Valuable Lessons

Every school around the country has one foot on the gas, one eye looking at the rear view and one eye looking straight ahead. It’s what great schools do when you are in the last nine weeks. You have to keep your foot on the gas because we all feel this precious thing we call time slipping away on the current school year and we all feel as if there is still so much to accomplish. You have to have one eye looking at the rear view, reflecting back on what has worked well, what you want to keep doing and what you want to try next year. While it seems like an insurmountable task to reflect at a time like this, I believe it is really the best time of year to reflect because everything is fresh on your mind. Then, we have to keep one eye looking straight ahead because before you know it, this school year will be over and the next one will be knocking on your door.

For me, looking straight ahead includes hiring teacher candidates for the vacancies you know exist for the upcoming school year. Now is the time to find the best candidates. Waiting until it is convenient, may mean waiting until it is too late. There are many things that are principals must do well to be successful, but the most important thing…in my opinion, is being able to hire the right teachers. I have shared a few thoughts this spring about hiring and my opinions about what I am looking for in a teacher, but today I was reminded of some valuable lessons.

Check out my earlier posts about hiring:

Can I Get Back to You
It’s Interview Time – What Am I Looking For
Now Hiring 

Today I was reminded of three things, as we were able to hire three teachers for the upcoming school year.

1. Take Your Time – There are a lot and I mean a lot of candidates out there. Some are amazing and some, well…let’s just say teaching is not for everyone and then there are some that fall somewhere in between. I want the best. Sometime you do not know who the best are until you have had something to compare it to. We have been interviewing for a particular position for some time now and while each candidate has strong characteristics that we would like to add to our team, we just were not confident we had found the right one. We did not settle, we took our time. While it became frustrating at times, because we were spending so much time interviewing and finding bits and pieces of what we were looking for, it paid off. Today, we found just the right teacher. The best part? She “wanted” to work at Sigler.

2. Trust Your People – I do not do interviews alone. Teams are invited to join me in interviewing candidates. I would have a hard time hiring someone who the team is not 100% invested in. Throughout the process of interviewing candidates, I openly seek feedback and input from the team of teachers that is sitting in the interview with me. While they are interested in what I think, I always allow them to share before me. Over time, our interests and vision for “who” we are looking for has aligned, but we still need to seek input. The important part of seeking input is that trust has been developed so our current teachers can speak freely, share their thoughts, and not be worried about whether or not their thoughts align with mine. Most of the time they do, but recently their ability to speak freely and share what they think have led us to hiring some teachers and not hiring others.

3. Listen to Your People – Along the same lines of trusting those who are interviewing candidates with you comes listening to them. It is one thing for trust to be established, so teacher feel free to share their thoughts, but if you are not willing to listen to them and I mean really listen, the trust will not be around for long. As I arrived at work this morning, we had all but agreed we would hire a teacher today. One staff member had some reservations. Because trust has been established, she was able to feel she could share her thoughts and I listened. Our dialogue led to us bringing a candidate back in for a 2nd interview, asking some additional questions…things that had come up through our discussion, prompted by my willingness to listen and the trust the teacher felt in sharing. The 2nd interview was insightful. The reservations the teacher had became more obvious and steered us clear of hiring a teacher who may not have been in our students’ best interest.

Did you catch those last three words? When schools are making hiring decisions, there are a lot of factors to take into consideration. How will this candidate fit in with the current staff? How will they get a long with the team? Will they bring new ideas? Will they make our staff stronger? The list could go on and on, but the most important factor, we must take into consideration is, is hiring this teacher in the students’ best interest.

What was your moment today?

Can I Get Back To You…?

As the principal of a Title I school, hiring teachers that “want” to work with our students and our demographic is a must. Our teachers and teams spend countless hours, interviewing potential candidates, trying to find just the right person. The right person who has the passion to do what needs to be done each day and the desire to learn how to do it in a way that works for the individuals who they teach each day.

We search high and low for candidates who we feel may be great fits for our students, teachers, parents and staff. We ask questions leading candidates to thought provoking answers and leave us reflecting on candidates’ answers after they leave.

We do all of this in an attempt to find just the right one. The one that “wants” to work at Sigler Elementary. The one that forces us to run out of the building after him/her after they leave, because we fear they will get a job somewhere else, if we hesitate in our decision. When we find who we believe we are looking for, we offer them the opportunity to work with us, to work with our students and families. The answer I want to hear when we offer a position to a candidate is, “Yes, absolutely!” What I am finding out…there are not as many candidates that “want” to work at Sigler, or at least they want to see what other options they have first. When I offer a position, instead of “Yes, absolutely!”, I hear, “Can I get back to you?”

While there is a part of me that gets it, “Can I get back to you?” is not an answer I enjoy hearing. Applicants today have choices. I get it. They want to be sure they are making the right choice, finding the right school, ensuring it is a good fit. I want all of that too. As someone who is in a position to hire, I do not want to be someone’s second option. I do not want our school to be the choice because something else did not work out.

The students we serve deserve nothing but the best. They do not want or need teachers who “had to think about it” or teachers who ask, “Can I get back to you?” We need teachers who, without hesitation, can make the unequivocal decision to say “Yes, absolutely” because they want to work with our students, teachers and families at Sigler Elementary.

What was your moment today?

Check Your Email…

If you have not gotten a chance to read my blog about my #oneword for 2016, check out Enjoy the Moment.

As I mentioned in my blog, my #oneword is a call to action for me to be mindful of the moments that make up my day. The moments at home, the moments at work and the moments that happen in between.

Have you checked your email today? If you are in a leadership position, chances are you have or will shortly be receiving an email from a potential new hire. Educators, including recent college graduates are busy polishing and/or creating cover letters and resumes to send out to building leaders with the hope they are able to secure an interview or at the very minimum, receive a reply, indicating their email was received. 

As I read through emails I receive from candidates interested in teaching positions, I am reminded of a blog post written by a colleague, @Mr_Braden titled “Can You Hear Me Now?” In this post, Mr. Braden challenges us all to respond to the “vulnerability” showcased by those who are sending us emails. 

I will openly admit that over the years, I was guilty of not responding. I would look at the email and simply place it in a folder labeled “Hiring” and refer back to it as needed. Why did I do this? Sadly, I do not have a reason for not responding other than, it was saving me time. It was one less thing to do. 

Totally selfish move on my part. 

Through my work this year, professional growth and overall experience, my thinking has shifted. At the end of the day, how people perceive me is important. Especially those who do not know me. If their first thought of me is, “He didn’t even respond to my email…” I have not lived up my expectations for myself. 

So…Mr. Braden, I accept the challenge and can say with 100% certainty, I have replied to each of the emails I have received thus far and will continue to do so. 

It’s a professional courtesy. It is what I would expect and you never know when or where your paths may cross with the candidates on the other side of the email. 

Now Hiring

Our staff conducted a survey at the beginning of the school year that reviewed our professional practices. We covered it all. We surveyed culture and climate, instructional practices, professional learning, collaboration and yes…hiring practices. What we discovered was that our core interview questions “as written” were not the type of questions we wanted to be asking the next generation of teachers for the students and families at Sigler Elementary. I firmly believe we should be hiring teachers that will help us reach our full potential. This means hiring teachers that are unlike the teachers we currently have. Now, there is nothing wrong with the teachers we have…in fact they are amazing. But…if we continue to hire exactly what we already have, will we evolve? Will we change? Will we improve? I appreciate the perspective new teachers or veteran teachers, who are new to a building bring to the campus. New perspective can help challenge status quo.

I have had the opportunity to sit on hiring panels when interviewing potential assistant principals, and one of the questions we ask is, “What is the most important responsibility of being an administrator?”Answers range from student safety to developing relationships to being an instructional leader. All of those answers are great. You could make an argument for each. In my opinion, the most important responsibility I have as a building leader is recruiting, hiring and retaining the very best teachers.

In order to recruit and hire the best teachers, I need our interview questions to evolve so we are asking potential teachers questions that reflect the teachers we want working with and for our students, teachers and community. Once we have have hired them, the retention piece is up to us.

Here is where you come in! I wish this idea was my own, but with many ideas in education, one person has it and the rest of us steal it, so in the spirit of transparency, I am stealing this idea. Last week, George Couros led a session at TCEA (Google Tools for Admin.) and in the midst of this session, he shared a Google Doc with those in attendance, which of course was tweeted and retweeted enough times to travel around the world twice. At least! The purpose of this Google Doc was to “collect some inspirational videos on teaching and learning”. I am not sure about you, but I know I have searched You Tube an endless number of times, looking for just the right video, but come up short, more than once. I know where my search will begin now. Thanks to this Google Doc. Check it out!

Now, back to where you come in. I need your voice. I need your experience and I need my PLN. As we work to reinvent the interview questions we ask, knowing we are trying to recruit and hire the very best, what interview questions are you asking? What interview questions have you asked? Let me know! As we begin to refine our questions, we may just use yours!

Use the link below to submit interview questions you have asked or have been asked that you feel help recruit and hire the very best teachers.

Click Here to Contribute Your Interview Questions