04/09/2020 by Carney Sandoe Staff |

Greenwich Academy Talks Virtual Hiring

In order to help inform the independent school community as they work to meet their hiring needs, we are sharing recent experiences from schools who have adjusted their hiring processes to fit the virtual space.

Greenwich Academy (CT) is a Pre-K through Grade 12 day school for girls. When classes resumed remotely after the school's spring break, the hiring team adjusted some of their practices to adapt to a remote setting. We chatted with Mark Feiner, GA's Associate Head of School, who has been guiding the school's hiring process as they continue to engage candidates remotely.

How has your hiring process changed?

By necessity, we began by narrowing down who is involved. The group of people managing a search for an open position is now much smaller. I normally handle the preliminary interview; the next round usually involves just the department chair, the Associate Dean of Faculty, and sometimes the division head, where appropriate. While we’d love to keep the whole department involved, it just isn’t practical. We will offer a candidate the opportunity to talk to departments members or other team members if they want, but those conversations are not part of the formal interview and hiring process for now.

It's been easier than usual to get in touch with candidates' references (everyone is home!), so where we can we're calling one or two more references than we normally would.

In terms of things like a campus tour, maybe in the long haul we'll have students create videos for us to use. For now, we’ve just eliminated that.

How are sample or demo lessons handled? What alternatives to a normal in-person demo lesson are you exploring?

We originally thought we might have to change the structure of the demo lesson now that they have to be done virtually. My first instinct was that we should just have candidates teach or share something to our small group of adults involved in hiring. My colleagues, though, pushed me to get folks in front of kids, and I’m glad they did. So, we decided to see how candidates handle these new circumstances and just run with things the best we could.

It has been challenging, for sure, but also really valuable. The kids aren't as talkative on Zoom, but that also gives the candidate the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to engage and connect. You always learn more about someone by how they interact with the students than from the actual content of the lesson, and that’s even more true now. So far, we've done a lesson with an art teacher candidate, as well as a few for a science position. In the case of the science candidates, our department chair sent the candidates the topics the class was learning that week and the candidate prepared their own slides and presented to the kids using Zoom. The lesson was about 30-40 minutes long. All in all, nothing has changed dramatically other than this being done online.

The one thing I want to add to this process is to have a debrief with the candidate after the lesson. Typically, this would take place towards the end of a candidate's on-campus visit. Moving forward, I am going to be proactive in scheduling this specific conversation with a candidate.

What are you doing to give candidates an authentic impression of the school community and a sense of its feel? How can you ensure fit – for both your school and the candidate?

We definitely haven't solved this yet. We think we can do a pretty good job of determining assessing how a candidate will add to the GA community, but it's tougher for the candidate to figure out if it’s a place they’ll feel comfortable. In this new virtual environment, more is lost on the candidate side. The other day, I said to a candidate, “I regret that you can't come to campus.” The campus visit makes them feel really good – they get a sense from a well-organized visit day, they see the graciousness of our students and faculty, they experience the palpable energy in our halls. I can say all those things to a candidate, but they need to feel it.

To help with this, we are actively trying to project who we are as fully as we can. We talk about our values more. We share more clear anecdotes to illustrate who we are. We’ve offered candidates the chance to talk to students. For a fellow position we were working on, we connected a candidate to other newer teachers at our school so they could talk. We might be repeating ourselves, but since candidates aren’t getting the chance to see GA for themselves, emphasizing who we are and what matters to us as a community requires some repetition.

What advice do you have for schools who are starting to evaluate and adjust their own hiring process?

Really, really, convey who you are. Convey who you are starting with the initial interview. I have found that initial interviews are going longer than normal because I'm spending a lot more time talking about our school. Knowing that a person won't be visiting our campus, I am intentionally creating a sense of our school at this early stage so it builds as a candidate moves through the hiring process.

I am also asking values-based questions and raising topics to evoke character, personality, and perspective earlier in the process. “What are some key relationships or circumstances that have made you who you are?” “Discuss a time you failed and how that shaped you.” “Who are the people you turn to for help?” I’m asking questions like those, that may not be directly related to teaching, earlier in the interview process.

Any advice for job seekers?

Practice with the technology you will be using either for an interview or for a demo lesson. We have really been able to see the range of tech skills our candidates have in this new environment.

At the same time – and this applies specifically to a demo lesson – don't be too focused on the technology. The connection to the kids is paramount. We’ve seen candidates just talk to the screen and forget that there are kids inside those little windows. For us, we look at that ability to connect before we look at the content of the lesson. Even though you're not physically in the same room as them, don't forget to engage with them.

These examples are meant to give schools and job seekers a frame of reference for virtual hiring. Practices and procedures may vary from school to school.

Does your school have experience in virtual hiring? Let us know in the comments!

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