Best Practices in Hiring and Evaluation

November 15, 2011

Steve Kimball

Steve Kimball

Of all the challenges facing principals, maybe the most important are finding and then keeping the best possible teachers in the classrooms. Principals must be strategic in both hiring and managing teaching talent. Below, WCER researcher Steven Kimball discusses the process by which a principal can become a strategic talent manager.

Best Practices in Hiring

Staffing decisions require a number of steps, including planning for turnover, marketing the school, networking with talent sources, and enacting careful selection procedures.

The key in planning for turnover is to identify possible openings early and then bring in the best candidates before they’re hired by other schools or districts.

Developing a recruitment message means marketing the school to prospective talent, within the district and beyond.

As part of a recruiting strategy, principals also develop professional contacts and networks of outstanding staff members to augment district recruitment efforts.

Perhaps the most important aspect of talent acquisition is the selection process. Many principals, though, have little training in candidate selection. They rely on improvised interviews or use weak criteria that don’t predict teaching effectiveness. Making the right hiring decision can mean the difference between obtaining a high-functioning team member or someone with deficient skills.

While researching the ways principals managed human capital, Kimball and colleagues found one innovative principal who stood out. This high school principal worked with teachers to develop six attributes they expect from their colleagues. With these attributes in mind, they assessed the strengths of each prospective new teacher.

At this principal’s school, a standard resume screen eliminates about 50% of the applicants. Then a phone interview focuses on the six chosen attributes. That typically yields 5 to 10 candidates for serious consideration. The principal and relevant department chair then interview each candidate. Those who do well are invited back for “finalist day,” where they participate with other finalists in a group exercise on student data. They analyze the data, generate solutions, and develop an action plan. Candidates are observed as they work together to solve a school issue, have a one-on-one conversation with a parent, and complete a writing prompt.

Principals in Kimball’s study emphasized the importance of giving candidates a realistic job preview. It’s important that candidates know the job requirements, resource constraints, culture of the school, and any social challenges facing families and students.

Best Practices in Evaluation

Once hired, teachers deserve an evaluation system that ties their performance to school goals and consequences if those goals are not met. Ideally, evaluations are administered fairly and reliably. Unfortunately, principals and district leaders often just want to get the evaluations done and hand in the form to the personnel office. As a consequence, most teachers are rated satisfactory or above.

But evaluation can improve instruction if it’s embedded in a performance management process that includes setting goals, access to coaching and support, and recognition of success, as well as consequences for poor performance.

Ongoing, timely feedback also is essential. Few things are more nerve-wracking and irritating to teachers than having an administrator interrupt a classroom, take vigorous notes for 40 minutes, then disappear with no follow-up.

Kimball’s study reinforces the notion that principals must connect school improvement strategies with management activities that recruit, select, develop, and retain effective teachers. Leaders who strategically manage human capital ensure that a high-talent organization is in place, focused on a common instructional strategy, and producing measured student achievements.

[Adapted from the article Strategic Measures of Teacher Performance. Kappan, v92 N7, April 2011, pp 13-18.]

This research was conducted by Steven Kimball with Herbert Heneman and Anthony Milanowski, with funding from the Ford Foundation.

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