Teaching Opinion

Finding the Right Fit: Hiring Good People to Enrich the Culture

By Starr Sackstein — April 26, 2018 3 min read
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Retirements and new opportunities are always bittersweet. While on the one hand, you feel excited for the colleagues you know and love, you feel sad for the space that you know could never be filled.

Or conversely, when that one person on your team who never got along with anyone decides to seek greener pastures, the fear and excitement of finding a new colleague who will hopefully be a better fit fills you with different emotions.

So whenever the email would go around for a hiring committee in years past, I took every opportunity to be a part of that group.

It always seemed like a good way to really be a part of building our school community and assessing how well the skills of the potential new candidates could round out our team.

By the time we got to those committee interviews, the candidates had already been screened, so the folks that sat before us were the best of the interview pool.

As a new leader, helping to vet that top-notch crop of candidates is now one of my responsibilities. And since hiring is arguably one of the most important aspects of being a leader, I’ve noticed the challenge of getting to those final five for the committee interview.

First is the most grueling part of the process, reading cover letters and resumes of applicants. It is always easier if you get a resume from a person you trust about a candidate who they believe would be worth an interview. Since relationships are a huge part of what we do, having people around us that know what a good educator looks like, helps a little.

What I’ve learned so far reading cover letters and resumes is that many folks don’t take enough time to really write a strong cover letter or proofread their resume. When there are so many qualified applicants for a position, you must set the filters high, but that is no guarantee that what you read is what you will get. On paper, almost anyone can appear good.

After reading resumes, looking for particular details that seem to fit the position we are looking for, the next step is the screener interviews. It’s the first opportunity for the candidate to meet us and for us to meet him/her. We want to get a good sense of the person’s energy and if their experience and knowledge match what we are looking for.

This can be an exhausting process. During one search, we got lucky and in the first round of screeners, we had solid six applicants. They had the right energy, recommendations, and experience to suit what we are looking for. Some of them didn’t walk in the room a winner, but as soon as they started talking about the kids and their classrooms, it was like they lit up.

Demo lessons are the next step for that position and I’m eager to see what the applicants think is a good lesson. Now a demo lesson isn’t the end all, be all as it is very hard to walk into a stranger’s classroom, not knowing the students or the dynamics and present an exemplary lesson, but it is an opportunity to see how that person thinks, what his/her energy is like in a room and the way they interact with students.

Then they are off to the committee. And for that position, I’d be really happy with almost any of them considering the depth they would bring to our department and how they will enrich a school day even more.

The other searches haven’t been as easy. After screening many people, there weren’t as many folks we felt as strongly about and we have multiple positions to fill. We don’t want to waste anyone’s time, not the applicant’s or our committee, so we are working hard to get a variety of good educators. Soon we will do a second screener round.

Ultimately, when you meet an educator, you want them to be excited about the work they do. Teaching is such an amazing profession and there is always something to learn. I love to hear the questions applicants ask us as that too is very telling as to whether or not they are a good fit for our organization.

No matter how qualified a candidate is, there is no guarantee that what you see is what you will get. We need to trust our gut and really make sure that the person that ultimately gets the offer is the right person for the school system you are in. We want everyone to be happy as that is what creates the best learning environment for everyone.

What are your non-negotiables when hiring to ensure the right fit for your organization? Please share.

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress 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.