School Culture and Composition
School leaders wear many hats and perform countless jobs. However, hiring the faculty that will serve our schools is the most important job we have. The decisions we make during the hiring process will impact the lives of our students and influence our school culture for years – a hefty challenge for any school leader that comes with its own unique complications. We look for excellent teachers who: 1) bring added value to your community, 2) adapt well to new environments, 3) is a global citizen, 4) has cultural competence, 5) is positive, and 6) will complement our multicultural faculty.
How do we ensure we recruit and hire the teachers our students need and deserve? This question weighed heavily on my mind when I became Superintendent and Head of School during the middle of the pandemic at the American School of Brasília (EAB). The 2020 pandemic forced us to develop a new approach to recruitment, interviewing and to overhaul our entire hiring process to ensure all new teachers contribute to our culture. This is how we did it.
Who do we Want and Need?
As a first step, our leadership team collaborated to develop a list of characteristics we wanted new faculty to have to complement and support our school during this unique time. It was a healthy exercise to think about what our future needs are and to be specific about the kind of teacher that we wanted to infuse into our community, and we came up with characteristics that we hadn’t really focused on during the recruitment process. We decided that high-caliber international teachers were not enough. We knew we wanted teachers with a great sense of humor, who were positive, who genuinely enjoyed partnering with parents, who were committed to DEI, and who were empathetic to what all children experienced over the last two years of the pandemic. You know…just a small wish list!
If you build it, they will come – or will they? We knew that only looking for teachers who fit a profile wasn’t enough. We needed to be intentional in attracting this type of teacher. Our next step was to structure our recruitment by marketing our school in a way that would attract the applicants that we wanted. We did this by creating a new recruitment video that highlighted everything our great city has to offer and by targeting the type of applicants we wanted.
From here, we advertised on our traditional platforms as well as some new platforms. We developed a partnership with The Diversity Collaborative (ISS), who were helpful to ensure we had access to candidates that fit our demanding criteria and reflected our student body.
Back to the Drawing Board
We then re-designed our entire interview process and placed a heavy emphasis on our first interview so it became an “anchor” for our hiring process. Candidates for the first round were selected the old-fashioned way (e.g., considering their experience, education, and recommendations in recruitment databases), however, the first interview was untraditional. Instead of asking about teaching and learning, we asked questions rooted in behavioral psychology and linked their answers to the profile of a “new teacher” we designed as a leadership team. Our goal was discern their values and whether they aligned with ours, and learn if this person was someone we would want to have in our community for years to come. For example, we asked some scenario questions related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in this interview, and I was surprised by the number of candidates that we eliminated based on the attitudes they displayed while answering these questions. One profound lesson learned during this process was that many of these individuals would have moved on to a second pedagogical interview using a traditional interview cycle… at our school! However, unbeknownst to us, we would have experienced countless challenges due to a misalignment in values.
Working Smarter, Not Harder
We intentionally flipped our recruitment model on its head. Instead of conducting reference checks later in the process, we completed them after the first screening interview. Our new hiring process became more rigorous than before and we knew that we did not want to waste anyone’s time in a lengthy interview process to find out from the references that they would not be a good fit. It is important to acknowledge that after spending three or four hours with a candidate in multiple interviews, you can develop a positive bias toward that candidate that will sometimes dilute the feedback from references.
It cannot be overstated how critical it is not to only rely on reference checklists or reference letters. We have established a protocol at our school in which all references must be contacted via zoom or phone call because we believe referees will be more honest when face-to-face or over the phone. This up-front investment pays dividends and can save you from making some critical hiring mistakes.
Long Term Retention
In our new hiring model, we are intentional about long-term retention. We do our best to ensure that the experience of transitioning into our school community is a positive, supportive process that sets our staff up for success. This year, our team has designed a robust new faculty cohort support plan that includes monthly Zoom meetings which focus on different topics including housing, human resources, health insurance, policy, curriculum, etc. We are trialing this before new teachers even arrive in Brazil rather than doing this during orientation so that our new hire can focus on acclimating to their new city and school.
We have also designed a mentorship program for our new cohort that includes a professional mentor and a social mentor. Mentorship begins before faculty arrive and lasts through the first year of employment, with a goal of supporting teachers to hit the ground running and reach new heights during the first year.
This hiring model is experimental, and we are testing its efficacy to determine if it will suffice for the long-term. It may or not work for us and we will need time to regularly evaluate. However, it has certainly caused us to think about our own recruitment process, and hopefully it has done the same for you. While time-consuming, it has also been a lot of fun! Those first interviews were not only equally important as our pedagogical interviews, but they were intriguing and filled with laughter. I now feel like I know our incoming teachers on a level that I haven’t felt previously. I looked forward to these interviews, and I’m looking forward to doing it all again in October.