08/09/2019 by Carney Sandoe Staff | Education News and Trends
New Research on Making the Match in Hiring!
We recently picked up on new book, “Where Teachers Thrive,” by Harvard education professor Susan Moore Johnson, and were thrilled to see that the opening chapter focuses on “Making the Match in Hiring.” As Johnson puts it, “Done well, hiring can open the way for a school to succeed in its primary responsibility of educating students. But Johnson also makes it clear that the foundation of every great school is not just the quality of the teachers but also the match between teacher and school. She describes the process as a “mutual selection process between prospective teacher and a school.”
There are all kinds of excellent teachers. They vary in knowledge and interests, practices, and experiences. Schools, too, vary in how they educate children. So when a teacher leaves a school or a school expands its program, the school shouldn’t just pick another teacher quickly from the shelf of quality teachers. Teachers are not widgets. The fit between teacher and school matters a great deal. This is especially true in independent schools where mission, tradition, and philosophy shape so much of the learning and culture. But it’s also true in charter and public schools. In fact, Johnson makes it clear through her research — The Project on the Next Generation of Teachers — that schools are wise to not just pick new teachers who, on paper, seem “best” (i.e., teachers with the highest SAT scores). Other assets matter as much or more — including subject matter expertise, understanding how children learn, and experience implementing a specific curriculum or pedagogical approach. But even then, the “best” teacher is not just the one with the highest skill set but also the one who feels most closely aligned with the school on numerous levels.
Johnson’s research makes clear that “credentials such as degrees, licenses, and test scores can inform selection, but they never tell the whole story.” She and her team engaged in research in 12 schools that enroll students from low-income and high-poverty urban communities. Among the findings is the importance of states and school districts decentralizing much of the hiring process so schools can hire teachers who best fit their needs and philosophies. In a school-based hiring process, for instance, a school can recruit and select teachers who are qualified for specific, rather than generic, positions — say, “a teacher who focuses on current issues in politics and government rather than one generally prepared to teach social studies, or a teacher trained in progressive pedagogy rather than direct instruction.”
For independent schools, the lessons here are lessons that have long been at the heart of our work at CS&A. We work hard to not only identify a diverse group of talented teachers, administrators, and coaches with a deep interest in the education of children; we also work hard to make a philosophical and pedagogical match between teacher or administrator and school. In other words, we help both teacher and school make the wisest hiring decision for both parties.
For teachers, the job search should never just be about finding a position quickly and saying yes. In fact, a prospective teacher should be nervous if a school doesn’t have an in-depth hiring process. Before accepting a position, a prospective teacher should clearly understand a school’s mission, it’s approach to curriculum and instruction, and the type of students it enrolls. A teacher should be clear about any extracurricular work expected — be it through advising, coaching, or overseeing student clubs. It helps, too, to know how teachers work together as a full faculty and in divisions and departments, as well as how a school approaches teacher professional development. Pay matters, too. So does location. So do other organizational matters such as diversity and community engagement.
For schools, of course, it’s important that the process never be hasty. To make the right match, schools want every new teacher to come in understanding the school’s mission as well as its strengths and needs. They want every new teacher to have a very clear understanding of the curriculum, traditions, and routines. Because this is a two-way process, successful schools not only want every new teacher to know who their colleagues will be, they also want departments to know the incoming teacher well — especially how he or she will fit in and complement the department’s existing strengths.
What Johnson’s research ultimately reveals is that schools are always better off when they develop a set of best practices for hiring. We were particularly interested in the research on charter schools because charters, like independent school, have essential autonomy in hiring teachers. And here the research reveals that attentive principals viewed hiring as a “powerful lever for [school] improvement.” They not only paid close attention to what applicants might offer students and fellow teachers, they also wanted the selected teacher to have a strong chance at succeeding in the school and contributing to the school’s improvement.
As Johnson puts it, the charters that hired successfully “looked for a candidate’s match with their school’s mission, core practices, professional norms, pedagogy, and expectations for collaboration and development.” To find such candidates, Johnson notes, schools also had to commit substantial resources to the process of recruiting and screening a strong, diverse pool of candidates and arranging for school visits where candidates can see the school in action and talk with administrators and teachers. In many cases, the school also required a demonstration of teaching followed by a debriefing.
When schools take the time and steps to recruit well, everyone wins — the school, the teacher, and the students. And while the process can be labor intensive at times, schools also know that when they hire well, teachers tend to stay longer, which means less need to hire, which in turn leads to an increasingly strong faculty. In other words, a place where teachers thrive.
All of this is, in a nutshell, is at the core of our work at CS&A. We strive always to make a great match between teacher and school, just as we strive to make a right match between heads, other leaders and administrators, and their schools. We’ve known this for years, of course, but it’s always reassuring to see it reflected in the latest research.
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