The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 16
Jennifer Gonzalez, host
Jennifer Gonzalez: This is Jennifer Gonzalez welcoming you to episode 16 of the Cult of Pedagogy podcast. In this episode, five school administrators give you tips on how to knock it out of the park at your next teaching job interview.
Gonzalez: A few months ago, I got an email from a reader who was anticipating interview season this spring. She wanted to know if I had any advice that could help her do her best when interviewing for a teaching position. Now I have been hired as a teacher several times, but I have never really been the one doing the hiring, so I thought I would seek out some administrators who could share their perspectives. In this episode, I talk to five experienced administrators who have hired a lot of teachers in their years of service: Chris Nordmann, Penny Sturtevant, Herbert O’Neil, George Couros, and Joe Collins each spoke to me through Skype about the things teachers say and do in interviews that really make a difference when it comes time to hire. Their advice is interesting, it’s thoughtful, and it should really help prospective teachers put their best foot forward in their upcoming interviews.
Before I play the interviews I want to take a minute to share some exciting news of my own. A few weeks ago, I released my first full-length book, The Teacher’s Guide to Tech, and so far it’s selling well and getting really excellent reviews. The book takes over 100 different tech tools and groups them into categories, helping you understand exactly what tools work together, what alternatives are out there, how they work, and how you can use them in the classroom, all in plain, simple, non-technical language. Now, this is not a book you’ll find on Amazon, because I created it as a digital binder – a 210-page PDF designed to live on all your devices – home computer, laptops, even tablets and smartphones. I made it this way because it’s completely loaded with external links – links to each tool’s website, to videos that show the tools in use, and to other helpful resources. Plus, the table of contents and index are all clickable, so you can bounce around the book super fast. I worked my butt off on it, I’m really proud of it, and I really think it can be life-changing, not just for teachers who are uncomfortable with technology, but also to help those who are comfortable with it to up their game. To learn more about the book, go to teachersguidetotech.com.
Now, let’s listen to some great interview advice.
Interview 1: Chris Nordmann
Our first administrator is Chris Nordmann, Academic Dean at the Kaleidoscope Charter School in Otsego, Minnesota. I started off asking Chris for some general tips for interviewees.
Chris Nordmann: You know the first thing is to be prepared. Make sure that you know where the school is so that you’re not arriving late. For me, I always need to be early. So that first impression always shows quite a bit about who you are. I say dress well. Make sure that when you arrive for an interview, make sure you shake hands with everybody in the room. Most importantly, smile. I think a lot of times that’s something that’s overlooked. It really goes a long way. Tells a lot about your personality and the type of person that, type of person that you are.
Gonzalez: Yeah, definitely, and I think when people get nervous they probably do forget about that.
Nordmann: Right, right, yeah.
Gonzalez: So what are some of the– What are some of the qualities that you’re looking for?
Nordmann: Well in our building it’s very important that teachers are team players. You know, if something needs to be done that they’re not locked in and that they’re, you know, unwilling to be flexible because you…right now we have three sections with each grade. There are times when a teacher is out sick and it’s difficult right now to find substitutes. And so being able to take on additional kids until a sub can get there or however you can support your colleagues, that’s something that we’re looking for, as well as—you know, with a new hire, just their willingness to continue learning. What are they doing to better themselves? How can they inspire others around them, students and staff, to improve themselves as well?
Gonzalez: One of the questions I asked Chris was if there might be certain flaws or problems with a candidate that he might be willing to overlook and here’s what he said:
Nordmann: Lack of experience is something– You have a lot of people come in to interviews who don’t have that experience. Some of that you’re willing to overlook because everybody needs that start. Everybody needs that first opportunity to really show what they can do. So for somebody who is a team player, somebody who we know will fit with the culture of our school, the climate of our school, you kind of have to overlook some of those things.
Also somebody who values what other people do within the building. For example, we had someone who was talking about, you know, a lunch lady was gone and they went back and served lunch for the day. Somebody who was willing to go above and beyond to do something outside of their responsibility for the good of the school. I think that’s– If somebody has those things, I can overlook some experience.
Gonzalez: Right, that’s good to know because I’m sure somebody who’s going into a brand-new situation is probably nervous about that.
Nordmann: Right, absolutely. Sure.
Gonzalez: So what about – What in your memory of interviews that you’ve given that somebody either did or said in the interview where you thought “Definitely, this is our person.” What made really a strong impression?
Nordmann: Something that made a strong impression was, we had a candidate come in who was kind of on the same level as everybody else, but then they were talking about an assignment that was kind of spur of the moment. They were on a field trip, and the field trip really lacked engagement from the students at the site. So just kind of off the cuff the candidate decided to give the students an assignment and it was something that–the students responded well to it.
It was actually a selfie assignment. So the assignment was to get the best selfie at the event. It happened to be the Festival of Nations. So students were going around and taking selfies of themselves and other people. What it did was really reach the students at their level because all of the students have their phones or iPods. And if a student didn’t have one, they were asked to be in a picture with somebody else. So they basically were documenting that entire experience through the eyes of their students. It was something that easily that teacher could have said, “Hey, have a great time. Make sure you learn something.” But instead they were taking—they were speaking with the vendors there, the people from different cultures. Then they were asking to take a picture. And when those pictures got emailed to the teacher, they could ask about where certain pictures were taken. The students were able to tell the story about where that person was from, what they learned. It was just a phenomenal experience for the students and really something that was done spur of the moment and it was just—It added so much value to that field trip and to the students’ learning. Then they were able to reflect on it when they came back. So I thought that was something that was an incredible, kind of spur of the moment deal.
Gonzalez: That does seem like a typical question for people to expect in a job interview. They’ll want a– you’ll want to hear about a successful lesson that they taught.
Nordmann: Right, absolutely. Or maybe something that didn’t go so well and how they were able to reflect on it and make improvements for the next time.
Gonzalez: Good, good. So those two questions, just from being an interviewer and an interviewee, people should definitely – especially if someone’s never really been at these types of interviews – people should expect questions about specific situations, maybe successes and failures in their own experience.
Nordmann: Sure. As well as weaknesses and strengths, yeah.
Gonzalez: Right, okay. So what about deal breakers? Has anyone ever said anything in an interview where you thought it was pretty much going okay, then they said this one thing and you thought “No way.”
Nordmann: Well for me the deal breaker is when people speak poorly about former colleagues or former schools. You know it’s one of those things that you need to be able to–even if you don’t agree with somebody on everything– you need to be able to be professional and you know, support your students. And if you’re speaking poorly about colleagues or administration or staff or just about your school in general, that really doesn’t bode well for you. It’s something where you may agree to disagree on something but I don’t think you should ever bad-mouth a school. It’s something that gave you experience and can kind of shape you into the person that you are.
Gonzalez: That’s excellent advice because I’m sure, especially if someone is leaving a position, they’re probably going to be asked something about “Why are you leaving your current position?” or “Tell me about your last position.”
Nordmann: Right, absolutely.
Gonzalez: Everything they say about that will say something about them professionally.
Nordmann: Right. Yeah, without a doubt.
Gonzalez: Right. Thank you for that. Okay, so is there anything else? Any other tips that you think people should know going into a job interview?
Nordmann: I think that going in, just being confident, and part of that is you need to know, you need to know the setting that you’re going into. You need to do some research on the school. You need to know what they stand for, some of the things that they do, programs. Have some of those things in your back pocket so that you can ask intelligent questions and show them that you’re truly invested and interested in the position, not just going through the motions of an interview.
Gonzalez: That’s actually something that I didn’t mention to you in the email, but it’s something– I think it’s an opportunity that many people miss out on in an interview. Many interviews will end with “Do you have any questions for us?”
Gonzalez: I know a lot of people just say “Well, no” or whatever. To me it seems like that’s another part of the interview. That’s actually a question for you to have an answer.
Nordmann: Right. You know I actually–I saw a video of a man who went in for an interview and his favorite question to ask is “Is there any reason why you would not hire me?”
Gonzalez: Oh gosh!
Nordmann: That’s a very risky move.
Nordmann: But it also–His rationale was that it provides the person giving the interview to say, “Well, you know you don’t have this experience in this market” or whatever it happens to be and then he’s able to explain it. It really—So if there’s anything that’s seen as a negative, he’s able to– He can turn that into a positive.
Nordmann: I don’t suggest it necessarily, but…
Gonzalez: I guess the person would have to have a pretty good feel for the room.
Nordmann: Yeah, that’s pretty aggressive.
Gonzalez: But it would be a good time to demonstrate some knowledge about new programs or new initiatives that the school has taken on.
Nordmann: Right, and I tell you what that question would definitely set you apart from everyone else.
Gonzalez: No kidding!
Nordmann: One way or another, right?
Interview 2: Penny Sturtevant
Gonzalez: The next administrator is Penny Sturtevant, who has been in education for 28 years and is now in her 4th year as Principal at Big Walnut Middle School in Sunbury, Ohio.
If you had to pin down the most important quality in a candidate to hire for a teaching position, what would that be? You can actually say more than one if there’s a combination. Obviously there’s more than one.
Sturtevant: Okay, and certainly I’m sitting in a middle school seat, but a major part of my career was high school. But I think at any level–The core thing that I want to look for is what drives that applicant. And for me the drive, you know whether that’s a student-centered or a content-centered, I’m truly looking for that student-centered drive. The force behind this as a profession, as a way of life is that they want to reach out and touch the student, and each student. And so I’m looking for that drive.
Gonzalez: Are there things that you think that interviewees think they’re supposed to be narrowing in on or demonstrating that ultimately really doesn’t matter too much, that they don’t really need to worry about?
Sturtevant: Particularly new, trying to break in the field, I think they’re thinking, “I gotta go in there and show them I know everything, that I can do this and I can hang with the best and most experienced,” and the truth is we know you’re new. We’re not looking to see that you know everything. We’re looking to see that you’re pliable, you’re open, you’re willing to collaborate and be a piece. So I think they can relax and say – It’s okay to say, “You know, I’m not an expert in that.” And give that honest response. Take that off your weight that you have to be the expert.
Gonzalez: Fantastic, thank you. I think that’s really important to know. I think it will take a lot of the nerves away from those newer candidates. Can you just think back to people you have hired–Can you recall a time in an interview when things were going pretty well, but then they said something and you just knew right away after they said that that this was going to be your person?
Sturtevant: I don’t recall anyone in particular, but I do recall some different moments. I think one thing that impresses me when a candidate comes in to an interview is that they show the initiative to know our district. They’ve shown the initiative to know our school, and maybe just something about our community. That they felt it was important enough that they spent, invested their time to go and find out, and maybe even know a little bit about who’s interviewing them if they have that opportunity. You can’t always get that information.
Gonzalez: Right, right.
Sturtevant: I think there’s two opportunities in an interview that you have and that is your entrance and your exit. So those are memorable moments I have when someone enters the room and not to overpressure them on that, but I think walking in and making that initial greeting — If someone stands up, shaking their hand, making eye contact. Sometimes when you walk in I know I might be busy putting stuff away from the interview prior and that might not always happen, but that patience to wait and then make that greeting. Or when you leave, that “Thank you very much for this opportunity.” Those are just two times when you can hone in on “I’m invested in making you see me.”
And then I had a more experienced interview that came to mind. This may not help the new person, but if someone’s maybe re-entering the workforce or looking to change positions, a statement that stuck with me recently– They talked about the enthusiasm they were bringing that a beginner would bring, but they had that experience of someone who had been in the field. And I thought that was a great line, that I’m getting the best of both worlds, experience and newbie enthusiasm in one person. So if that fits anyone’s bill, I’d take that to the table, because I thought, wow, that’s not something everybody can do.
Gonzalez: I always thought that was an advantage, really.
Sturtevant: Right. They’re feeling it’s the beast in the room and it might actually be the asset.
Gonzalez: I love the way you put that. So if somebody’s doing this as a second career, they should try to capitalize on that and not try to set it aside as sort of..
Gonzalez: …hide or downplay it…
Sturtevant: Yeah. Bring the attributes out.
Gonzalez: That’s great advice. So what are some of the common mistakes that interviewees make?
Sturtevant: They talk too much. We go through a lot of interviews sometimes to find our people. We’ve probably heard most things you have to say in a philosophical stance. I think when you can bring your point to the table–and you don’t have to be short and cut people off, be willing to elaborate–but sometimes maybe you should wait to be asked to elaborate because I think we can ramble, especially if you don’t know something you’ll ramble way too long or think if I just put it all out there I’ll eventually hit a point.
So I would encourage them to pause, think their response, speak their response and not worry about having a vast majority. Short interviews sometimes are the best. I got what I needed.
Gonzalez: That’s interesting. Would it be a good idea for interviewees to ask ahead of time “How much time have you set aside for this interview?” so that they can be sort of keeping an eye on the clock also?
Sturtevant: That’s not a bad suggestion. I think that’s good and maybe they could do it in a way of saying “You know, I know your time is valuable, so I don’t impose on that, how much time will we be speaking today?” Sometimes you put that out there in the beginning.
Gonzalez: Okay. It seems like if I was sitting down in an interview and I didn’t know that you all had set aside forty five minutes versus fifteen minutes, it kind of helps you to gauge your own responses a little bit.
Sturtevant: I like that advice for me as the person interviewing. I think that is good too.
Gonzalez: Okay anything else? Any other things that you’ve seen people do where you think this is a no-no. They shouldn’t be saying this or talking about that or whatever.
Sturtevant: Never bad-mouth. Never–even if you had a bad experience in your student teaching. Know you can say, there are things I didn’t get in my student teaching that I think would have been helpful, but you know, I think you always want to stay positive. Don’t go negative on a district you’ve been in or people you’ve been with. Take those negatives and put them into a positive of “It wasn’t the greatest experience, but what I learned from that is…” or “In spite of that experience, I love the profession.” So always stay positive.
Gonzalez: Great. Great advice. Okay, final tips for people going into interviews.
Sturtevant: Be who you are, because you don’t want the position not to be for you. You want to fit on your side as well or you’re going to be miserable in the job too. I know they’re still looking for a job, so that’s easy for me to say when I have a job. Openness, willingness to learn, and then I think, make yourself unique. You may not think about what makes you unique, think outside education. It could be something as simple as “I’m a runner and I would love to bring running club to the kids.” “I have traveled the world.” Or–I have one staff member who knows American Sign Language so she started an American Sign Language club. If you’ve had extra work in reading or gifted or anything like that, when you leave there’s more to the package than “Hey I’m just hiring a Language Arts teacher.” I’m hiring a Language Arts teacher who can bring mock trial in or who has this interest and that will really help reach our kids who maybe aren’t involved in school. So if you can bring something unique to the conversation, even outside the realm of education, that leaves a little reminder. “Oh yeah, that was the applicant who liked to bike.”
Gonzalez: Oh, yeah.
Sturtevant: I think that is a foot up on other people sometimes. It makes you human, beyond just the educator.
Interview 3: Herbert O’Neil
Gonzalez: Next I talked with Herbert O’Neil, who is the Director of Academics for Lifeschool in Dallas, TX, where he supports principals and curriculum coordinators, but has experience as a principal at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
I guess if we could just start with some Do’s. What are some things that in your experience have made a really strong, positive impression on you in interviews?
O’Neil: I don’t think that I have the answer or I know the right thing. These are things that I think that I like when I see. So I want to be, you know, I want to make sure that I’m clear about that. There are many ways to skin a cat, but if you step into my office, things that I look for, that I get excited about, I get excited about someone who’s confident and I can tell that they’re confident and that they want to work there. And they show that. They walk in the building and this is somewhere that they want to be. Just as I’m looking for them, I want them to be looking to come and work there. Generally I can tell that in the interview and of course I’ve got to be able to tell that they enjoy being around children. I always tell people that I can tell really quickly if someone doesn’t care about children because that’s the most important thing to me.
You’ve got to be confident because I want to know that you’ll be comfortable with the kids. You’ll be able to deal with whatever they bring. Of course we’ll help you and support you, but we want to make sure that you can be confident enough to be the leader of the class. We share responsibilities in the classrooms, but we also–You’re also the leader of that classroom and students need to know that when you start that process.
Doing homework on our organization, on our school. That you’ve taken time to just know a little bit about it. Generally, I don’t ask questions to teachers of specific things of what they know about the school. A person who interviews well or has done their homework, those things will come out in the things that you talk about. You’ll be specific about certain data points. It’s okay to tell me an area that we’re weak in. If you’re applying for an area that we have a deficit in, it’s good to know that coming in and to be able to talk about that. That’s not a requirement, but it’s something that I look for. When someone can tell me that they’re interviewing for an algebra position on the high school and they can tell me that they noticed that math was our lowest area, it just kind of excites me that hey, they maybe want to work here and they know and are up for the challenge.
O’Neil: Also talking to us about some of the things that we’ve done well. So I look for those things, but I always tell people that the number one thing that I look for when you come in the door is confidence. Starting with when I walk out there and greet you that you’ve got a good handshake. You don’t have to break my hand, gentlemen. You don’t have to break my hand, but that you have a good handshake and that you look me in the eye and you feel–And I know you’ll be nervous. I know that and that’s why I’ll spend the beginning of the time with you walking around, trying to get you comfortable. But have confidence because if I don’t feel you’re confident, than no matter how smart you are, sometimes I don’t feel good about hiring you because I know everywhere I worked we’ve had students who are challenging and they come through the door challenging. They want to know that you love them and care about them. And that you can also tell them to sit down, right now, in love. And so I’ve got to feel that when I talk with you.
Gonzalez: So even if somebody has a strong background academically, if you feel that the kids are going to run right over them, they’re probably not going to be getting the job.
O’Neil: No, because I can find people that pass tests and everybody who comes through the door’s been to college. I’m not that type of person, that’s me, I’m not going to run the gamut and make sure you can do x’s and y’s and all. That’s not my thing. I’m more of a kid-centered kind of a person, so I believe people need to really, really focus on being confident and showing the committee or whoever it is, that you confidently work well with students in just about most situations, or that you have potential to be able to do that.
Gonzalez: Okay, are your interviews usually with a panel of people or is it just a one on one?
O’Neil: For me, it’s generally one on one, and let me tell you why I do that. It’s different everywhere you go, but if I’m a principal and you come in, I’m going to meet with you one on one. And why is that? Because I want to get to know who you are. I think that in a panel interview, I don’t really get to know who you are. Now, I have done panels. If they’re forcing me to do one, I’ll do one. But if I get to have my way, I just want to bring you in, I want to talk to you, I want to get to know you. I want you to feel comfortable to talk to me. Of course, I’ll never ask you anything, but it’s okay for us to know things about each other, not personal things. But it’s okay for you to share with me that you have children. That’s okay to share. It’s not okay for us to ask, but it’s okay for you to share that. It’s okay for you to share that in an interview. We want to be comfortable. We want to know each other and people tell us a lot of different things about — I know the people in the building and I know what’s a good fit and what’s not a good fit. If you like kids, and you’re confident and you’re passionate, then I’ll feel good that you’ll be great to work with our students.
Gonzalez: What about some negatives? What are some things that people definitely should not do? Maybe you’ve had candidates come in and they…things were going all right, and then they said or did something that made you think no, this is going to be a deal breaker.
O’Neil: That’s a great question. I appreciate that. Again, this is me, these are things that bother me. One is don’t come in and bash your former, wherever you worked. If you worked in another school, don’t talk bad about your principal. Number one, I might know the person. It’s not a good practice. I understand that there are places that maybe didn’t work out, that doesn’t mean you’re a good person, but there are ways to convey that. You know you try to find the positives in where you are. It’s okay to say “I had a different philosophy about teaching or about the curriculum that we had.” Maybe there was a boxed curriculum or something that they bought and you didn’t like. It’s okay to say that. And you know, if you have that here, I’ve learned about it and I’m looking forward to working through that with you. But talking about them personally, that always sends a bad message to me and generally I don’t hire those people unless I feel really good about them. I call them back in and I ask them very specific questions about that, but it’s just best to not talk strongly, negatively about the person that you were working with.I don’t ever feel good about those people because quite honestly I’ll feel — This could just be the prideful, selfish person in me, that may say, you know they may do that to me. So I want positive people. We all have feelings about people, people who have done us wrong or didn’t treat us right and we felt a certain way, but sometimes an interview isn’t the best place to bring that out. Number one, because you don’t know me and I don’t know you. Maybe if we were friends or we had gone to college together, maybe I’d be okay if we knew each other. You’d say “You know what, blah blah blah.” But we don’t know each other, it’s best to go in positively. That’s how I feel about it.
Also, when you’re talking– Never talk bad about students that you’ve had in the past, things that maybe didn’t work out. I know there’s a lot of–some people say, “That was the truth, it really happened.” That’s okay, but that’s not the time to share those things.
One of the things I asked Herbert to describe was what his typical interview style was like. What types of questions he asked.
O’Neil: Most of the time I have the weirdest…as I’ve done this a long time, my interviews become–you know I get in trouble sometimes, because I want to go off script, because I kind of like it to be what I call just mutual dialogue. Then it just becomes a conversation. That’s been my strategy that’s worked best for me. I ask really simple questions a lot of the times. Now my kind of questions go more–You know, I kind of want to find out about the person, like “Have you had a bad day? If so, how did you deal with that?” “Have you ever had a student who was difficult in class? How did you deal with that?” Those type of questions, to just find out how people respond to things when things come up and it kind of gives me a feel for maybe their personality type and how they respond when things don’t go great.
You know, I talked about being confident and having questions that really put you on the spot, that just have you reflect on who you are and what kind of person you are because I am–If you come into my office, it’s about the students. Just totally student centered and about what we can do. You’ve passed the certification test, I know you can do whatever you say you can do. You went to college, I understand you can do those too, so we don’t even talk about those things most of the time. I do ask a lot of questions about management because again, it’s important to me. If you cannot manage the class and talk about expectations in effectively managing the classroom, you’ll never get to whatever you got your degree in. I talk like that especially on a secondary level. You got a degree in English. So what. You know all about American Literature but if you can’t grasp that class, engage that class, inspire and motivate that class, then you’ll never get to talk to them about The Great Gatsby and it being a good discussion in class.
Gonzalez: Right, that’s absolutely true. Do you have any last little bits of advice or anything that you think people going into interviews would benefit from knowing?
O’Neil: Well, it goes back to what I believe in: Love kids. If you don’t love kids, you don’t even need to go into the room. You can go work for Enterprise Rental Car. FedEx, those folks are always hiring. So I believe that and I say that passionately to anybody that I work with. This is not for you, do something else. And after awhile, I can always tell.
The next thing is, even if that’s not your personality, try to find something to talk about in your interview that you do feel passionate about because even if you do know that person is asking the questions, you still have control over that interview, because they want you. So don’t ever forget that, they want you to come work for them. So you can shape and turn that conversation in any way possible. So that’s a strategy of mine when I interview, I always try to find the things–I always come back to what my convictions are, what I believe in, what’s important to me, because I can talk about those and I can talk passionately about them. So find the thing that you have passion in. Even if you’re shy or what have you, there is something that you like as it relates to children and working with children. Find that and talk about that. You know what, you keep talking about it enough, they’ll believe it and they’ll give you a job.
Gonzalez: Just before we finished our interview, Herbert remembered one last piece of advice that he thought was really important, so here it is.
O’Neil: Never talk about technology and say you love it and you don’t have any type of digital footprint or anything that relates to technology, because I’m going to find out. I’m going to get on everything and try to find you. You talk about technology and you love integrating it, but you don’t have a Twitter, you don’t have a Google+, you don’t have anything that has any kind of footprint, how do you love technology?
Gonzalez: That’s awesome! I’m really glad you said that, yeah.
O’Neil: That’s important to me. People come in and say that and I’m like, that’s not true.
Interview 4: George Couros
Gonzalez: The next person we’re going to hear from is George Couros, who is the Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning for Parkland School Division in Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada. He also consults with principals and teachers worldwide to help them improve their practice.
Couros: The thing that is actually most important to me is how they connect with people and how they build relationships. I’ve actually seen a lot of teachers that are really great at understanding content who cannot connect with children, and so I actually really think that content can be taught and learned, right. Like so if you go to grade three and then move to grade four, you have a new curriculum you’re going to have to learn stuff anyway. But if you cannot connect with kids, or staff, then that’s something that we’re really concerned about. It is a really high priority, so I want to hear the word relationships in your interview. You know, over and over and over again, not just in the first answer. Like if I ask you what the most important quality and you say relationships, but then you never hear about it again, then that tells me something.
Gonzalez: For some reason my side of the audio of my interview with George just completely cut out, so I’m just going to have to feed the questions in like this. One of the questions I asked George was what makes a strong impression on him, a positive impression, a really important quality in candidates.
Couros: Talking about stuff that goes beyond the classroom. To be honest with you, you know, how do they connect with kids to get to know them on a deeper level, what are things they’re doing. One of the traits I look for– I’m looking for school teachers, not classroom teachers, in the sense that if I’m looking for a grade three teacher in our school, I don’t want you only working with your children. I want to know that when you go on supervision, and that’s part of what you do, that you’re making the time and effort to connect with kids that are not in your class–and what are you doing outside of this? Because I’ve seen educators, they’ll, a kid will swear, you know, a kid will swear on the playground and they’ll bring them down to me. As a teacher — a principal, I’m like, You couldn’t deal with that? You couldn’t have a conversation with the child? Every kid in that school is yours, not just the one you teach that year.
One of the things–and this is the hard thing about talking about interviews, is that every person doing the interview is so unique and so they have maybe different styles. One of the things that I saw that we worked with with our teachers in interviews is we tried to create an environment where they actually really felt comfortable. So we got to see them deal with adversity in the interview process. So if I was to challenge them on something, not simply ask them a question and get an answer because that’s not how schools work, right? I don’t just as a principal ask a teacher a question and they give me an answer and we just go on our way, right? It’s very conversation-based, so we really wanted to actually make them very comfortable in that process.
So sometimes I would challenge some of their answers and they would have no idea if I would agree or not. I wanted to see what they would do. I wanted to actually see if they would just go to the way I wanted as a principal or if they would actually defend what they were saying with evidence or like that deeper understanding. Because that’s the norm in school, right? So it’s not like I just say “Hey, we’re going to do this initiative” and everyone’s excited and we just jump on and move forward, right? But if you’re–I want people to question and challenge me because if it’s in the name of doing what’s best for kids then that tells me something, but if it’s just because “No, I don’t want to do that” then it’s different.
So the teachers that I would look for–This could be the worst answer ever, depending on the interviewer. For me personally as a principal, I would look for people who didn’t necessarily accept everything I said and didn’t question. Because our job is to help each other and that doesn’t mean agreeing with each other all of the time. Now if they disagreed because they were saying “No, I think that’s stupid.” and I would say “Why?” “You know, when am I ever going to find time to do that?” Then that tells you something too. If it’s disagreeing because we’re just never — You know like the ultimate focus, the thing that I want to come out is that you’re going to go and do as much as you can, within reason. I still want a teacher that has a balanced life. That spends time with their family, does other things, because a teacher that’s at school until 10 pm every night is not something I’m looking for either, because they have no–they’re not really good role models to our kids; they should have outside interests as well. But if you’re looking from the lens of how to help children, that’s what I want to hear.
The thing is that I’ll have questions, just have questions, but you would really–Because I actually when I am trying to give you advice just from the perspective of the person getting interview questions, I’m hoping people who are giving interviews listen a little bit with this because just having a question/answer format in the traditional interview doesn’t really put either party in a position where you’re getting an understanding of one another. You need to really put that as conversational. The interview that got me my first job in the school division that I’m in gave me ten areas that I could talk to them. They gave them to me before and they just said hey, talk about five. That was an hour and that was it. There were no questions. It was just like I went on for an hour. They wanted to see, they wanted to see how I connect in that room with no question and answer … “What’s your biggest weakness?” “Oh I’m too organized, right?” Standard stuff comes out over and over again, right? If I give you the questions you’re going to hear the same answers. So I want to see your connections in that room.
Gonzalez: Next I asked George about some deal breakers, about things that a candidate would do that would give him a negative impression.
Couros: Yeah it goes back to the original–It goes back to the original notion if I don’t know that kids are your starting point, then we’ll have issues. As soon as I feel that or connect that way, that’s something that you know, you’ll lose me, but I need people to not necessarily do what they’ve always done. I don’t want to have grade three when I was in grade three replicated for our grade three students. I want it to–We know way more information, so I want to see something, something different. I want someone who builds relationships, but who thinks different and connects with other people too.
One of the questions I’ve been talking about, and this will throw some people off that you’d ask is “What is your favorite TED talk?” And the reason why I ask that question is because if someone said to me “What’s a TED talk?” then I would be a little concerned because it’s like they don’t have access to–It’s like they cut off the Internet right? They look at it, you know. So we have one of the best resources that’s not simply Google that everyone knows about, experts in so many different areas talking. I want that kind of idea that they watch it, but if they don’t even know that it exists, then it kind of freaks me out a little bit.
I’ve had people in interviews with me, who didn’t get the job, thank me because it led them to–like I actually treat it as a learning experience for both of us. So I want someone, even if they don’t get the job because I’m interviewing four to six people, one of them is getting the position. I want to create an opportunity where those people who connect with me walk out a better teacher. Whether they get the job or not, they become a better teacher because if they don’t get the job with me, they’re probably still getting other interviews. They’re going to be working with children. So if I can help them, even if they don’t get it, that’s beneficial to all of education.
Gonzalez: We talked for a few more minutes about George’s interview style and about the fact that he doesn’t really like the standard question and answer format.
Couros: That’s not to me what gets the best teachers. You know or what gets the best out of that person in that room. It’s actually just putting them in an environment like if we were in a staff room and talking about education. That’s like a totally different environment, like you’ll never again experience a traditional interview if you get that job in school. You know what I mean? So I’m trying to put them in an environment where it’s just like what we do.
If you’re going to hire what we’ve always hired, then why would school look any different? Right so a lot of us are really pushing the idea of education being different for the kids now than it was for us and we can’t just go through the same process. The interview process for some looks the same as when I started teaching in 1999 and when I was in school in 1980. That’s stupid. I mean the questions might be changed, but the process is exactly the same and I don’t think it should be.
Interview 5: Joe Collins
Gonzalez: Finally, I spoke with Joe Collins, who is an Assistant Principal at Harford Technical High School in Harford County, Maryland.
Collins: I think the biggest thing is to have the confidence, but you gotta be careful, you don’t want it to be an overconfidence. I think the context, is it a new teacher, someone who’s new to the profession or are they an experienced teacher who’s interviewing at a new building or in a new system. I think the biggest thing is to be instructionally grounded, to really be very thoughtful about their instructional approach. To me, because that implies that they can learn. By that they can learn the language of the system, of the school. They can learn what’s important to that principal and often times incorporate it into the conversation. The best that I’ve been in you can tell they’re not experts by any means, but you can tell they have a strong grounding in their instruction.
Gonzalez: And this is just based on the things that they talked about in the interview?
Collins: Yeah, and also the best principals I’ve worked with structure the interview to bring that out. Then very quickly they can end the conversation, either mentally or verbally, but they can end the conversation very quickly, because the person just very clearly doesn’t have a grasp, a grounding in that instruction. Very honestly, we don’t have the time to teach it. We have the time to build upon it and you know encourage the best in a teacher but it’s hard to teach a teacher to plan at the start of a school year. You can teach them to plan better, but you know it’s very tough.
Gonzalez: So if someone is someone is brand new and they just don’t have a whole lot of experience with that, what can they say to convince you that they can learn it or can pick it up quickly?
Collins: I think if they have an innate sense. We all–one of the things with being in education, we’ve all been to school. We all know what good teaching looks like and a lot of times–you know I’m a former coach, a lot of that comes into play. Speaking of, we joked earlier before we came on about being basketball, but the best coaches in the NCAA are some of the best teachers and if you watch them in practices, you know that. So they can pull it from many other places. Second career folks, which we don’t get a lot typically in my system, they usually have gone through an educational program. But I’m at a technical school, we’ve just hired a welding teacher who’s never taught. But you can ask him questions about how would you teach someone to weld. What would you start with first? How would you know they were doing a good job? And we kind of softballed a little bit of those because we wanted to know his intent and would he be willing to learn the language and the speak of school in order to teach kids how to weld.
Gonzalez: Right, and so you’re looking for — It sounds like what you’re looking for there is kind of an innate sense of how a person conveys a skill or information to another person.
Collins: I really think there is a logic to it and a lot of people don’t pay that much mind, I guess. Because a lot of people–and I’m sure you’ve worked with people who can speak the talk very well–but their logic is flawed, oftentimes when they’re in the classroom.
Gonzalez: Okay, so this–You may have actually answered the second question because the second question was what is the most important quality that you’re looking for. Would you say that that is it? Having a really good sense of instruction or is it something else that could even override that?
Collins: I think it’s — That’s the skill level and the will is the other part. Do they have the will? And depending on what type of school you’re in…my school, we don’t have a lot of disciplinary issues, attendance issues, things like that. So it’s a great environment for teachers, especially young teachers to just focus on teaching. But I’ve been in other schools where that’s not necessarily the first component. The first component is getting the kids to buy in to what you’re selling. Can they do that? So often times it’s kind of getting the work ethic from them and the will. And most have that because especially new or second career folks–I kind of like second career folks, because you don’t have to teach them how to work. They know what work looks like typically.
Gonzalez: Based on, thinking back to the interviews that you’ve done, the people that you’ve hired, can you recall an interview where things were basically going okay, but then the person said something where you just looked across the table at the other people in this room and you said “We’re definitely hiring this person.” Can you recall any of those occasions?
Collins: I think when they’ve answered the next question, often times you’ll get a real sense about them. A principal that I’ve worked with has a great question. You know, you’ve delivered a lesson, twenty kids, ten got it, five didn’t, five thought you were teaching Spanish and it’s a Social Studies class and five are way ahead of you. What do you do? It’s the person that can just go beyond what you expected, which was “Oh, we’ll differentiate” and “Maybe I’ll pair up the five who are really ahead and…” That’s what you would expect to hear, but it’s the person that might say “I don’t really know how I know they got it…what kind of formative assessments would I do to make sure that they got it?” Then you start to perk up and you go Ooh, okay. Then you can get the conversation going to a different level because they already speak your language.
You know, I think a lot of universities and colleges do a good job of preparing, but nothing prepares like experience. Some of them had great internships or student teaching experiences where they really learned a lot. Some are children of teachers so they know, because they hear it at the dinner table, that kind of thing. But it’s something that can definitely be built upon but when you hear that person– just speak–To me, it’s the logic of instruction. Some people just don’t– They make it much harder than it has to be when they’re trying to make it effective.
Gonzalez: It sounds like. This is the second of these interviews that I’ve done and it really sounds like teachers need to be prepared for these specific, situational types of questions that kind of either ask them to describe a lesson that they’ve taught or give them a hypothetical and ask them what they would do.
Collins: Yeah but I think it goes beyond that. I think they need to be really confident in their instructional fundamentals, you know. And often times, like I said the ones that are like “Okay, this is the one that we want.” They’re the ones that are asking you the questions. And they’re asking you, “What’s the demographics of the classroom? What kind of technology do I have? Is there a curriculum that’s already provided for me or will I be developing my own?” Those are all things where they’re way beyond the basics. They don’t– Throw any scenario at them, they’re going to handle it because they’re grounded in their beliefs and what they know.
My worst interview when I first started teaching, they asked, “What are your four pillars of education?” I just looked at them like, I don’t have pillars. That’s what I thought. I didn’t say it to him, but he clearly saw it. It really wasn’t a great interview question because, just because I didn’t answer his question, I was kind of done. I think you’ve got to kind of be careful with that too, because you may get a better answer than the question that you asked. So I think it’s that core fundamentals of teaching that really can carry them. And then again, married with that kind of vocational kind of feeling. I’m not going to work for free, and I’m not going to work one hundred hours a week, but I’m going to work as long as I need to work to make sure that I deliver what I want to deliver to kids, what I think they deserve. You know those kind of statements are kind of–Those kind of beliefs are the ones where administrators, I think, go, “Wow, we need that person in our building.”
Gonzalez: Yeah, it sounds like you’re really looking for like a self-starter, someone who really has their own engine going. You know they’re going to work within the way you want them to be teaching, but they definitely have their own ideas about how to, you know, give good instruction.
Collins: Same with kids, they don’t really need us the way we needed our teachers before. They don’t. They can go on a professional learning network. They can go on the Internet. They can join PLCs across the world. You know Lead Learner? I don’t know if you’re familiar with Lead Learner from England. He’s one of the guys that I follow religiously and he’s a head — kind of an executive director in England, so it’s not really applicable to my situation at all, but he gives such great insight. I couldn’t imagine not and I’ve learned so much from him and I think teachers can do that now. So they don’t need us to feed them professional development and instruction. We have to shape it within the context of a school building and our system.
Gonzalez: Any last words of wisdom or advice?
Collins: Nah, there’s no wisdom. I think the advice is, just be really, to a teacher is be really grounded in your instruction. I think to an administrator interviewing, you better have the questions that poke holes in that fundamental make-up. And within that, my current principal likes to ask “What do you like to do outside of school? What are your interests?” Often times that’ll just get them going on a bent where you get to see the real person. If there’s a real question like “Yeah, I can work with this person. It would be fun to work with this person.” I think that’s important too.
Gonzalez: Two more pieces of advice that I would like to share with you personally, that I have heard from administrators, but these were not things that were mentioned in these interviews. The first one is, before you even start to apply for a job, get your social media presence cleaned up. If there are pictures of you out there doing inappropriate things that you would not want your grandmother to see, you would not want your employer to see, get yourself untagged. Pull pictures down, just make sure that your social media is clean and as professional as possible because as soon as your name comes through the system future employers are looking you up and they are going to be checking out how you conduct yourself in the world. So this is definitely the time now to tighten those things up a bit.
The other piece of advice that I have heard is that your interview actually starts the moment you walk into the building and so a lot of administrators will follow up with receptionists and school secretaries and anybody who interacted with you when you walked into that building. So make sure that the whole time you’re there you are conducting yourself professionally and that you’re friendly and that you are coming across as somebody that people want to work with, because your interview is not just what happens inside the closed door.
Thank you so much to all five administrators who took time out of your day to help us out with this project. For all of the administrators who have Twitter handles, I’ll be putting those in the show notes for this episode. Just go to cultofpedagogy.com/pod click episode 16 and you will be taken straight to the show notes. If you’re enjoying the podcast, please go on over to iTunes and give us a rating. That really helps our visibility. Thank you so much for listening and have a great day.