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Hiring Strategy has a Strong Impact on a School’s Success

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As an elementary educator of 8 years, a new teacher coach of 3 years, and school hiring support consultant for 4 years, I have seen my fair share of schools, from low income and low parental involvement to high income and high parental involvement.

At first, I thought most schools were the same in Charlotte, North Carolina. Some buildings were older than others, but for the most part our city has taken care of our schools’ appearances. Office staff have become some of my favorite people at every school I enter. They are happy, helpful and know EVERYTHING there is to know about the school- what a resource! Although the kids may dress differently or have a more diverse student population presence at some locations, overall kids loved learning no matter what school they attended.

Then one day, I discovered the difference between schools. I am not talking about ethnicity, funding, religion, or building structures.

[spp-tweet tweet=”Great leaders make great schools.”]

Simple right? Not really. Many leadership teams are made up of intelligent, successful people, but they can fail too. I have seen all-star admin teams struggle to raise achievement in their schools. How can that be?

[spp-tweet tweet=”How you hire staff determines the success of your school year.”]

A leadership team cannot do it alone. They need great teachers too. I don’t mean the really smart, really social, kid-loving kind. I mean the ones that are strong in content knowledge and skilled in conveying it in kid language while introducing worthwhile text rich in subject vocabulary. I mean the ones that set high expectations for their kids and set structures in place to scaffold learning so that all students are successful as individuals and as learners. I mean the ones that when given a task go above and beyond what is asked because its what is best for the staff and students, not because its required. I mean the ones that parents know by first name and who are not only “in the loop” with their child’s academic progress but part of the team in developing strategies to overcome obstacles and reach success. I mean the ones that are reliable, transparent, and ethical. I mean the irreplaceable teachers that begin and end their career in your school because you have given them the opportunities to stretch and grow without having to give up their favorite place they now call home.

If irreplaceable teachers don’t leave, why would they be at a hiring event? How would you even get your hands on one? It’s not like they are available a dime a dozen.

No. You can create them.

But…how?

[spp-tweet tweet=”You create irreplaceable teachers the moment you create opportunities to cultivate talent.”]

You can’t expect a great teacher to just walk into your building. You need to work for it.

1. Market your school before you need to.

  • Appealing School Facade-  ensure it is orderly and clean daily.
  • Stellar Visitor Experience- from the time a visitor enters to the time they exit the doors must be a flawless experience complete with smiling, knowledgeable staff.
  • Up-to-Date School Website- features photos of children (with parental approval) in real learning situations; teachers personal websites are easy to find, read and interact with; and any feature of the school that is unique is showcased throughout the look and feel of the website.
  • Uplifting Social Media Profiles- positive chatter about the school, high and consistent engagement with the community, and showcases the “X Factor” of the school.
  • Prideful Staff Apparel- team centered feel with school logo, colors, mascot, and/or slogan front and center.
  • Engaged Community Partnerships- funding and/or supply donations are provided in turn for a supportive, appreciative relationship that on every occasion is the school’s best effort to bring the community in.
  • Constant Parent Participation- parents are visible within the school, spoken to by name, and show ownership in the school operations as necessary to help bridge the home-school gap.

2. When its time to hire, get a plan.

You cannot simply put a post on the district website announcing an open position at your school. That takes minimal effort and will return minimal results. Since you have been marketing your school thus far, you don’t have to go into panic mode and suddenly start begging people to spread the word, throwing up haphazard social media posts, and telling staff to recommend strangers on the street they meet over the weekend.

  • Decide Who and What you Want- it’s more than an open employment position. Consider the culture of your school, the needs of your students, the data trends of upcoming grade levels, testing requirements, as well as content knowledge and proficiency.
  • Create a Hiring Team- pull together a team that has a variety of perspectives to help establish expectations around the areas decided upon above so that when hiring begins, candidates who match the agreed upon description are hired in an efficient manner. Suggestions of team members could be: parents, classroom teachers, support staff, and admin.
  • Develop a Hiring Plan- decide how you can measure the characteristics you are seeking in a candidate and design experiences it make it glaringly apparent whether a candidate is a fit or not. An interview is the start, but is not the end to a hiring decision. You want to see a person in action. If they are being hired in an instructional role, watch them instruct. If they are being hired in a leadership role, watch them lead. Candidates can nail an interview and still not get the job due to a thorough hiring process that revealed misalignment to school goals and vision.
    • Interview– Create a list of questions that you will use with every candidate. This ensures you do not make “fuzzy” emotional decisions, but have the facts to back it up. You cannot compare apples and oranges so use the same measurement tool and process each and every time (regardless if you know the person, have experience working with them in the past, or they come highly recommended). Take copious notes to help jog your memory during hiring staff debrief at the end of the hiring event.
    • Demo Lesson/Task– Watch the candidate in the element they are applying for. Having a potential teacher teach 10-20 minutes in a class of real students is telling. The same for a leadership role with helping a team of staff complete a task. Provide parameters so candidates can be successful but also allow for creativity and personalization so they can shine.
    • Data Analysis– If data is a huge part of what you do to move the needle point in student achievement, you need to screen for proficiency now. Provide a set of fake student data with corresponding questions relating to teaching approach, differentiation strategies, communication to student and parents, etc. It’s not about a “right” answer, but about a logical, evidence based approach to improve student learning.
    • School Tour– Remember you are always on display and marketing your school. Get parents or students involved by walking around candidates and showcasing what makes the school great. Just as you are choosing a candidate, they are choosing you too.
    • Hiring Team Debrief– After each candidate has completed each phase of the interview process (and you can build in more options than what is listed above), gather together as a hiring team to discuss pros and cons of each candidate. Start with immediate “not a good fit” candidates, followed by “strong” candidates. These quick Yes/No piles will make the process more efficient. The borderline candidates will take more time, but if you have a robust pile of “strong” candidates you may not need to dive into the borderline pile! This conversation helps keep your team aligned on the school mission and finding the perfect match. Differing perspectives push you to think about the whole candidate and how they performed in each part of the hiring process.

3. Act quickly to hire.

Just because you found a good candidate to hire, doesn’t mean they will be available when you are ready to pull the trigger. If they are strong, act quickly. If they are good but require some additional support to be great, hire quickly. You don’t want to miss out on building your successful school tribe because you waited too long to make a decision.

4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.

Follow-up with every candidate letting them know next steps. Draft email templates with your hiring team for the three piles of candidates you discussed- not a good fit (“thank you for your time, but we are pursuing other candidates”), borderline (“thank you for your time, we will be in touch as we finalize hiring decisions”), and strong (“thank you for your time, we are honored to offer you a position”). It would be even better if you could appoint a hiring staff member to provide feedback to candidates, especially the “not a good fit” group so that they can address their own weaknesses and not repeat mistakes at their next interview. You are an educator who cares about ALL children, and this person will be in front of kids whether at your school or not… so look out for the future!

5. Show gratitude.

Celebrate your hiring staff in a personalized way. Let them know you appreciate their help and insight and specifically let them know how they were an asset to the team. They won’t forget this gesture and will be sure to go above and beyond for the school going forward.

6. Make new staff feel welcome.

Upon hire, put together a swag bag for the candidate so they can immediately dress the part- pens, stationary, t-shirt, keychain etc. Introduce them to staff they have not met (grade level team, support staff, other admin members, etc). Partner this new staff member up with an experienced one who can answer any and all questions. Your marketing efforts continue so make sure you put your best foot forward to build this relationship because happy staff do wonders for your school’s word-of-mouth reputation.

7. Reward staff for exceeding expectations.

Personal and public praise help set the tone for what is expected of staff. To ensure you continue to cultivate talent, you have to raise the bar of your current staff. This will alleviate you having to hire year after year and invest in people who will just walk out in a year or two. Retention is everything.

[spp-tweet tweet=”People work hard when they know the expectation and they are rewarded for going above it.”]

As you can see, there are a lot of moving pieces to achieve and maintain a successful staff and school. When you plan for excellence, you can achieve excellence. No one reached new highs without effort and a clear pathway to get there. Hiring is more than just finding intelligent, capable human beings to perform a job. Hiring the right person takes time and intention.

[spp-tweet tweet=”Being intentional in every decision you make is critical to the success of your mission.”]

This post was written in hopes it helps school leaders get out of the trap of hiring often and support jobless educators with perspective and insight into the hiring process. Now that readers are more aware of a strong hiring strategy, schools around the nation can be successful so that all students can achieve their potential and produce an even brighter future.

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About the author, Gretchen

I am an educator, passionate about cultivating talent in aspiring and new teachers through practical tips and strategies. My blog, book, and podcast are geared towards empowering teachers to enter the profession and stay there due to the advice and encouragement I provide. We have a real need in our nation for strong leaders in classrooms, and I believe its my calling and duty to coach teachers to achieve and maintain best teaching practices in order to drive the growth and success of our students in and outside the classroom.