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October 2013 | Volume 71 | Number 2
Leveraging Teacher Leadership
Mary C. Clement
Bringing teachers fully into the hiring process not only helps find the best teacher for the job, but it also helps grow teacher leadership.
When Debra Belvin was a teacher, she didn't meet any new incoming teachers until the back-to-school inservice session. There was little chance to become acquainted with newcomer colleagues or to build relationships before the year started. Now, as a principal at Berry Elementary and Middle School in Mount Berry, Georgia, Belvin ensures that her teachers have a chance not only to meet new colleagues and connect with them before September, but also to be involved in hiring them. By drawing on the expertise of teachers throughout the hiring process, Belvin also strengthens her faculty's leadership.
Whenever a faculty opening occurs, Belvin and three teachers form a search committee that reviews applications and selects three candidates to interview on site. These three finalists present a lesson to a class of students, and the committee observes these lessons as part of deciding together whom they'll recommend to hire. Time is also set aside for all faculty and school staff to meet these finalists and ask them questions.
Berry is a small K–8 school with only 14 teachers and 150 students; it's a lab school on the campus of Berry College. Because the faculty is small, all teachers can take a turn being on a search committee. Belvin sees the difference this work makes for her teachers:
Teachers serving on a search committee automatically move into a leadership role. They become evaluators of teacher performance and professional dispositions. … They work collaboratively to reach consensus in selecting a highly qualified candidate. … It's empowering to be a member of this decision-making group.
Although college faculty are actively involved in hiring their colleagues, K–12 teachers rarely are. Schools sometimes use department chairs and lead teachers in interviews (I remember being interviewed by a French teacher when I applied for my first foreign-language teaching position). And some districts send teachers to job fairs to recruit new hires. But schools could do much more, replicating Berry's approach.
Using teachers' expertise and experience in every step of the hiring process—from creating the job advertisement to conducting interviews—would benefit the search for the best teachers for a school. If, as Marzano (2010) contends, "a classroom teacher is probably the single most powerful influence on student achievement that is within the control of the educational system" (p. 213), then hiring teachers should be top priority—and teachers can strengthen the hiring process. Liu and Johnson's work (2006) indicates that how a teacher is hired may affect his or her job satisfaction and retention. Involving teachers in hiring provides job candidates more realistic information about students, curriculum, and the workplace—and might enable candidates to better judge whether the position is a good fit. Teachers may be able to ascertain the depth of a candidate's subject matter knowledge in a way an administrator can't. And who better to interview a new 4th grade teacher than the 4th grade teachers who'll work with that educator?
The hiring process could also be a venue for developing teacher leadership. Roland Barth (2001) included the topic of teacher selection in his list of areas in which teachers can assume leadership roles.
Let's look at some of the steps involved in teachers hiring teachers, and what Berry School's experience shows about best practices.
Schools might choose a different group of teachers to interview and evaluate candidates for each opening, as Berry does, or have a set group of teachers that hires for all positions. One elementary school in Cobb County, Georgia, has all the teachers working at the grade level for which a teacher is being hired participate in hiring that person. When choosing teachers for a committee, consider grade and subject expertise, overall experience, and interest in serving. Larger districts might need to create a short application. Union agreements may stipulate parameters for this type of service.
From the outset, the roles and responsibilities of teachers within the process—particularly in terms of how final decisions will be made—must be clear. Will teachers on the hiring committee have only the power to recommend a candidate or final decision-making power? What will happen if a search committee's opinion on the final recommendation is different from that of a principal or other upper-level administrator?
Large public school systems, of course, have standardized processes for hiring that involve human resource professionals in central offices. However, teachers can still be involved in hiring colleagues within these systems. Final candidates should be interviewed at the local school level before they are hired, and a teacher committee can be useful in both interviewing and providing candidates information about the position and the school culture, perhaps providing a school tour.
It's crucial to train teachers in hiring protocols, especially in terms of what kinds of questions they can legally ask, when it's appropriate to discuss salary questions, and other parameters. Teachers need an orientation in all steps of the process: how to evaluate and sort résumés, create standardized interview questions, do preliminary phone interviews, and so on. If teachers are to create the job advertisement, they'll need training on how to write an information-rich advertisement that includes all requirements needed to be successful in the position. Although principals may be able to train teachers, in larger schools or districts, it may be helpful to have human resources personnel do so.
An essential step is to create a written evaluation instrument that teachers will use to sort each application received. Base the evaluation criteria on the job advertisement, using categories like this: has appropriate certification; provides relevant facts that address job specifications in résumé or cover letter; indicates knowledge of position in résumé and cover letter; and uses correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar in all paperwork (Clement, 2008).
When a district receives hundreds of applications for one job, administrative assistants can complete the first sort, on the basis of the most basic criteria (such as certified or not) to narrow down the set of applications that teachers and administrators will review (Clement, 2012).
At Berry, after the applications have been screened and the pool narrowed to four to eight applicants, the hiring committee does preliminary phone or online interviews of these candidates. Those judged as the top three after this round are invited to an on-site interview at the school. Other schools do preliminary interviews at job fairs.
When conducting preliminary interviews for a position by phone or online—and onsite finalist interviews—all teachers should use the same prewritten questions and an instrument to evaluate candidates' answers. Ratings for those answers can be numeric—for instance, using 5 to indicate the strongest answers and 1 the weakest—or more global, with categories like unacceptable answer, acceptable answer, and target answer. Figure 1 shows a sample preliminary interview form.
Rate each candidate's answer and each item on a scale of 1 (weakest) to 5 (strongest)
Note: You might also use a scale or 1 to 3, or the categories unacceptable, acceptable, or target to rate each answer. This form can be modified to use with a phone, online, or job fair interview.
For both preliminary and on-site interviews, teachers should write questions in the style of behavior-based interviewing. Long used in the business world, behavior-based interviewing is built on the premise that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance. Interviewers ask questions that probe the candidate's past experience with each specification of the job, using phrases like, "Tell about a time when … " or "Describe how you have …." Questions should cover such issues as curriculum, methods, classroom management, homework, assessment, meeting students' needs, and professionalism (Clement, Kistner, & Moran, 2005).
Sample questions include
Familiarize teachers with the questions that they can't ask (even in informal situations, such as over lunch on interview day): questions about age, family, children, religion, and race. Training should include role-playing the interview questions and guiding teacher interviewers on what to listen for, as different teachers may form very different opinions of a candidate's answers without clear guidance and criteria.
After Berry's hiring committee has done on-site interviews of the three finalists for a position and observed their demo lessons, the committee members together rank these finalists. They send their recommendation to both the principal and the dean of the school of education at Berry College for final approval.
Although asking teachers to help with hiring other teachers yields great benefits, there are obstacles to making it work. Perhaps the biggest barrier is that most teachers have had little or no training in how to hire. Involving more people—and untrained people—in hiring brings greater risks, such as with confidentiality. A teacher untrained in hiring protocol may call a colleague to get more information about a candidate, opening the district to a lawsuit if that person was not listed as a reference by the candidate. Carefully planning and implementing training for teachers should help you with this obstacle.
Time and money are always issues with regard to teachers' work. Union agreements may stipulate that teachers must be paid for additional duties like serving on a hiring committee. The cost to cover a teacher's classroom while he or she is doing hiring work might be prohibitive. With teachers facing accountability pressure tied to their students' achievement, they may even be reluctant to leave their classrooms, fearing that any time away from students will decrease time on task and lower test scores.
Berry School gets around this obstacle by giving teachers leeway to use the many college students who are usually working in the school to cover their classes. As a lab school, Berry is fortunate to have education students in the building most of the time, but schools without this advantage can also help free up teachers' time by using student teachers from a nearby college.
Principals also feel accountability pressure for their teachers' work and may believe meeting that pressure will be easier if they keep control of teacher hiring. Other principals will not consider sharing any part of the hiring process with teachers because of power issues—or just because of the tradition that the boss hires the employees.
Much has been said about the importance of "making the match" when hiring teachers. Investing time in bringing teachers into the hiring process and training them well—as schools like Berry have done—give schools the best chance to make good matches. This process also benefits those teachers who learn how to hire. As Lori Fredericks, a Berry teacher who has served on hiring committees, noted, "The hiring brings an opportunity for self-reflection with a real purpose. And choosing the candidate who best matches the purpose and goals of the school … leads to better cohesion as a faculty." Teachers hiring teachers may be a great way to grow your own leaders.
Barth, R. (2001). Teacher leader. Phi Delta Kappan, 82(6), 443–449.
Clement, M. C. (2008). Recruiting and hiring effective teachers: A behavior-based approach. Alexandria, VA: Educational Research Service.
Clement, M. C. (2012). Hiring the best. Principal, 92(1), 40–41.
Clement, M. C., Kistner, W., & Moran, W. (2005). A question of experience. Principal Leadership, 5(9), 58–62.
Liu, E., & Johnson, S. M. (2006). New teachers' experiences of hiring: Late, rushed, and information poor. Educational Administration Quarterly, 43(3), 324–360.
Marzano, R. J. (2010). Developing expert teachers. In R. J. Marzano (Ed.), On excellence in teaching (pp. 213–245). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Mary C. Clement is a professor of teacher education at Berry College in Mount Berry, Georgia.
Copyright © 2013 by ASCD
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