I HAVE YET
to meet an administrator who would challenge the expression “Hiring good people is the most important thing we do.” I also have yet to meet a principal who completed graduate-level coursework addressing innovative hiring practices.
For those of us who did not, I’ve discovered that important personnel hiring decisions are routinely based on scattered learning opportunities, often lacking coordination or in-depth focus. Seldom is comprehensive professional development in personnel practices made available to practicing school leaders. Mostly, administrators receive just-in-time coaching when they are faced with terminating someone who perhaps should not have been hired in the first place.
View these circumstances another way: Some of the most-wanting preparation school administrators receive guides decisions that will impact students and two-thirds of a district’s budget for years to come. While many contend “experience is the best teacher,” how is it acceptable that some of most significant decisions school leaders make should come via “hand-me-down” experiences from others who received the same minimalist training?
In my new home state of Arizona, where I teach graduate courses to fledgling administrators, a broad study still underway has found only a scant 4 percent of principals report receiving meaningful graduate training on hiring practices. In all, 60 percent say they received no preparation or at best an occasional mention of staff hiring. Some 77 percent strongly agreed or very strongly agreed that a working knowledge of effective hiring practices is an important skill for administrators. Only 5 percent believed the just-in-time coaching approach offered appropriate training.
The diminishing candidate pool adds to the challenge. In parts of Arizona, school districts already struggle at times to secure a single applicant for a teaching position.
Reducing teacher training requirements may artificially expand short-term numbers. However, it also threatens to dilute candidate qualifications at a time when we need stronger educators with adaptable teaching skills and innovative practices. The search for capable, change-friendly professionals will dictate a new normal where teacher preparation uncertainties necessitate far greater skill on the part of discerning school administrators who are selecting tomorrow’s workforce.
Graduate programs in school administration are gridlocked by national standards and accreditation expectations. This need will not hit their radars until practitioners amplify demands for training programs that better address hiring skills. For now, hiring ought to be owned by district-level leaders and viewed by all as the essential first step in “how we do things here.” Investing in this mentality is a must.
In the meantime, district-level administrators can act to address this need.
Become an advocate for improved training and innovative hiring practices at home and across the profession. Fifteen years ago, I attempted to team up with fellow area superintendents for a one-day summer training session led by a recognized authority on personnel hiring. There was zero interest. Survey results today suggest principals overwhelmingly recognize hiring is an area that demands greater attention.
Invite your governing board to share in your vision by supporting comprehensive professional development that supports hiring practices. Build policy around an inclusive systemwide dialogue on meeting classroom and organizational needs. Dare to move beyond the legalese of policy concerned primarily with forms and deadlines.
Get to know candidates better as we did at my former school district in the upper Midwest by interviewing fewer people. Quality screening including “cold calls” to administrative candidates greatly increased our efficiency. The element of surprise enabled an effective seven-question dialogue to help us acquire a strong sense of who could handle the job. The remaining process truly was an exercise in picking our best fit.
We also included an unstructured conversation with a second team immediately following the formal interview before a building tour facilitated by counseling and secretarial staff. Each step established a better feel for candidates interested in joining our 5,000-student district and contributed toward making hiring the most important thing we did.
a former superintendent, is an associate professor of educational leadership at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Ariz. Twitter: @TomHugh34300405