Monday, December 15, 2008
Most Likely to Succeed
I just finished reading, "Most Likely to Succeed" by Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker. Gladwell's underlying question, "How do we hire when we can't tell who's right for the job?" caught my attention because as an instructional coach I sit on the school's interview team, I assist new hires both in and out of the classroom, and I am responsible for the more formal Teacher Induction Program. I also observe regularly in classrooms across the building. I have often reflected on a teacher's interview and on their performance in the actual classroom. I've been right about some of my predictions and far off on others. So, what characteristics do you look for as you hire and what do you do if the teacher doesn't live up to your expectations? Also, how do you know that you are not overlooking a stellar teacher because they don't have the best interview or the highest test scores or grades?
In the article, Gladwell points out,
"With enough data, it is possible to identify who the very good teachers are and who the very poor teachers are. What's more--and this is the finding that galvanized the educational world--the difference between good teachers and poor teachers turns out to be vast." He continues, "Eric Hanuskek, an economist at Stanford, estimates that the students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year's worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half's worth of material. That difference amounts to a year's worth of learning in a single year."
So, it boils down to the teacher, not the class size or other variables, which is no surprise to me. But it brings me back to Gladwell's question--How can we predict, sitting at the interview table, which teachers will turn out to be successful? Gladwell states, "No one knows what a person with potential to be a great teacher looks like." That is hard for me to grasp or accept, because each year we are asked to do just that. In fact with the rigidity of the educational hierarchy, we have to be stellar predictors so our students don't end up paying a very high price. The article points out that a teacher's degrees, grades, and test scores don't make a difference in predicting success. So, if Gladwell is right, where does that leave us?
Let's look at what Gladwell says we do know. We know what a good teacher looks like when we observe in their classroom. They have students who are engaged and active. They have classroom control without being rigid. They have the ability to ask the right questions, listen attentively to the student's response, and give the student immediate individualized feedback. They have teacher withitness. So, how do we predict, at the interview table, which candidates will hold these qualities inside a classroom with a group of 25 students? Gladwell, says quite simply--we don't with any level of certainty.
Ideally, in my opinion, we would hire candidates who complete an internship in our school. Who we've had an extended time to see plan and deliver instruction. Some who works well with teammates, embraces feedback, and who we see as a hungry learner and avid reader. But, when we don't get this luxury and we are sitting at an interview table trying to select the next great teacher what do we use to predict their future success? I'd love to hear your thoughts.