Friday, June 19, 2009

The Equity Project and its Rigorous Qualifications for Prospective Teacher Hires

Earlier this week I wrapped up this year's hiring process for the 2009-10 school year. Once again I'm reminded how important it is to hire the best available teachers not only to make an impact on the school and the students but also to reduce the number of teachers I need to hire next year at this time. Because the hiring process (reading resumes and applications, scheduling interviews, interviewing, checking references and observing applicants in the classroom) takes an incredible amount of time. Therefore, screening, interviewing and hiring correctly becomes crucial. Some of the best interviewing advice and techniques I've seen, I learned from a former Upper School Head of mine. Also, Todd Whitaker's Six Types of Teachers provides some great strategies for recruiting and hiring the best possible teachers.

As I mentioned in the last blog post, The Equity Project will be staffing its school with what it considers the best group of teachers money can buy. The Equity Project puts its money where its mouth is by paying its teachers $125,000 annually. This statement begs the question, "How does one find a teacher worthy of $125,000 per year?" Let's look at The Equity Project's answer.

The Equity Project believes the key to a successful school hinges on having the best teachers in the classrooms. To find the best teachers, by TEP standards, The Equity Project launched a national search. To be considered for a position with The Equity Project, teachers had to meet the following "Rigorous Qualifications." The text below in italics came directly from the TEP website. My comments follow the italicized sections below.

(1) Expert Subject-Area Knowledge demonstrated through

  • (a) undergraduate and/or graduate coursework and excellent grades in the relevant subject area
  • (b) an original piece of writing on any topic in the subject-area
  • (c) a written analysis of a pedagogical issue related to the subject area

Item a makes a great deal of sense to me. I received a number of applications from candidates this year who had Cs, Ds, Fs and Ws (withdraw) on their transcript in their subject area. Needless to say, those candidates probably still are looking for a job. I love the idea of items b and c. These at least partially demonstrate the extent to which a teacher has pondered and considered a topic or issue in his/her subject area. I want thinkers on my team.

(2) Teaching Expertise and Experience demonstrated through

  • (a) the submission of TWO of the following three items
  • (i) an unedited video clip of a lesson, accompanied by a written narrative that analyzes and reflects upon the teaching and learning that occurs in the lesson
  • (ii)a portfolio of student work that demonstrates the progress of 2 specific students, accompanied by a written narrative that analyzes the progress that each student demonstrates
  • (iii) assessment data for at least one entire class of students accompanied by a written narrative that provides background on the assessments and analyzes the data
    (b) the submission of one additional piece of evidence of any form demonstrating student learning
  • (c) an essay describing personal pedagogical beliefs and approach
  • (d) a day-long teaching audition (either in the candidate’s classroom or in a TEP classroom)
While I see some value in all of the items above, I have mixed feelings about items a(i) and d. I once felt strongly about the importance of items like these. However, after exchanging ideas with a number of former heads of school and division heads and after reflecting on some teachers I observed then hired, I tend to believe now thorough reference checks may be more valid than a prepared dog-and-pony-show. I like item c because it can be used to evaluate writing prowess and can serve as a focal point of intense conversation. Items a(ii), a(iii) and b are great because those would give me an accurate glimpse of what actually happens in the applicants' classroom throughout the year.

(3) Strong Curriculum Development Ability demonstrated through

  • (a) one originally developed and refined curricular tool of any form (e.g. written materials, instructional methodology, technological innovation)
One of the clearest signals for me that I'm interviewing a good to great teacher is when the candidate says he/she didn't like what the book provided so he/she created his/her own assessment, assignment, project, etc. We need teachers who aren't dependent on textbook companies for ideas, who can think independently and who are creative.

(4) Outstanding Verbal Ability demonstrated through

  • (a) the quality of the written work submitted in the application
  • (b) communication skills demonstrated in the day-long teaching audition

When I receive poorly written cover letters I usually dismiss the entire submission. I believe item (a) carries a great deal of weight. Item (b), as I already stated, is a mixed bag for me. I certainly would be in favor of observing a candidate in his/her own environment as opposed to an audition in my school. Of course my students will behave perfectly and get into a lesson if there is a guest teacher being observed by a host of administrators. In the candidate's own classroom, however, a keen observer should be able to discern to what extent the teacher is conducting business as usual or is putting on a show. The reality of this idea, however, lies in the issue of what administrator at another school would allow one of the school's best teachers to be observed by another school hoping to cherrypick that teacher.

All italicized text above taken from The Equity Project page on Rigorous Qualifications.

While the Rigorous Qualifications for The Equity Project may or may not line up exactly with the hiring process you use in your school, it does provide educational leaders with a nice framework for the hiring process. One certainly could do worse than using the TEP Rigorous Qualifications as a model for hiring teachers. It certainly has given me some ideas about raising the bar for applicants next year.

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