professional man and woman looking at one anotherTeacher selection is a process. You review applications, write interview items, and train your interview team to collect information to make an informed hiring decision. In selecting a new hire, you consider your students’ needs, listen to and evaluate applicants’ responses, and leverage hiring research to make informed decisions. You also have to equip yourself with research-to-practice tips and strategies to discern the best teacher applicant. 

Consider this scenario: A principal knew she would need to hire a teacher because two of her teachers were finalists for the same position in a neighboring school system closer to their homes. Both teachers were good, but one was magical with students. In the end, the principal wondered why the “good” teacher was hired over the “amazing” teacher. 

Promote Your School

The four facets of an effective interview are: past behavior questions, a behaviorally anchored rubric, note-taking space, and a structured interview. Recruiting quality teachers is an ongoing process that begins with the need and continues through the interview. While the school system’s human resources (HR) department takes the lead, there are ways you can make working at your school attractive to applicants. In this scenario, both applicants already knew about the school, since they lived in the area.

A positive, informative, and accessible digital presence communicates what the school or school district prioritizes. Examine your school system’s website and locate the position posting for your school. Is the website oriented for job seekers so that the job description, list of what is needed to complete the online job application, benefits information, and links to information about the community and schools are readily accessible? Do an online search for your school to determine what the search results reveal. Look at what is being said about the school in social media, and then provide feedback to your HR department.

When it comes to applicant interviews, think about how the interview provides an opportunity for you to recruit a top teacher. Are interactions leading up to the interview with the applicant positive and informative? Is the interview site welcoming? Is there at least one teacher with similar responsibilities serving on the interview panel? Are interviewees given a tour of the school so they can envision themselves working there? Then, consider following up with applicants using a simple email that might say, “Thank you for sharing more about your professional experiences. If you have any questions, please contact (the HR director or similar person).” These small efforts help build a positive relationship.

Making Adjustments

You can improve the quality of information you get from applicants in just 10 minutes with a quick review of your interview protocol. First, look at the job description and determine key topic areas (e.g., assessment, planning, instruction, learning environment, supportive relationships with students), and then align your questions to those areas. Often, interviews are heavy on classroom management questions and light on assessment/student-growth measures. The interviewee can answer only the questions posed to them, so be sure to add items to get the information you need. Then, if needed, spend five minutes rewriting how you ask the questions. Items that cue the applicant to talk about past experiences are predictive of future performance. Wording that starts with a simple stem can make an opinion or hypothetical question into a past behavior item. Stems include: 

  • Tell me about a time when …
  • Explain how you have …
  • Share with me an experience where you …
  • Give us an example of when you …
  • Describe how you … 

In the example given above, if the “amazing” and “good” teachers responded to past behavior questions in detail, the probability is high that the examples given by the “amazing” teacher would have distinguished that applicant from the other finalist. Responses to past behavior items often include an explanation of the situation, task, action, and results. 

Consider how you might ask potential teacher candidates if they would fit in with a school’s emphasis to promote independent choice reading. One way to phrase the question would be: “What are ways to encourage secondary students to read?” In answering this question, applicants could list items they read, heard about, or did. However, what the school really wants to know is how the teacher created conditions to increase student reading. Another way of phrasing the question gets to the heart of the matter: “Describe to us how you have cultivated student choice reading to support student learning.” This cues the applicant to talk about past experiences. 

Create Effective Ways to Chart a Response

Consider creating a four-level rubric that charts two levels of effective responses (e.g., exemplary, proficient) and two levels of ineffective responses (e.g., growth area, unsatisfactory) to create a common way to evaluate a response from a teacher you’re interviewing. Studies have found that when interviewers could choose whether or not to take notes during interviews, they recalled more about the applicants than if they were instructed to take notes. Finally, use a structured interview that ensures all applicants for the same position are asked the same series of questions. It is fine to ask a follow-up probe to clarify a response. While it may take several hours to build a protocol, it’s time well spent when it leads to a more valid and reliable interview.

Team Training

A national study found that only 27 percent of U.S. principals had ever been trained in conducting fair, legal, and effective interviews. As the leader of the school and the interview team, take care to train your panel. Be sure to include training on confidentiality, interview format, what questions are legal and not legal to ask, and how the input of the interview team will be considered in making the hiring recommendation. 

Leave Room for Discussion and Decision Making

Triangulating all the information collected during the interview process matters, from the application form to reference listings. Discuss the interview responses. One strategy involves having the interview team write down the names of their two bottom candidates—usually narrowed to one if both were not on the bottom of everyone’s list. Then the discussion can focus on the top candidates. Be sure to contact the references of your top selection. 

So, why was the “amazing” teacher passed over? Most likely, the amazing teacher did not make a good first impression, and the questions did not cue her to talk about what she did with students. According to the principal, the “amazing” teacher got nervous with adults and was incredible with high school students. The other candidate was impeccably dressed, articulate, and an effective teacher. In this case, the current principal was never called for a reference on her two teachers. That’s why it’s especially important to use interviewing research to go beyond first impressions to truly learn about your candidates.

Jennifer Hindman, PhD, is an education consultant and author of Effective Teacher Interviews, published by ASCD.