Attracting High-Quality Teachers

By Laurie A. Kimbrel

In this era of teacher shortages and competition for the best candidates, creating an accurate first impression of what is important in our schools is imperative. Our first opportunities to express our values and beliefs occur during the recruitment and selection processes, long before teachers decide which offer to accept. To recruit and hire teachers who are a good fit with the mission, vision, and values of a school, leaders must ensure the steps in the selection process accurately reflect their beliefs about what critical in the teaching and learning process.

In many school districts, teacher hiring is a decentralized process in which the creation and implementation of the selection system is delegated to extremely busy individual school principals who do not have human resources training.

Despite these issues, with some reflection about what is important to us, we can create effective hiring processes that accurately reflect our deeply held values and understanding of the elements of effective teaching and learning.

The Wrong Approach

In the article “How to Improve the Accuracy and Reduce the Cost of Personnel Selection” published in California Management Review in 2017, Don Moore states that the best predictor of success in a job is previous performance in that same job. Given this fact, it seems logical that an effective way to determine the skill level of a teacher is to ask the candidate to come to our school to provide a demonstration lesson. When this component is added to the hiring process, there is an assumption that the demonstration lesson will be a more authentic measure of job performance than speaking to the process of teaching in a theoretical manner during an interview.

In an attempt to assess the candidate’s skill, a group of adults is assembled to act as the “students” to whom the demonstration lesson is delivered. These adults then provide feedback regarding the candidate based on the lesson as a stand-alone event. At other times, groups of students are gathered to be on the receiving end of the lesson, but in either case, the simulations are deeply flawed because they include a set of students whom are unknown to the teacher. Under these circumstances, how can a teacher candidate accurately demonstrate that he or she believes in the importance of deep relationships with students?

We know teachers who impact student growth do not create one generic lesson plan for an entire class but rather they develop and deliver differentiated lessons based on their knowledge of their students’ previous performance in the class and performance on a variety of formative assessments. High-impact teachers also consider their students’ personalities, level of motivation, and interests as they plan instruction.

Even if the demonstration lesson includes the grouping of students based on a data set delivered to the teacher candidate in advance, there is not a way to replicate the varied interests and backgrounds of students in a typical classroom and how a teacher considers these factors to make learning meaningful.

A Team Sport

The demonstration lesson also fails to acknowledge the fact that effective teachers regularly collaborate with their colleagues by sharing student performance data to plan for the needs of their students. The valuable teacher collaboration time that occurs through participation in a professional learning community allows teachers to reflect upon and share their own successes and consider the ideas of others so they can reach students with whom they have been previously unsuccessful.

If we believe teaching is a team sport, rather than an individual endeavor, we do not accurately convey this value when we use a demonstration lesson where one teacher makes decisions without the benefit of a team.

There is no one perfect tool or strategy to accurately predict a candidate’s success as a teacher and so every selection process should include multiple steps thoughtfully designed to assist the principal in understanding if the candidates’ beliefs and skills are a match for the school.

On the Basis of Beliefs

Although there are decades of research to document the lack of validity and reliability of traditional employment interviews, they can be greatly improved upon by adding elements of consistency and structure including questions based on job competencies that are developed ahead of time and posed identically to each candidate and the use of anchor answers and rating scales to evaluate responses.

Interview questions that delve into a both a candidate’s beliefs and skills to operationalize those beliefs can provide a great deal of insight into the probability of potential for success as a teacher. Questions regarding building relationships with students, parents, and colleagues and the process by which a candidate personalizes and differentiates instruction will also reflect what is valued at the school much more than a demonstration lesson ever could.

Aligning Values

Ensuring that every student learns at high levels is a complex task that requires skillful teachers who are often in high demand and low supply. School leaders need to resist the temptation to create processes that are merely expedient or mirror how they were once hired. Although hiring processes must be rigorous, they should also serve as a tool to communicate our deeply held values so that the best candidates see themselves as a match for our school.

High-quality teachers want to belong to a school community that places value on building productive and positive relationships with students, parents, and colleagues. A process aligned to our strongly held values will create the most accurate first impression for teachers while it helps us to predict which candidate will achieve success in our school.

Laurie A. Kimbrel is an assistant professor of Educational Leadership at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton, Georgia.