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. Check Spelling

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.


Mrs.Mallon & Mrs. Dillard said...

I think that, when possible, using a teacher's recommendation who already works at a school is a great indicator as to the caliber of learning leader that the new hire will be. If you know the recommending teacher and value his/her teaching style and opinion, then you know he/she is putting his/her reputation on the line for the candidate. MM

dayle timmons said...

This is such a great question. Besides that "feeling" that get during an interview about if a teacher is right or not, I wonder if there are questions that you can ask that really get to the heart of if a teacher has that "with-it-ness" that makes such a difference. I certainly agree that it's not the credentials that matter - in our school it's about the teacher as a learner and a collaborator and a hard worker. Those are the things I'm looking for but I'd sure like to know what some of the best questions might be.

Suzanne said...

What a great point! Many of our new hires do come from a CCE teacher recommendations and we really do trust their judgement. We also know that the new hire will be supported by the teacher making the recommendation and having that support makes all the difference.

Suzanne said...
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Yvonne Ferguson said...

This question happens to be foremost in my mind as a principal this week since we just hired a Kindergarten teacher and are in the process of interviewing for a fifth grade teacher. One key piece for me was conducting more than one interview. The first interviews I did alone to "screen" for the candidates that seemed to potentially be the best match for our learning commmunity and the K position being vacated. The second interview we conducted was with a team of faculty members which included a Kindergarten teacher. It was interesting for me to listen to the questions being responded to a second time and the follow-up questions that the interviewing team asked (many of which were much tougher than what I would have used!). I was also able to observe since I was not asking the questions during the second interview. Collegiality, professionalism, a learning stance, and what the candidate chose to do to prepare between the two interviews were observable characteristics that made the selection of our Kindergarten teacher from among the candidates crystal clear. In fact, at the end of the team interview, everyone had selected the same candidate as #1 by a long shot! There is one thing that I would like to incorporate into the selection process in the future and that is an instructional demo. For example, we could have had each final candidate prepare and teach a K Readers Workshop during the course of a week. This would give the interview team a clearer picture of not only each candidate's professionalism, but their orientation towards children (relationships!), delivering rigorous and relevant instruction, and familiarity with standards-based teaching and learning practices. So, the quest for great teachers continues!

Suzanne said...

It is a GREAT idea to add the component of teaching because the way teachers interact with kids is SUCH an important aspect. You know, when I moved to PA and applied for a teaching position, I went through 5 interviews. First, was a screening of two principals, then another screening of two principals, third screening with the superintendent, fourth was teaching a lesson in front of a team of ten, and then the last team interview. It was a GREAT process, but the best part was by far the lesson!

dayle timmons said...

Teaching a lesson is interesting to me but so many applicants are not familiar with the Readers' Workshop model when they interview. It doesn't necessarily mean that they won't be great teachers. It just means that they haven't had that particular training. The other problem I see would be that so much of the hiring is done in the summer months and it wouldn't exactly be fair if some applicants taught a lesson and others didn't, so I guess the questions is, how would you overcome these obstacles?