My learning began with Professor Richard Kimbell of Goldsmiths University of London whose work is around capturing really good learning experiences from the classroom in portfolios and then enabling those portfolios to be assessed with a high degree of reliability. The highly valid and interesting work that goes on in classrooms is difficult to assess reliably. He uses digital portfolios, assessed by groups of teachers using the simple question, "Which one is better?" He cites Dylan Wiliam (1998) who asserted that "...most summative assessments were interpreted not with respect to criteria (which are ambiguous) ...but rather by reference to a shared construct of quality that exists in well defined communities of practice." This concept was called "connoisseurship" by Michael Polanyi in 1958. Kimbell concluded that:
Another highlight was meeting Dr. Lonnie Johnson. Dr. Johnson is a former Air Force and NASA engineer who invented the massively popular Super Soaker water gun. He reminded the audience to believe and have confidence in our students. Technology will bring solutions he said, and made sure that although ultimately successful, the super soaker took eight years and a lot of false starts along the way. He has since been developing the Johnson Thermoelectric Energy Converter (JTEC), an engine that converts heat directly into electricity.
Dr. Johnson truly embodies a growth mindset and his message was unbelievably inspiring.
It was a pleasure to represent the Mineola School District along with Nicole Culella (PK-12 Instructional Leader) at this internationally attended event where we learned along side of passionate educators and had the opportunity to share our work as we presented a session entitled "Threading and Embedding Engineering Design Thinking PK-12." Our session was well attended and received by a packed room of educators representing schools from Maryland, Georgia, Utah, New York, North Carolina, Illinois and China.
As our presentation concluded, we networked with other educators and took away several key points.
There are fews things that educational leaders do that are more important than hiring the right teachers. That is why we need to constantly revisit the construct that we use and determine whether, in the short amount of time that we have with each person, are we yielding the best results. Our superintendent reminds us that the process of hiring and developing a new teacher is like a "marraige;" we want to make sure that we are "with" the right person, and will continue with them for the long term. So... how do we do that?
Our traditional process was already collaborative as teachers and administrators work together to cull through the resumes that we receive and choose the candidates for interviews whose resumes and cover letters stand out. We look at certification, well-written and articulate cover letters (without spelling or grammatical errors), experience (student teaching or professional), and skills that match our needs. For me, the number of pages of the resume does not matter, but rather the content within it.
When we bring the candidates in, we ask questions, require a writing sample (in math we have them solve a difficult problem) and then move some on for demonstration lessons. Finally, our superintendent meets with our short list of candidates and recommends the successful candidate to our Board of Education for hiring.
While there are many great questions to ask prospective teachers, the lists can be extensive (below are some that we use). Furthermore, candidates' answers are often filled with educational jargon and without careful follow-up, can lead interviewers to believe that a concept is known, when in fact only the term is. In otherwords, the answers lack depth of knowledge.
What's New? Changing the paradigm.... A Quadrilateral Approach.
We have been developing the Four Cs (creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication) as a pillar of our instruction at the high school. While this notion is not new, if "modern" (we are 18 years into the 21st century) education is ever going to make a difference in the lives of students, teachers must be able to do this work in classrooms every day. How do we see this before we hire?
Enter the group interview. The construct of this new paradigm starts with bringing teacher candidates into our interview process in groups. For the first hour of the interview, we have them work on a task (a multiday lesson plan) in groups.
For our English interviews, we provided all candidates with a copy of "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin and asked them to read it in advance of the interview date. When they arrived, they arrived as a group and we handed them the task to complete. We place them in groups... and let them go.
Task: You have an 11th grade integrated class including students with IEPs as well as English Language Learners. Using "The Story of an Hour," construct a two day lesson plan that includes the following:
We (the committee of teachers and administrators) observe them working and take notes using a list of "look-fors." We then have them share out their lessons along with the rationale. During the next hour, we have them complete their writing sample while we meet with each one individually beginning with a new question, "What did you think of the process?" Their answers are telling in many ways. Sometimes, they coincide with how they worked with their group. Sometimes they don't. For example, several candidates told us that they would have participated more but did not want to dominate the conversation or "step on anyone's toes." Almost all of them told us that they enjoyed the process of working with others and knew that it would be a big part of their job if they were the successful candidate. They could see right away that we value collaboration and teamwork.
Including the group dynamic has been a game changer for us. It has uncovered the Four Cs and allowed us to push our thinking beyond the Q & A. This quadrilateral approach allows us to examine four aspects: interview, writing sample, group activity, and demonstration lesson. By doing so, we can see that all quadrilaterals have four sides, but each side can be different and create a very different shape. And, not all shapes match our school and district needs.
Sample Interview Questions:
Whittney Smith, Ed.D.
Dr. Smith is the Principal of Mineola High School in Garden City Park, NY. He is also an Adjunct Professor in the Ruth Ammon School of Education at Adelphi University.