to be interviewing for my first classroom teacher position in about a year from now. While I have had my own ESL classroom in Guatemala, Colombia and South Korea, I have not been certificated and charged with my own elementary homeroom class yet.
Second, it’s no secret to those who know me personally and professionally that I aim to lead a school community one day as a principal. While this is a long ways off and ultimately contingent on my professional development and competency as a classroom teacher, it is my long-term professional goal as an educator. Thus, I am always interested in hearing about different administrators’ scouting, recruitment and interview strategies.
As a bilingual instructional assistant (paraeducator) in a Seattle public school, I sat on many hiring committees, including those interviewing vice principal, head teacher, classroom teacher, special education and paraprofessional candidates. Therefore, I have some of my own insights about best practices in educator interviews, both from the hiring perspective and the interviewee perspective. Many of my own ideas jibbed with what I heard from CoP’s group of administrators and some of their advice was novel. Below I have included my favorite quotes from this interview series along with some of my own commentary in italics.
Chris Nordmann (@ChrisNordmann), Academic Dean at the Kaleidoscope Charter School in Otsego, Minnesota.
“….just their willingness to continue learning. What are they doing to better themselves? How can they inspire others around them, students and staff, to improve themselves as well?”
“Also somebody who values what other people do within the building. For example, we had someone who was talking about, you know, a lunch lady was gone and they went back and served lunch for the day. Somebody who was willing to go above and beyond to do something outside of their responsibility for the good of the school. I think that’s– If somebody has those things, I can overlook some experience.”
I think being a teacher who is also a lover of lifelong learning themselves is essential. Honestly, I don’t know why you would be in the profession if you aren’t a lover of good books, new information, intellectual exploration and personal growth.
I also just love Mr. Nordmann’s emphasis on valuing all the little things that different school staff members provide to the school community. When I taught an after-school poetry and soccer club in Seattle, the night janitor would often walk in to our classroom in order to do some cleaning or maintenance. I made a point of introducing him to the group of students, asking them if they knew what he did for them each day, and explicitly clarifying the importance of the janitor’s role at the school. You’ve got to model and teach that every life has value, but you’ve got to see and believe it for yourself first.
Penny Sturtevant, Principal at Big Walnut Middle School in Sunbury, Ohio.
“We’re looking to see that you’re pliable, you’re open, you’re willing to collaborate and be a piece. So I think they can relax and say – It’s okay to say, “You know, I’m not an expert in that.” And give that honest response. Take that off your weight that you have to be the expert.”
“They’ve shown the initiative to know our school, and maybe just something about our community. That they felt it was important enough that they spent, invested their time to go and find out, and maybe even know a little bit about who’s interviewing them if they have that opportunity.”
“They talked about the enthusiasm they were bringing that a beginner would bring, but they had that experience of someone who had been in the field.”
“So I would encourage them to pause, think their response, speak their response and not worry about having a vast majority. Short interviews sometimes are the best. I got what I needed.”
“Openness, willingness to learn, and then I think, make yourself unique. You may not think about what makes you unique, think outside education. It could be something as simple as “I’m a runner and I would love to bring running club to the kids.” “I have traveled the world.” Or–I have one staff member who knows American Sign Language so she started an American Sign Language club.”
Growth mindset, initiative, enthusiasm, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, Ms. Sturtevant is describing the kind of people I would like my students to become. Why should her expectations for the teachers teaching and mentoring those students be any different.
Also, her anecdote about a career-transitioner claiming to have the enthusiasm of a beginner, but the experience of workplace veteran really resonated with me. I have taken an alternative route to the elementary classroom and in my first year I will have the enthusiasm and nervous energy of a beginner. But, I have been in a lot of classrooms and have a lot of experience, nearly a decade in fact, with schools, students and the nuts and bolts of teaching and learning. I am going to use that line!
Herbert O’Neil (@herbertoneiljr), Director of Academics for Lifeschool in Dallas, Texas.
“…..so I believe people need to really, really focus on being confident and showing the committee or whoever it is, that you confidently work well with students in just about most situations, or that you have potential to be able to do that.”
There is a great TedTalk for almost all things of interest at this point, and, not surprisingly, for interview body language as well. Amy Cuddy gives a great talk about the importance of your pose and posture in different life situations, and advises interviewees to practice their ‘superman’ pose before going into an interview in order to boost their confidence. Check it out here.
George Couros (@gcouros), Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and learning for Parkland School Division in Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada.
“It is a really high priority, so I want to hear the word relationships in your interview. You know, over and over and over again, not just in the first answer. Like if I ask you what the most important quality and you say relationships, but then you never hear about it again, then that tells me something.”
“One of the traits I look for– I’m looking for school teachers, not classroom teachers, in the sense that if I’m looking for a grade three teacher in our school, I don’t want you only working with your children. I want to know that when you go on supervision, and that’s part of what you do, that you’re making the time and effort to connect with kids that are not in your class–and what are you doing outside of this?…..Every kid in that school is yours, not just the one you teach that year.”
“I want to create an opportunity where those people who connect with me walk out a better teacher. Whether they get the job or not, they become a better teacher because if they don’t get the job with me, they’re probably still getting other interviews. They’re going to be working with children. So if I can help them, even if they don’t get it, that’s beneficial to all of education.”
Relationships, relationships, relationships. Mr. Couros’ emphasis on relationships heartened me because I feel it is a strength of my practice as a teacher. Working in South Korea, with over seven hundred ESL students, our limited shared vocabulary and cultural experience, along with the sheer numbers, are barriers to building relationships. Yet and still, I have managed to create some incredible bonds with many of my students, and I feel like if I can do that here, it may come easier when I am back home, working in a more familiar cultural context and using a common language with fewer students.
Joe Collins (@collins6HCPS), Assistant Principal at Harford Technical High School in Harford County, Maryland.
“To me, because that implies that they can learn. By that they can learn the language of the system, of the school. They can learn what’s important to that principal and often times incorporate it into the conversation. The best that I’ve been in you can tell they’re not experts by any means, but you can tell they have a strong grounding in their instruction.”
“You know, you’ve delivered a lesson, twenty kids, ten got it, five didn’t, five thought you were teaching Spanish and it’s a Social Studies class and five are way ahead of you. What do you do? It’s the person that can just go beyond what you expected, which was “Oh, we’ll differentiate” and “Maybe I’ll pair up the five who are really ahead and…” That’s what you would expect to hear, but it’s the person that might say “I don’t really know how I know they got it…what kind of formative assessments would I do to make sure that they got it?” Then you start to perk up and you go Ooh, okay. Then you can get the conversation going to a different level because they already speak your language.”
“ They’re the ones that are asking you the questions. And they’re asking you, “What’s the demographics of the classroom? What kind of technology do I have? Is there a curriculum that’s already provided for me or will I be developing my own?” Those are all things where they’re way beyond the basics. They don’t– Throw any scenario at them, they’re going to handle it because they’re grounded in their beliefs and what they know.”
“You know Lead Learner? I don’t know if you’re familiar with Lead Learner from England. He’s one of the guys that I follow religiously and he’s a head — kind of an executive director in England, so it’s not really applicable to my situation at all, but he gives such great insight.”
Mr. Collins’ point about asking questions and attempting to engage the administrator or hiring committee in a conversation is huge! This is my main takeaway from my experience on hiring committees. The candidates who did not ask questions, who did not prepare questions beforehand, who did not attempt to engage their potential colleagues in a conversation, did not show interest in the job, the school committee, and, frankly, us as potential co-workers. This also indicates a lack of curiosity and a lack of imagination. It is strange not to be curious about how this school works that you may work at soon, don’t you want to know what it’s guiding philosophies and pedagogies are? In addition, it is unimaginative to think that an unsuccessful interview is a wasted interview. If we want our students to learn from failure then we need to imagine how our own interview failures might teach us something, and not be failures at all in the long run.