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Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

It’s a “Do $%*#" Thing

By Guest Blogger — March 20, 2013 3 min read
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Note: Rick Hess is on sabbatical through May 6th. If you’re missing him, you might try to catch him while he’s out and about discussing his new book Cage-Busting Leadership (available here, e-book available here). For updates on when he might be in your neck of the woods, check here. Meantime, a tremendous lineup of guest stars has kindly agreed to step in while Rick’s gone and share their own thoughts on the opportunities, challenges, implications, and nature of cage-busting leadership.

Guest blogging this week is Matt Candler, CEO of 4.0 Schools, and members of the 4.0 Schools community.

Last week I was asking some of the members of the 4.0 community about how to describe what we refer to in one of our values as a ‘bias to action.’ We were all struggling to explain it when Jess Bialecki, founder of Classroom Blueprint blurted out, “It’s a ‘Do $%*#' thing.”

Yep. Kinda nailed it.

Alex Perez just finished the 4.0 Cohort and is an Assistant Principal at Sci Tech Academy in New Orleans. He’s making it easier to find and hire the right people in schools. Mostly by doing $%*# instead of talking about it.

I didn’t become a cheater until I started teaching. Within a week, I was copying and stealing from all over the place. Lesson plans? Take hers. Management? Go copy what he is doing. Data? Just take this teacher’s tracker. You didn’t rethink things. There isn’t enough time. No room for experimentation or failure. The mission was too important. Play it safe, stay within the system, make some small tweaks, and get average results. There’ll be time to innovate after. But unfortunately, we never really got around to the innovation part.

4.0 doesn’t wait for the innovation part; they just get started. 4.0 helped me reimagine a future that isn’t based on small tweaks to the status quo, but on revolutionary changes and fundamental shifts in the way we do things. Then, they pushed me to make that future happen by, ironically, starting small.

I joined the 4.0 Cohort wrestling with a personal problem in my school -- I was having trouble hiring great people. I had a feeling others shared my problem, so I reached out to leaders and human resource managers around the city. I gave out surveys, did mock interviews, and had a whole bunch of “I’ll buy you a beer if you tell me everything you know” moments.

I began prototyping different ideas to test a few assumptions and hunches I had. They ranged from conducting simple mock interviews all the way to creating a “rigged classroom” where kids misbehaved in certain scripted ways. Each prototype was a failure in its own way, but with each failure came one more bit of information that got me closer to real change. I learned that most schools didn’t start the hiring process until January and were filling spots all the way into late May -- they had strong processes, but wouldn’t follow them through due to timing issues or fear of competition.

In the end, I narrowed my insights to two key actions leaders should take to improve their hiring.

● Start early.
● Ignore your competition.

I combined the ideas and came up with the idea of a “Signing Day” for teachers. The known deadline would force everybody to take action earlier while allowing them to fully vet candidates.

The idea did not take off citywide, but I was able to bring the lessons learned from it into our own school and redesign our hiring practice around it.

We were fully staffed for the 2013-2014 year by February 10, 2013.

I’m not sure what the next step will be, but I know that the progress we have made is only the beginning in the long process of redesigning the way schools hire teachers.

--Alex Perez

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.