William M. Ferriter

William M. Ferriter is an eighth-grade science teacher in a professional learning community near Raleigh, North Carolina. A National Board Certified Teacher for the past 28 years, Bill has designed professional development courses for educators nationwide on topics ranging from establishing professional learning communities and using technology to reimagine learning spaces, to integrating meaningful student-involved assessment and feedback opportunities into classroom instruction.

The Most Important Interview Question I Bet You’ve Never Asked

Let me start with a simple truth: There is no single decision made by the principal of a professional learning community more important than who to hire to fill vacancies on individual learning teams.

After all, the teachers that you hire today are likely to be a part of your faculty—working with students, influencing colleagues, shaping decisions, impacting public relations—for years to come. Heck, the teachers that you hire today are likely to be a part of your faculty long after you have left for a new position. That means every hiring decision that you make has tangible, long-term consequences for the families and the students that you are responsible for protecting and serving.

That’s obvious, right? Then why is it that the interview questions we ask are so terribly, horribly wrong?

Why do we keep asking candidates to tell us about their experiences with integrating technology into their instruction or their strategies for managing difficult students? Why are we interested in what a candidate believes about grading, homework or parent communication? What is the point of asking candidates to tell us more about their unit planning process or to describe the worst lesson that they’ve ever taught?

Every one of those questions is centered around an individual teacher’s decisions and choices—and those individual decisions and choices are almost always made together by collaborative teams in professional learning communities. When you are hiring for openings in a PLC, you must recognize that you aren’t trying to fill a roster with remarkable individuals. Instead, you are trying to build a team full of people who are willing to work together in service of student learning.

So what kind of questions WOULD we ask if we recognized that collective strength mattered more than individual talent?

That’s easy. The ONLY interview question that you must ask to identify the best candidate for a position in a professional learning community is, “Describe a time when your instruction was deeply influenced by a colleague.”

At that point, ANY candidate that you are considering should be able to light up and tell you about a moment in their professional career where collaboration made them stronger. Maybe it was a time when they developed a series of lessons that they refined and polished with a peer. Maybe it was a time when a learning partner challenged a practice that they believed in. Maybe it was a time when they became a better teacher by borrowing a strategy from someone on a learning team.

Whatever answer they give, look for enthusiasm and animation in their voice and in their body language. The story should come easy to them and they should be excited to tell it. They are likely to smile a lot and to lean forward in their chair. They may talk faster and ask rhetorical questions. They should be incredibly proud of the experience—and most importantly, they should be convinced that they are a better teacher because of the experience that they are describing to you.

And if they can’t give you an answer—or if their answer seems forced or false—thank them for their time and keep looking.

If you are convinced that collaboration between colleagues is the key to improving learning for students—and you should be—then it is time to start hiring people who have firsthand experience with the power and the promise of professional learning communities.




Related Radical Reads:

Out of this World Hiring Lessons for the Principals of PLCs

Lessons School Leaders Can Learn from the Pittsburgh Steelers

Simple Truth: Collective Strength Matters More than Individual Talent



Nicole Episcopo

This was a very helpful article for me. I completed an interview today and I was asked to reflect on PLC’s and how my coworkers influence my previous positions in a positive or negative way. Collaboration is the key to success in all work places, but especially in teaching, so it is important to focus on this in interviews.

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Christine Voss

You hit the nail on the head when you pointed out that most, if not all, interview questions are focused on "buzz" words in education. Teachers should never be an island, so I appreciate how the one question that should actually be asked involves a candidate talking about how they work with others. Most teachers can think of colleagues who prefer to be islands, do their own thing, and ultimately don't always do what's best for the team. Thank you for this insight that I look forward to passing along.

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Lauren Desouza

Such kind of guidance and tips are always found useful for interviewers especially job seekers. As this article covers many important points related to teachers, educators interviewers and for recruiters who are looking for teachers, I will share with related audience so they can get a benefits.


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Vincent Stubstad

Hi William,

I never thought about how all questions are focused on the individual teacher. Teachers can grow and improve so much quicker when they are team players. That question is a great idea and something I would add when interviewing someone new.

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