Without doubt and with much research to back this claim, the key to a successful school is excellent teaching and great leadership (in that order).  In 2009 the OECD concluded that ‘The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers and principals, since student learning is ultimately the product of what goes on in classrooms’, echoing the MacKinsey report’s findings from 2007.  It is hard to disagree.  Thus, it goes without saying then that schools should place huge emphasis on their recruitment processes.  In international schools where it is often difficult to find replacements quickly, plus the normal practice of contract lengths being 2-3 years (mostly two), it means that hiring the right person is all the more important.

John Tomsett (https://johntomsett.com/) claims that despite what Nick Gibb (Minister of State for Schools in UK) might say, finding great teachers is not so simple, and that the UK is in the middle of a teacher recruitment and retention crisis.  However, principals must aim to find the best of the best.  It is simply impossible to improve a school by hiring average people. Average is officially over.

Some claim that recruitment is mostly a matter of luck.  I disagree entirely and argue that it is largely scientific with a very small, possibly insignificant amount of luck.  Steps can be put into place, a well thought-out policy created and clear procedures followed.  If done properly and thoroughly, schools can maximise the chances of hiring the right person for their school.  It is pertinent here to highlight ‘their’, as all schools should be looking for the right ‘fit’ for their school and not just standalone excellent teachers.  An excellent teacher in a school that does not align with the teacher’s own philosophy will soon become demotivated, frustrated and even angry.

When conducting interviews, interviewers should keep questions simple and consistent.  Many studies have shown that interviews are generally conducted badly and some interviewers even make a subconscious judgement call within the first ten seconds of an interview!  The problem is, these predictions from the first 10 seconds are useless and worthless.  They create a situation where an interview is spent trying to confirm what we think of someone, rather than truly assessing them.  Psychologists call this confirmation bias, “the tendency to search for, interpret, or prioritise information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses.”  In other words, most interviews are a waste of time because 99.4 percent of the time is spent trying to confirm whatever impression the interviewer formed in the first ten seconds.  Why not rename the forum from interview to discussion?  After all, this is a meeting between two professional parties looking to find the right fit.

According to various studies (COBIS and ISC being a couple), the number of international schools opening worldwide is fast outpacing the number of teachers available.  The gulf between supply and demand of teachers is growing wider, quickly.  The consequences of this will be:

  • Schools recruiting teachers without following due diligence in line with a detailed policy, hoping for some ‘luck’ along the way instead.
  • Job openings advertised earlier and earlier.  A recent search showed many teaching positions being advertised twelve months in advance.  Do not be surprised if within the next five years, adverts for teaching positions are posted two years in advance of the actual start date.
  • Higher salaries for shortage subjects such as Mathematics, Sciences.
  • Higher salaries for teachers with excellent recommendations.  One prediction suggests the first $100,000 teacher by 2020.  This article suspects this will happen sooner than 2020.
  • Salary scales becoming less and less common, mainly related to the above two bullet points.
  • An increase in recruiting unqualified teachers.
  • An increase in Skype (or similar) interviews and big decrease in face to face interviews.
  • A multifaceted interview process (lessons observation, presentation, interview etc) will become less and less common.
  • An increase in the use of recruitment fairs (i.e. short interviews).
  • Schools suffering with respect to quality due to rushed recruitment processes.
  • Students will be affected negatively as a result of the demand for teachers and schools simply not following a thorough process.

So what can be done to ensure the right teachers are recruited, given the obvious challenges?  These challenges are tougher in countries going through difficult times.

Firstly, despite the challenges, no short-cuts should ever be taken.  If in doubt, just bear in mind that it is the students that will inevitably suffer.  Headteachers should follow develop complete policies, follow them to the tee and tick off every box.  I am also of the strong belief that the Head of School (Superintendent/Principal) should play a major part in recruiting and be the ultimate person responsible for hiring.  Yes it is very time consuming and yes it can be extremely mundane, but schools revolve around the right staff being recruited.  A success of a school depends on the quality of its staff.

In 1998, Frank Schmidt and John Hunter published a meta-analysis of 85 years of research on how well recruitment assessments predict job performance.  They found that the best predictor of how somebody will perform in the job were:

  1. Word of mouth recommendation from trusted sources.
  2. On the job test (e.g. observing applicants teaching a lesson).
  3. A written intelligence (cognitive) test.
  4. A structured interview.

Ideally, a mixture of all the above should be aimed for.  This allows for triangulation of data leading to a much better informed decision.

In addition to the above, the following is a set of procedures that could (and arguably should) form a school recruitment policy:

  1. Intention Survey: Conducted early in the academic year.  This is not a formal resignation but should give the school an idea of who is staying and who is leaving.
  2. Follow up on Survey:  Staff leaning towards leaving should be given the opportunity to state their reasons.  The possibility of retaining this member of staff increases as a result of this conversation.
  3. Advertise:  Adverts can be pulled if any staff member decides not to leave the school.  Within the advert, describe your school, teacher profile and ask for a specific point within letters of application (e.g. describe your ideal school).  The latter point will allow you to separate generic applications from individualised ones.  Recruitment companies and agencies are expensive and this is a big hindrance for many schools.  An alternative opened recently is YKBEducation (www.ykbeducation.com) who allow schools to post job openings for free.
  4. Resignations:  Between the survey and actual job offers for new staff, a date must be set for resignation letters to come in.  This will avoid any confusion.
  5. Review applications:  In the ideal world, the letter of application should be personalised to your school and the cv/resume is concise.
  6. Reply to all applicants:  Although tedious, this can increase the school’s reputation in an industry which is small in reality and where word of mouth is vital.
  7. Set up interviews:  This should include a small lesson observation that can be uploaded online, a small task (e.g. a presentation about what the applicant likes about education or does not like!), structured interview (set generic questions for all – both behavioural and situational) and a clear success criteria linked to a school’s teacher profile and philosophy.
    • Note that a structured interview means the same questions for everybody.  Although tedious, this allows for a fair comparison between candidates.
    • Case interviews and brainteasers used by many firms are worthless.
    • Laszlo Bock writes that questions such as, “how many golf balls fit inside a 747?” are useless and performance on such questions are at best a discrete skill that can be improved upon through practice.  They do not assess the candidate’s suitability for the job.
  8. Interviewing:  Face to face is by far the best method.  Skype is increasingly common and will become more as demand increases.  Recruitment fairs are not ideal but again, schools are being left with little choice.  Interview in pairs (at least).  Although increasingly difficult, if possible, allow a student team to speak with the applicant also.
  9. School contacts:  Allow applicants you are interested in to contact any member of your staff body.  This may seem scary at first but it shows a level of transparency and trust that will benefit your school.  This will also allow potential new teachers to gauge their ability to fit into the school and location.
  10. Child protection:  All possible checks must be taken.  There are no excuses whatsoever for not doing so.
  11. References:  At least two references required and one from current (or most recent) Head of School.  Do not accept pre-written references, i.e. they must come from the school to you.  Call the current (or most recent) Head of School too.  There is an increasing reluctance to put things in black and white, thus the last step is important.
  12. Google the candidate:  Yes it matters!  Search the candidate online.  If you don’t, you can be guaranteed students and parents will.  Avoid an unpleasant surprise.  Can your social media postings also damage your chances of landing that dream job elsewhere?  Well, yes. Social media is now an integral part of the vetting process, whether companies admit it or not (BBC).   A study by recruiter, Robert Walters, found half of employers are prepared to research candidates using social media, whilst 63% have viewed a job seeker’s professional social network profile, e.g. social network LinkedIn.
  13. Decision time:  Take the decision to hire or not with at least one other colleague’s opinion.
  14. Feedback:  Do not let the process end with the decision.  Give feedback to unsuccessful candidates.  It is well worth personalising your feedback to applicants that you would be considering in the future.  This will maintain a positive professional relationship.

It is worth noting here that not all teachers need to fit one box.  Indeed, the theory of followership (a post will be written soon) allows for five different types of followers/staff (exemplary, pragmatic, passive, alienated, conformist) and a requirement for a balance between the five is needed.

Furthermore, and although beyond this post’s intention, schools should set up a Retention Policy.  Some key points could be:

  1. Feedback questions and discussions taking place early in the academic year.
  2. Head of School meets all staff informally for 5-10 minutes in Term/Semester 1.
  3. Head of School meets informally and voluntarily with all staff early in the academic year through Staff Reps system (or similar).
  4. Head of School discusses situation further with any staff member who may be indicating to leave, with the aim of honing in on any reasons, with the aim of holding on to key staff members.
  5. Traffic Light system for staff (red = leaving, yellow = maybe, green = staying).
  6. Intentions Survey as described above.

A word of caution for candidates.  If you are a candidate interviewing for a teaching position, this is what you are up against (or should be).  Schools conducting such thorough processes should augur well and be a school one would like to work in.  Great schools have principals who are looking for a candidate, who demonstrates a love for kids; who articulates a clear picture of what their classroom will look, sound, and feel like; who reveals incredible content knowledge; who takes ownership in their own professional learning; and the most important obstacle you are up against is this internal question, “Would I want my own child in this teacher’s classroom?” (Anonymous Headteacher).  Furthermore, Lyn Hilt states that teachers should possess passion:  “Passion is necessary.  Don’t make me request your emotions – provide them, in every word, every response, every example of why you want to teach in my school.”

Finally, a lot of the above is easy to write down, but it is very difficult to do in practice. Managers and leaders hate the idea that they can not hire their own people.  Interviewers cannot stand being told that they have to follow a certain format for the interview or for their feedback.  People will disagree with data if it runs counter to their intuition and argue that the quality bar does not need to be so high for every job.  Heads/Principals do not like the time spent on recruitment.  However….

Do not give in to the pressure and fight for quality.  Think of your students and keep reminding yourself that the success of a school depends on the quality of its staff.

Yasir Patel

Sources:

https://www.wired.com/2015/04/hire-like-google/

https://johntomsett.com/2016/07/24/this-much-i-know-about-how-we-are-on-our-own-when-it-comes-to-the-teacher-recruitment-crisis/

http://www.developer-tech.com/news/2015/aug/27/googles-recruitment-process-straight-ex-machina/

http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20160826-think-before-you-overshare-yes-it-can-get-you-fired

http://connectedprincipals.com/archives/12426

Book for recruiting:  https://books.google.co.ve/books/about/Work_Rules.html?id=M6idBAAAQBAJ&redir_esc=y

Top Recruiting by Bradford D Smart

Excerpted from Work Rules: Insights from Google that Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock

 

2 thoughts on “Recruiting Against the Odds

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