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Why Does It Matter How We Select and Hire Teachers?

A few thoughts on the recruiting process by Stronge & Associates Educational Consulting, LLC
By Xianxuan Xu

The primary task of human resource management is simple: to choose the right person for the right job. This is especially important in education because the success of a school is determined to a large extent by the effectiveness of its teacher, leader, and staff workforce. If we focus specifically on teachers, the notion that teachers make a significant impact on student learning has been empirically validated by numerous studies and widely accepted by educational policy makers and practitioners, as well as by the general public. Thus, it is safe to say: effective teachers = student success (Stronge 2010). Leaders at international schools continuously engage in recruitment efforts to fill vacancies resulting from teacher retirement, turnover, or school expansion. Through quality recruitment and selection, effective school leaders address vacancies as a growth opportunity to put new, high-caliber teachers in classrooms. Simply stated, the purpose of recruitment is to provide an adequate quantity of quality applicants. Recruitment is not hiring; rather, it is making available the right mix of a rich and diverse set of effective applicants to be considered for hiring. Unfortunately, when recruitment runs short and results in inadequate quality choices, schools address teaching vacancies with undesirable options—hiring individuals who are insufficiently prepared to teach, increasing class sizes with currently available teachers, cancelling classes, using short-term substitutes, or assigning teachers from other fields (Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas 2016). These solutions undermine the quality of teaching and learning. The good news is that effective recruitment mitigates the negative effects of teacher shortages and creates a more sustainable supply of well-prepared, quality teachers. An essential question to ponder in seeking to ensure effective recruitment is: What are the best supply sources of teachers? The pool of candidates can originate from within or outside the organization/community. Today, many school leaders tap into online hiring tools to reach a larger teacher audience. Job fairs are an important source of job candidates. And, of course, self-applying (i.e., “walk-in” applicants) and referrals by existing employees remain a large and viable source for teacher applicants. However, a keen note of caution is in order here: All teacher applicants are not equal (a fact we well know), and neither are all teacher preparation programs or all other teacher sources. Given growing hiring needs, in conjunction with the variability in teacher recruitment sources, the fundamental question to ask is: How do I find, sort, and select quality teacher applicants? Unfortunately, research findings, to date, provide us with only partial answers, as the evidence regarding effectiveness of the major teacher sources is limited and mixed. For instance, we cannot assume a job fair is more effective in generating a quality candidate pool simply because it is more expensive or it is 1,000 miles away. Yet, it is important not to hire only local applicants, as we need rich, diverse applicants in order to have a rich, diverse teaching force. We simply need to cast a broad net to yield the all-important adequate quantity of quality applicants. One fundamental issue is that, no matter the source of teacher applicants, the pivotal step is to select the right people from the applicant pool. It is important—essential, in fact—to select teachers based squarely on valid, research-based teacher quality standards in a systematic and consistent manner. Locating and acquiring what we believe to be a quality applicant pool is not sufficient; rather, how we discern, sort, and select from among the available applicants is the deciding factor for onboarding talented teachers. Thus, having and using a research-guided, field-tested, standards-based, and systematic teacher select protocol matters. A lot. • What strategies do we use for screening the applicants to determine which are best qualified and most promising? • How do we mine applicant credentials to identify the distinguishing features we value in effective teachers? • Do we use structured, experiential-based interview protocols? • Is there a performance component (e.g., demonstration lesson) included? • When and how do we solicit reference information? Does the reference process truly provide valuable, differentiating, and job-relevant information, or is it merely a function where all applicants appear to be wonderful? All these factors impact the quality of hiring. And without this type of comprehensive teacher selection system, we are merely guessing at who is quality and who is not. Effective teaching is an elusive concept. Empirical research indicates that readily observable characteristics such as degree, certification status, or years of experience account for only a minimal part of the variation in teacher quality (Aaronson, Barrow, & Sander, 2007; Rivkin, Hanushek, & Kain 2005). The majority of teachers’ effects on student achievement are associated with aspects of quality that defy easy measurement, such as dispositions, beliefs, and classroom practices. Additionally, teacher effectiveness is a multi-faceted concept, incorporating all aspects from personality to professional knowledge to technical skills (Stronge 2007 & 2018). The difficulty in identifying effective teachers during the hiring process is further compounded if the process is not conducted in a valid or reliable manner. For instance, administrators may have favorite interview questions. They may rely heavily, if not totally, on a single, short interview. They may hold different opinions with regard to what constitutes teacher effectiveness and, oftentimes, such perceptions are not guided by a solid synthesis of the available research. It is incumbent upon us to identify and fix these flaws in hiring the best teachers. If we want success in hiring quality teacher applicants, it is of supreme importance to identify the qualities that really matter in an educator’s effectiveness and purposefully look for those qualities during the hiring process. How we hire leads to who we hire, and this is why teacher recruitment and teacher selection matter greatly.

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