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Getting Our House in Order: Creating an Effective Hiring Environment

By Kenya J. Washington
Getting Our House in Order: Creating an Effective Hiring Environment

Do You Know What You’re Looking For?

As a school community, resting on one’s strong reputation can be un faux confort or a false comfort of leadership when engaging in the hiring process. “Of course they [new candidates] would want to work for us! We have top IB scores and university acceptances, world-class faculty, and unmatched diversity and internationalism at the forefront!” This may be true but with these buzz phrases boasting of excellence, is there room for internal reflection and honest conversations about school culture and improvement? If a potential hire were to ask the current faculty/staff about the culture and morale of our school, what would they say? Would it hinder or support the hiring efforts and processes?

On the candidate’s end, it is their responsibility to search and research prospective schools of interest to help ensure they understand more succinctly the school and roles to which they are applying to, beyond what is stated in the job description. However, do institutions, themselves, not have a responsibility to also review and think about what is happening in their own school communities that could potentially draw in or push away new hires? In short, to the management hiring teams, are your [school] houses in order? 

As administrators, how often might we consider our current hiring practices, systems of support once a hire is made, and more proactively, the environment we help shape among our faculty and staff, also known as morale? If a candidate were to apply to our institutions tomorrow, how would we describe these areas as a true reflection of our current status as a school?

Time To Tidy Up?

As a school leadership team, we strive to have our institutional environments reflect what we believe our new candidates should possess. Ideally, if there are areas of improvement to be made in our school community, perhaps, we look for candidates who can “complete the puzzle” or improve upon areas we lack as a school community. Below are some areas to consider not just during the hiring season but proactively, as well.

  • Accessibility and Accuracy of Information Prior to Interviews

As an ongoing practice, we know it is ideal to ensure that critical information about our school (data, documents, website) is current. Accredited schools are used to doing self-studies /self-assessments which help support this practice. But, if you are in a school where turnover is frequent and job responsibilities change, perhaps due to a change in leadership, then this is a key area that can sometimes get less attention than deserved. For example, can a candidate find your teaching and learning policy without going through five different clicks or tabs on the website? We want to avoid candidates asking for the school’s policy due to a lack of accessibility. Ideally, we want candidates to refer to the teaching and learning policy already accessible on our website, and then converse with the hiring team as part of a richer hiring process. Accessibility can aid in the hiring process.

  • Transparency During the Hiring Interviews

How often have we come across teachers over the years who, once hired, state, “I didn’t know this would be a part of my job/role!” Sometimes this is unavoidable no matter how direct we are about roles and responsibilities in the hiring process. But this comment does happen often, nonetheless. As leaders, we continue to be transparent about the role but perhaps we need to go beyond what is on the job description and discuss more specifically the role in the context of the school culture and the challenges associated with it. Sometimes it’s okay to be vulnerable in that regard, as new hires can see this as an opportunity to highlight their best assets in supporting our schools.  

Perhaps there are areas that need improvement in the school’s culture, teaching pedagogy, etc. and this is a significant area you are hoping a new hire can support or fulfill. Maybe you need to hire someone who can support the implementation of a new curriculum or curriculum strand. Maybe you’re looking for a school counselor who can address mental health in a different way to fit the changing needs of your community. Although these may be noted in the job posting, it is often helpful to be explicit and direct on these during the interview(s). 

  • An Inclusive Role Representation in Interview Processes

Having constituents representing various roles in your school helps to solidify buy-in from the school community at large when it comes to new hires. This may mostly be the case in school communities where transiency is not as common. However, I would make a case that if the core principles and vision of a school are consistent, then having individual roles represented during interviews as a regular hiring practice can be as effective in school communities with high transiency. Imagine you were hiring for a new Humanities position and included not only the head of school/ principal, but also the vice principal or assistant head of a division, the team lead of the Humanities department, and a member of your curriculum team. The level of buy-in you are likely to have has just been increased three-fold more than if you were to go at it alone with just one other constituent. In my experience, this panel-style way of hiring is becoming an increasingly popular and effective way to hire. This is achievable and effective as long as those on the panel are clear about their role in the interview process, as well as in the understanding of how the decision to hire said candidate is made. 

Some more progressive ways of hiring may also include adding the director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice, a member from your parents’ association team, and/or a student representative from your Student Council. Again, in such instances, roles and expectations must be made clear early on. Why might this be useful? As a leader you won’t always have all the lenses for a more holistic hiring process, nor should you be expected to. No one is an expert in everything. I believe the lens we are most comfortable leading/hiring in can oftentimes be narrowing when making key decisions. Where possible, it’s best to include others to cast a wider net of understanding the potential of our candidates! 

Where Do We Go from Here? The Power of Effective Surveying

In my experience and in conversations with colleagues around the world, at a healthy institution constituents are heard and experiences are valued. Administrations have an ongoing pulse on school culture. So how might we, as leaders, “get a pulse” on our constituents that rings true and authentic?

Consider implementing community surveys twice per academic year. Are our constituents happy? When engaging in meaningful and thoughtful survey processes, what we are really getting down to is the nature of human behavior, experiences, and interaction in a particular setting (Greeley, A.). But it's not just about giving a google form survey to constituents to complete and say, “I’ve done it!” on the checklist of things to do. Surveys need monitoring and analysis.

In my experience, surveys can be quite effective in the school context when they include thoughtful questions that get at the heart of what it is you wish to learn more about as a leadership team, and are designed in alignment with the school’s vision, mission, and strategic planning. Surveys should not be centered around one individual but rather the role the individual holds and how that role is carried out in meeting or not meeting the needs of the school community. It is also a great way to pierce into the heart of the institution on perceptions around teaching practices, professionalism, how individuals feel about the mission statement, and if or how it is carried out within the school culture. 

In short, transparency regarding role expectations throughout the hiring process, creating an inclusive panel for interviews, and utilizing a robust survey that captures the current state of a school can all help to boost morale among current faculty/staff and draw in and retain a stronger pool of new hires. This preemptive work can be the groundwork, a precursor to sustainable hiring practices. After all, it's not always about finding the right people; if we as leaders create the right environment then we will draw the right people into our organizations (Sinek, Simon).


Importance of Surveys in the Education Sector

Harvard Business School/School Management and Leadership.

Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe
Sinek, Simon: TED Talks

Kenya Washington, USA, has over 15 years of Secondary school experience at the United Nations International School, N.Y. Her experience derives from Administration and Leadership, Student Support Services and Mental Health Counseling, combined. She has also presented at the roundtable and IBO presentations in the area of Social Emotional Learning and Considerations for IB Diploma Candidates.

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