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How to Identify, Hire, and Develop More Effective Teachers
By Donald J. Fraynd

Is teaching a profession for “average people”? According to a recent poll by think tank Third Way, a large percentage of millennial college students look at teaching in this light. Yes, there may be average teachers out there, but it certainly takes an extraordinary person to be an effective teacher, one who advances student learning and achievement.

It’s difficult to develop and retain high-quality teachers, and equally difficult to identify which candidates can make the most impact on student achievement. A resume and brief interview don’t provide enough information. It’s important for administrators, principals, and fellow teachers to understand what characteristics will predict whether teacher candidates will be effective. Undoubtedly, certain qualifications provide clues to future performance, but many in the position of hiring overlook other, more powerful indicators that could explain why one teacher succeeds and another does not.

Assess and Identify

According to an extensive review of literature on teacher effectiveness, certain knowledge, dispositions, and traits from three areas are just as important as qualifications: 1) attitudinal factors; 2) cognitive ability; and 3) teaching skills. Recent research that uses results from this review have made it possible to develop a powerful tool that is used to predict the impact a candidate will have on student achievement. Developed by an interdisciplinary research consortium made up of top universities, scholars, and nonprofits convened by TeacherMatch, the educator’s professional inventory (EPI) represents a shift toward adding science to the art of teacher selection. After taking an online assessment, a tool like the EPI can rank candidates based on potential impact on student achievement. 

A district HR director once told me that when he first took on his job, he went through a list of all the new teachers who were hired over the past five years. He noticed a disturbing trend: All of the teachers hired had last names that started with A through F. He realized that the district system sorted resumes in alphabetical order and that the hiring managers were getting worn out by time they got to the candidates farther down the list.

The EPI eliminates this problem by displaying the top candidates for each position, not by an arbitrary filing system but by their potential to impact student growth. I generally recommend that districts start by interviewing the top five candidates on the EPI candidate grid. Candidates are invited to interviews based on objective measures related to potential success on the job rather than more subjective techniques like resume reviews or personal connections.

Interview and Hire

Used in concert with powerful interview practices, a tool like the EPI can help school leaders transform the hiring process. For example, TeacherMatch’s research from the Northwest Evaluation Association and the University of Chicago suggests that baseline attitudinal factors correlate with teacher effectiveness. Traits like emotional objectivity, empathy, the belief that all students can learn, and positivity are great indicators of an effective teacher. A University of Memphis study called, “Highly Qualified for Successful Teaching: Characteristics Every Teacher Should Possess,” found that compassion and humor increase effectiveness in the classroom. It’s important to look for these traits in the interview process. After using a research-based tool like EPI to rank candidates by their potential for having a positive impact on student achievement, interview questions can be designed to delve deeper into candidate attitudes. Some sample questions might be:

  • Describe a time when you did not succeed.
  • Give an example of a time when you had to adapt because a situation changed at the last minute.
  • How do you stay positive when others around you are not?

Knowledge of strong instructional practices and teaching skills are also extremely predictive of future success in the classroom. It’s critical to see candidates in action as part of the hiring process. Candidates in the final round of consideration should prepare and teach a sample lesson. Principals should use a rubric that measures the level at which a candidate is enacting strong instructional practices. It’s also important to gauge cultural competence. Another strategy: Give a group of final teacher candidates a culture-focused education article to read and then review the group as they have a discussion. A research-based assessment in concert with powerful interview techniques can give decision-makers the full picture they need to make strong hiring choices.

In part two of this story, set to run on December 2, find out how a strong professional learning program can help to support and develop your teachers.

Donald J. Fraynd is CEO of TeacherMatch, a data-driven, people-powered formula for success for K-12 education talent management. As a principal in the Chicago Public Schools, his school was rated in the top 100 by U.S. News & World Report. He is part of a team that spearheaded the design and implementation of a comprehensive hiring and professional development plan involving thousands of teachers and used by the U.S. Department of Education. Contact him through TeacherMatch.

Image: Getty Images/Blend Images RM

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in edu Pulse are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.