Interview alternatives for education

Couple teaching high school in Africa

Finding employees isn’t easy.

You sort through resumes, applications, transcripts, and recommendations to pick people to interview.

You pull together teams, brainstorm questions, devise rubrics.

Then you interview, choose, offer the job.

And after all that work, the person you choose may still be  a dud.

Jason Freeman , the humbledMBA, recently shared an alternative that works better in his entrepreneurial business, 42Floors.  Freeman basically has candidates to do a project as independent contractor. He uses projects that are clear-cut, have defined deliverables, and can be done in a few weeks of part-time work. He pays people for their work whether he hires them or not. Although Freeman doesn’t say so, I suspect that his projects are things he would like to have done but that are not a top priority at the moment.

Bill Burkhead, @northeagles,  asked his Twitter followers if any ideas  in the post could be translated to schools.

At Plymouth North High School in Plymouth, MA, where Bill is assistant principal, whenever it’s feasible teacher candidates are asked to teach a class as part of the interview process. One of my first thoughts would be to look for ways to give a sense of the candidate’s teaching skills in situations where teaching a class isn’t possible. Following Freeman’s model, I’d look for activities that the school needs done but cannot presently spare staff to do. I’ve also tried to think of projects that could use technology to free both staff and candidates from having to be tied to a particular location for long blocks of time.

One possibility is to give teacher candidates DVDs of some teachers from the school and ask for feedback. The feedback might be written/oral/videotaped or some combination. A candidate with experience might be asked to provide feedback for a relatively inexperienced teacher, for example. A candidate applying for a first teaching job might be asked to provide feedback on the work of an experienced teacher.  It may be possible to involve the candidate with the administrator in discussing the class with the teacher so all parties could get a sense of whether the candidate is a good fit for that particular school setting.

Another possibility which could be done when school is not in session would be to ask candidates to find  samples of some curriculum materials they would recommend  to supplement those currently used for a particular purpose that is relevant to the job opening. Those might be lesson plans, videos, rubrics, websites, software applications, etc.  If faculty will need those materials the following year, the candidate’s work will have some utility for the school, even if the candidate isn’t hired.

A third possibility would be to have a candidate tutor a student or small group of students online via chat or some other medium that can be archived for administrative review.

A fourth possibility would be to use candidates as evaluators for student projects, providing feedback as an independent outsider.

The idea behind the projects is not only to see what the candidate can do, but to assess how well the candidate fits into the school culture. They aren’t a substitute for seeing someone in a classroom, but they might provide some insights in situations where a classroom demonstration is not possible.

Photo credit: “Teaching High School, Africa” by Mexikids
[removed broken link 04-02-2014]

Superintendent interview panels meet

This afternoon was the meeting for panelists on teams to interview candidates for the superintendent’s job at Bainbridge-Guilford Central School District.

DCMO BOCES Superintendent William Tammaro began the session by telling us the BG board is interviewing six candidates this week, so we will not have information about the three finalists until next week.

Tammaro also said that he was instructed by the BG board to look for candidates that would come with the intent of staying five to 15 years. He said all six of the people the board is interviewing would come with the expectation of staying five or more years.

Tammaro gave us each packets of information that included a copy of the brochure used to recruit candidates for the job, which, as I reported earlier,  was not available from the school’s website or the BOCES website last week.

The advance memo about the meeting said we’d be given information on questioning techniques. What Tammaro provided was a standard list of questions that are illegal to ask during an interview, which can be downloaded from dozens of places on the web. A couple of people on the panel with me might have been helped by some general suggestions about formulating interview questions.

He said each panel would have “about an hour” to interview candidates. He suggested we leave 10 minutes for a candidate to ask questions. He said he recommended we have 20 questions to fill the rest of the time. All candidates are to be asked the same initial questions, though follow-up questions can vary.

After each candidate interview, each of the five interview panels (teachers, support staff, students, administrative committee, and community members) is to draft an immediate report to the board of education. Although Tammaro did not say so, the report form says the reaction is to  be unanimous. If it is not, a minority report can be attached to the majority report.

Each panel is to present its report in the form of a two-item questionnaire:

  1. What strengths do you believe this candidate has with regard to the Superintendency in Bainbridge-Guilford?
  2. To what extent do you see this candidate “fitting in” to the Superintendent’s position in Bainbridge-Guilford?

The panel of community members is scheduled to meet with candidates from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., and the report must be delivered to the board by 6 p.m. That 30-minute time frame does not permit a particularly thoughtful response, even if the questions were designed to elicit one.

Asking only about a candidate’s strengths strikes me as potentially dangerous.  A candidate may have several strengths that are canceled by serious weaknesses.

Moreover, I’m not sure that “fitting in” is what I want in a school leader. I don’t want someone who is going to make a religion of doing things differently. On the other hand, I don’t want a superintendent to fit in so well she or he disappears in the crowd.

Followers fit in.

People with low expectations fit in.

Superficial thinkers fit in.

Educators who don’t keep on learning fit in.

Administrators who don’t rock the boat fit in.

And folks who bring more than two dozen people to a two-hour meeting to do a handful of tasks that could have been accomplished online in a few minutes fit in best of all.