Should a Districtwide PLC Initiative Impact the Recruitment and Selection of Future Teachers?
Our bias on the recruitment & selection of new teachers follows:
The district should recruit & screen applicants on the basis of whether or not this candidate "appears" to have the qualities/knowledge to be a part of and help our district advance the mission & vision of our district. However, the selection process should happen at the individual school site where the candidate is a potential member of "our" school’s culture. Adlai Stevenson High School (Rick’s former school/district in Lincolnshire, IL) offers an excellent example of PLC selection & retention process:
The administrative team (principal, assistant and department chairs) interview candidates and narrow the pool to three finalists. They then give each finalist a copy of the team’s list of norms, essential outcomes, pacing guides, common formative assessment instruments, etc. to study prior to being interviewed by "the team" they would potentially become a member of.
The team engages each candidate in dialogue about the products: could you live up to the norms our team has agreed to; are there any norms you question;any you’d like to add; could you teach to the list of essential outcomes and follow the packing guide; are there any outcomes on the list that you’re not comfortable with/question; are there outcomes you’d like to see on the list that aren’t; could you prepare student in this course for the common assessments we’ve created; what ideas do you have for strengthening our assessment instruments; etc.
THEN, before a decision is made, the candidate must spend a day at the school teaching a lesson(s) in the course(s) for which they are interviewing. The department chair and members of the teaching team observe the lessons: what strategies/methods and material did the candidate choose to use for the lesson; how is the candidate engaging the students/relating to the students (If the candidate is not able to take a day off from teaching in a current school, a delegation from Stevenson’s team will go to their school and observe them teach).
Finally, the team makes a recommendation to the administration -- which of the three finalists are they most excited about. In most departments the teams report their perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate. The administration then typically offers the job based on the team’s feedback.
Once the new teacher is hired, they are assigned a mentor from the team to meet with during the summer and throughout the first year. And of course, the new hire has the support of the entire team each week when they come together to meet about student learning in their course.
For more information about the mentor program, read the scenario in chapter 2, beginning on page 29, of Professional Learning Communities at Work: Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement (DuFour & Eaker, Solution Tree, 1998).
All three principals in our small rural school are in their 1st year. Candidates for openings are interviewed by the grade level team or department. Finalists are asked back to give lessons to actual classes they may teach. Both teachers and principals evaluate the lesson. Finally I interview the finalists. I plan to include the questions Rick provides. In fact I just used them as I spoke with all the teachers up for tenure in our district and will use as I hold 1-1 talks with each teacher in our district in the next month. We only get one chance to make sure the teachers we hire and offer tenure to are the ones we want "on the bus." Those who truly believe all kids can learn at high levels.
Just one comment to Mr. O'Keefe; I invite teachers to speak their mind; in fact a PLC could not work without it. Unfortunately, many prefer to stay silent until sometihng fails, then they find their voice in time to blame. Also I do find it interesting that those quick to blame are the ones where only 50%-60% of their students are passing our state's basic competency tests. It's easy to talk the talk, but for the 40% of students who didn't learn, talk is cheap.
I agree that interviewong should occur at the site where the vacancy is. I also like the idea of having a "team" interviewing that comprises teachers as well as administrators. We have done it both ways and having a mixed group interview is more effective, unfortunately most of our interviewing occurs during the summer when teachers are not always available. Because all building principals do the interviewing it is important that the principal where the hiring occurs need to have more say in the hiring. Although the decision does need to be collaborative among the principals because there is movement within the district and there is a possibilty of having this candidate in your building. Giving candidates information and expectations about your district and more importantly the building in which the hiring is taking place is paramount. This allows the candidate to opt out if he/she feels it would not be a "good fit" for him/her in that building and/or/district.
I like the mix of new staff and experienced staff members working together sharing new ideas learned in college and ideas veteran staff members have learned over the years. Working in a team environment is a must. I find the idea of a "team type" interview more difficult in a small elementary setting, but I like the idea. Plus, I'm dealing with a staff where a few members haven't jumped on the PLC bandwagon (yet.) I also like the idea of teaching candidates teaching a lesson to a class while being observed. Unfortunately, we do a lot of our hiring during the summer when students are out having a good time.
So the answer, in a nutshell, is obedience. Fair enough. But I never implied that teachers shouldnâ€™t be involved in the selection of their colleagues; in fact my â€œbetter alternativeâ€ is that teachers, whether in their grade-level teams or subject-area departments, make school-faculty hiring decisions independently of the top-down leadership. And while I know Iâ€™m barking up the wrong tree hereâ€”and I promise to stop barking after this postâ€”I believe that because I am a teacher, and because the ideals being promoted so fervently under the PLC banner are bound to affect me and my colleagues as this latest reform movement sweeps the country, I have the right and the obligation to make my view heard, even if it is the minority view throughout the profession.
Dr. DuFour implies that my questioning PLC philosophy equates with a desire to see students fail. This is a straw-man tactic commonly used by PLC advocates: â€œIf youâ€™re against us, youâ€™re against children. Shame on you.â€ I donâ€™t question the desired result; I question the methods and the philosophy. Rather than a true honoring of the profession, I sense a deep mistrust of teachers implicit in PLCâ€™s rhetorical aims, and especially in its veneration of collectivism, collaboration, and the constant pursuit of â€œnew strategies.â€ There are also three philosophical assumptions with which I and others take issue, and which require a more explicit (and less condescending) defense from those who would impose these assumptions on the teaching profession as a whole:
â€œSuccess for Allâ€â€”This has arguably been the ambition of American public schooling since its inception. But success in what specific sense? Success without academic integrity is still failure, and it is an inescapable conclusion that the goal of success for all means teaching to the lowest common denominator. I would ask Dr. DuFour and his colleagues the same question theyâ€™d pose to prospective new hires, but in reverse: How concerned would you be if 95% of your students passed at the end of the year? Clearly, you are not achieving your goal of â€œsuccess for all.â€ How far will you go, and to what extent will you adjust your definition of â€œsuccess,â€ to ensure that the last 5% makes it? And how do you know the other 95% were sufficiently challenged, i.e. learned at â€œhigh levelsâ€? Is mere competency your only benchmark for success?
â€œLearning, not Teachingâ€â€”Can one exist without the other? Why does PLC rhetoric make an explicit point of diminishing the role of teaching (and clearly teachers) in this process? I believe itâ€™s because PLC proponents favor the constructivist view of education, the idea that students must â€œconstructâ€ knowledge for themselves rather than having it explicitly taught to them. Thatâ€™s all well and good, but constructivism is a philosophical preference, and it isnâ€™t the only one out there. Furthermore, it is the classic and persistent error of educationists to elevate pedagogical expertise over subject-matter expertise; some of us believe the latter is not only more important; itâ€™s the defining characteristic of effective teachers. Isnâ€™t Dr. DuFour committing the same error by assuming a new teacher drenched in the latest, hippest, â€œresearch-basedâ€ fads canâ€™t still be lousy? Notice how unimpressed Dr. DuFour is with â€œcontentâ€ knowledge for its own sake, with high GPAs, and with degrees from respected universities. To me, these things represent high intellectual achievement. Do we, or do we not, want accomplished intellectuals to teach our kids? Would Dr. DuFour say that someone with a PhD in classics from Harvard is still an undesirable job candidate for not buying into the sycophantic PLC culture?
â€œBest Practiceâ€â€”There is no such thing, particularly if youâ€™re a constructivist teacher, because constructivism rejects absolute, objective knowledge. To assert that there is â€œone best wayâ€ to teach anything is to assert that teaching can be reduced and refined to complete efficiency, as in Winslow Taylorâ€™s famous â€œtime and motionâ€ studies of the early 1900s. But unlike the worlds of industry and medicine, there are philosophical and personal variables involved in teaching that affect process and outcome both. Hence one teacherâ€™s â€œbest practiceâ€ is not necessarily anotherâ€™s, even within the same school and for the same population of students. And while there are reams of current educational research, as we all know, a series of articles in the latest Phi Delta Kappan makes it clear that thereâ€™s research, and then thereâ€™s â€œresearch.â€ How many discredited fads have come and gone, sometimes with lasting damage as their only legacy, in the name of cutting-edge research? The facts are that progress is made in every field by those who buck â€œbest practiceâ€ and do things their own way, and in our field, independent-minded teachers are often our best defense against destructive faddism.
I applaud the accomplishments of Adlai Stevenson High School, past and present, but I reject at face value the assertion that it has anything to do with PLC, because there are many more schools that have succeeded without it. â€œResearch baseâ€ or not, there is no mystery as to what it takes for a school to work: knowledgeable and dedicated teachers, direct and focused instruction in the classroom, high academic expectations, motivated students, and a supportive community of parents. We do need collaboration among teachers to â€œfacilitateâ€ many of these thingsâ€”but we also need teachers who stand their ground, speak their mind, and follow their own conscience, regardless of what the larger organization thinks.
El Paso, TX
REPLY TO JOKEEFFE
JOKEEFFE acknowledges that â€œevery school and every employer has the right to evaluate job candidates based upon their own guiding philosophies and principals (sic),â€ then expresses concern that if the philosophy and principles are those of a PLC, it is tantamount to ideological screening that could eliminate a candidate with impeccable credentials. Unless they only get one application for a position, all schools routinely eliminate qualified applicants for jobs. If there is one vacancy for a mathematics teacher, and 50 teachers apply, 49 qualified candidates will be rejected. So the question becomes, â€œwhat criteria should we utilize in extending an offer of employment in our school or district.â€
At Stevenson High School we decided that applicants should be assessed on several factors. First, we wanted teachers who defined their role as helping all students learn rather than ensuring all students were taught. Second, we wanted teachers who had a high degree of self-efficacy, who believed that their efforts and skills would have a significant impact on learning. Third, we wanted teachers who believed the likelihood of helping all students learn would be enhanced if we worked together collaboratively and collectively rather than in isolation. Fourth, we wanted teachers who believed that gathering timely evidence regarding the learning of their students could both inform and improve their professional practice and help us to support students who were having difficulty. Fifth, we wanted teachers who would model a commitment to continuous improvement and ongoing learning, people eager to seek best practices from both within and outside of the school and to apply those best practices in their classrooms.
These were the guiding philosophies and principles of our school - administration and teachers alike. We felt we honored both the teaching profession in general and the wisdom of our teams in particular, by engaging them in the selection process. We also felt we honored the profession by asking finalists to teach as part of the process. Iâ€™m sure JOKEEFFE would agree that people with excellent grade point averages from wonderful institutions of higher learning, (that is, people with excellent credentials) and even wonderful content knowledge could be lousy teachers. Iâ€™m sure OKEEFFE would agree that experience alone is not a predictor of excellence in teaching. So we took a radical approach: letâ€™s have a teacher candidate talk to other teachers and demonstrate he or she could actually teach.
The guiding philosophies and principles we used in hiring were the same ones that we used in the day-to-day operations of our school. In on other words, we made a concerted effort to align all our practices with the shared vision of the school we were trying to create. Furthermore, these principles were not chosen randomly. Each is grounded in research regarding the best way to organize schools to help all students learn at high levels. There is always the potential for â€œgroup thinkâ€ in any organization, and an organization committed to continuous improvement must be willing to state its assumptions, examine them, and consider alternatives if there is compelling evidence to suggest the assumptions are incorrect or the alternatives are preferable. Until that time, the guiding principles will do just what the name suggests â€“ they will guide decisions.
OKEEFFE does not bother to offer a better alternative to the selection process described on the blog, so I am unable to comment on what he/she would deemed to be preferable. Perhaps OKEEFFE prefers the more traditional practice where applicants are selected by administrators and the opinion of those with whom they will be working is neither sought nor considered. Perhaps if oneâ€™s credentials are sufficiently impeccable, we could skip the selection process entirely and a candidate would merely lay claim to a job as an entitlement. Perhaps OKEEFFE feels the research base regarding effective schools and teaching should be ignored in favor of the unnamed criteria he/she would use.
Those of us who worked at Stevenson felt our selection process was one of the many reasons that the school has become a national model of success. And if, at any point in that process, a candidate said he or she was not interested in helping all students learn, collaborating with colleagues, honoring the decisions that resulted from the collaborative process, or using evidence of student learning to inform professional practice andÂ to support students needing intervention, we would immediately remove that candidate from consideration.
REPLY TO QUESTIONS WE MIGHT ASK.
Our teachers found that the best questions asked teachers to respond to scenarios that were intended to see if candidates 1) defined their primary responsibility as teaching students or ensuring that students learned, 2) would value the opportunity to be a member of and contributor to a collaborative team 3) would use evidence of student learning as a tool for assessing the effectiveness of their practice 4) had a high degree of self-efficacy (the belief that they had the ability to help students learn at high levels) and resilience (a disposition to persevere and seek new strategies when things were not going well) 5) had enthusiasm for their subject and for students, 6) content knowledge that could strengthen the team and 7) enthusiasm for their own ongoing learning and development.
For example, a team might ask the following questions:
1. How would you define the role of a teacher to someone unfamiliar with the concept of public schools.
2. Would it concern you if 50% of your students failed at the end of the year? What if it were 25%? 10% 5%? What percentage of your students failed last year?
3. You have a student who is not presenting any problems in your classroom, but is simply not doing his work? How would you respond? (After hearing the answer), What if that did not work?
4. React to this statement: While teachers have a responsibility to present clear and engaging lessons, student are responsible for their own learning. When students choose not to learn we must honor that choice.
5.Have you ever been a member of a collaborative team in the past? Describe your experience?
6. Do you feel decisions regarding what to teach, the priority assigned to different content, how to assess student learning, and how to respond when students donâ€™t learn are best left to the discretion of individuals teachers or should these be collaborative decisions made by a team? (If they say the team, then follow with), â€œHow would you respond to a colleague who argued these decisions should be left to each teacher.â€
7. How should a collaborative team assess its effectiveness?
8. Can you give us an example of when you used data to change your teaching practice?
9. If at the end of the year we asked you to present evidence that you had been an effective teacher, what would you present?
These are merely examples. I would encourage your teachers to discuss the attributes that they would value in a colleague and then develop a series of questions, based on practical scenarios, to get at those attributes.
Please forgive the Freudian slip...I meant "principles."
And what happens when a teacher with otherwise impeccable credentials expresses discomfort with the prescribed "norms"? If it comes down to it, will schools enacting PLC reforms choose obedient teachers or excellent ones?
Every school, and every employer, has the unquestionable right to evaluate job candidates based on their own guiding philosophies and principals, but the potential for political and ideological screening in the feel-good, almighty name of PLC is disturbing. I am surprised that more teachers aren't asking such critical questions about the PLC movement. Let us see how "open" the dialogue in this forum, and on this subject, actually is.
I have an interest in developing a new teacher induction program for my school. I would love to hear any suggestions on how to introduce a new faculty member into the culture and traditions of the school. I have read the Connie Donovan story in the Professional Learning Communities at Work: Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement (DuFour & Eaker, Solution Tree, 1998)but would also appreciate any addtional information!!!!
Are there specific questions one should ask a candidate so that the interview panel has a better understanding of the candidate's views, values, and/or mental-model about teaching and learning?