The single most important thing a principal can do is to hire top talent; to hire the best of the best; to hire people who will add value to his/her team. I am currently involved in this process right now, as I have spent the last few weeks interviewing several candidates for a few vacancies at my school. This has been an incredibly time-consuming process, especially at this time of year when we are testing, there are celebrations and musicals coming up, there are end of year trips, etc. However, I was inspired to write about this because despite how time consuming this can be, this will probably be the most important thing I do as I begin my next school year.
I am finishing my first year at my current school where we have restructured our master schedule to create a PLC. We have created time in the schedule to allow for remediation and enrichment, we have empowered our teacher leaders, and we have delivered professional training on what it means to be in a PLC, in addition to various other work. Essentially, we have laid out the ground work in terms of our structures and processes to allow for our PLC to flourish. Who we bring into this team will be vital as we delve deeper into creating a culture that promotes a PLC.
What I have found helpful is to first share all of the resumes with the specific content department chairs. They have to be involved in this process. This practice is the norm in most high schools, but it is not the norm in middle or elementary schools, and it should be. If you are building your teacher leaders, and they are the ones carrying out the work, they should have a say as to who is brought into the team. Ultimately, they will be the ones working with this person more closely than you!
As department chairs go through resumes, we select the top 5 candidates to interview and we interview them together – the department chairs, assistant principals, and myself. If we don’t like anybody, we begin the search again. We have to agree that we are not going to settle. We will keep interviewing and interviewing, until we find candidates we like who we think will be able to fit into our school and adapt to our school’s culture. Some schools have created rubrics, some require candidates to teach a mini-lesson during the interview, some require candidates to bring various items; the point is, create some kind of a process or interviewing standard that helps your team decide who should be brought into your team.
During the interviews at our school, the department chairs’ questions are always related to instruction and the content – and they should be, since they are the content experts. My questions are always related to their personality; their ability to work with others, their conflict resolution skills, their attitudes, etc., and their knowledge of working in a PLC. This double approach really helps because the admin team and the department chairs each have a different focus. Together, we can find the well balanced person we are looking for.
Lastly, a very critical step that surprisingly many people skip – check the references!! And I don’t mean as a formality. Spend some time asking good questions of the candidate so you really get a good picture of who you are getting; their strengths and weaknesses. This will also help you decide if you really want this person on your team. We have decided against hiring candidates several times because their references gave us reason to rethink our decision.
So yes – all of this is incredibly time-consuming and sometimes it is easier to just go ahead and get the vacancy filled and recommend somebody, anybody! But you will save yourself so much time in the long run when you have that superstar in your building. Getting a rock star teacher who is incredible with students, collaborates well with colleagues, is always thinking about how to improve instruction, willing and eager to change to get better, supportive of her school and administration – isn’t that worth the time?!