Focus: Personnel Management

Using a Group Process in Teacher Hiring

by THOMAS A. KERSTEN

Sometimes the act of juggling too many balls by school system leaders bumps the hiring process down the laundry list of key duties. Some school districts postpone their teacher hiring to late spring or even summer, by which time the most outstanding candidates no longer are in the marketplace.

During 11 years as a suburban district superintendent, I’ve seen teacher selection processes based on gut reaction and little more. How often have you heard principals comment after interviewing someone, “I liked that candidate”? Overreliance on intuition can contribute to the selection of less-than-effective staff.

Thomas KerstenThomas A. Kersten



I always was surprised how often colleagues selected teachers simply because they were employed as instructional assistants or substitute teachers in the school district. Others offered contracts following only a brief interview with an administrator or two. What amazed me the most, though, was when a mediocre or even a dismissed untenured teacher from our district was hired by another area school district without even a reference call to us.

Concurring Picks
As our administrative team discussed our teacher selection process, we asked ourselves how we could best improve how we hired new faculty. What resulted was a more comprehensive model that, although not foolproof, did increase our number of strong hires.

One of our most important initial decisions was committing to work together as a collaborative team throughout the teacher hiring process. We agreed that each administrator, exclusive of our business manager, would be required to sign off on any candidate prior to hiring. This meant every administrator — all nine of us — had to participate in at least one part of the process and concur in the decision to employ the candidate. It also meant that, should the need arise at a later time to transfer a teacher from one school to another, our administrators already had granted their support, even if the transfer occurs years later.

If a single administrator said “no” to any candidate anywhere throughout the process, the candidate was eliminated from further consideration. We may have missed hiring a few top-notch teachers, but we also substantially reduced our hiring mistakes.

Five-Step Process
Our interview process begins in January following extensive statewide recruiting. Each administrator participates in at least one of the following steps.

•  Step 1: Initial screening interview. The assistant superintendent or I conduct brief screenings with a large group of candidates, typically at least 30. Our purpose at this point is to identify all those who are broadly qualified for individual interviews. We focus on whether the person’s personality and breadth of knowledge are a potential fit for our district.

•  Step 2: Team screening interviews. Following the initial screening interviews, a team of at least two administrators (including the principal with the vacancy), conduct 15- to 20-minute interviews to narrow the candidate list. We purposely limited the length of the interview knowing we can make an initial judgment in a relatively short time, which enables us to screen a larger pool of candidates.

•  Step 3: Follow-up team interviews. After we reduce the candidate pool to those with the greatest potential, we schedule a detailed interview to probe the candidates’ depth of understanding of children, curricula, best practices and issues in the field. Teams of two or three administrators conduct in-depth interviews with between four to eight semifinalists. At this stage, we primarily want to develop as complete a picture of each candidate as possible.

During this stage, administrative team members also conduct thorough reference checks to factor this information into the decision-making process. This step usually yields one or two finalists, each showing the potential to be an asset to our faculty.

•  Step 4: Demonstration of teaching skills.Over the years, we had selected several teachers who we thought would be great employees but ultimately proved disappointing. We later realized these candidates were adept interviewers and could talk a good game without classroom performance skills that matched. To improve our selection, we add an important step — demonstration teaching.

The finalists, typically one or two for each teaching vacancy, are asked to teach a demonstration lesson at the grade level or in the subject area in which they are applying. We give them the chance to meet with a classroom teacher and continue with the regular lesson or to use a relevant lesson of their choosing.

We purposely avoid observing the finalists in their current districts to ensure observations in neutral settings. If the opening is filled during the summer, we use a summer school class, even if the lesson has to be a stand-alone. The only time we aren’t able to require a demonstration lesson is in mid-July through August.

During the teaching demonstration, a team of administrators conduct preobservation and postobservation conferences with the candidates. These parallel the classroom observation component of our teacher evaluation process. These observations allow us to probe the candidates’ understanding of best practices in the field as well as their depth of knowledge. We also gauge the candidates’ self-reflection skills.

Most importantly, we evaluate not only what they choose to teach but how they approach instruction, relate to students and interact with administrators. We don’t expect a truly outstanding lesson in this high-pressure situation, but hope to see a solid demonstration of their teaching skills.

These sessions provide extremely valuable insights into the candidates’ natural teaching talent as well as their ability to relate with students. We often discover the sample lesson provides the critical factor in hiring.

•  Step 5: Final hiring decision. After completing all the steps, the administrative team, as a group, evaluates the final candidates. In most instances, the principal with the vacancy will make the final call, usually in collaboration with central-office administrators.

Thomas Kersten, a former superintendent, is associate professor of educational leadership at Roosevelt University in Schaumburg, Ill. E-mail: tkersten@roosevelt.edu