Is This Hiring Process a Better Way to Find That Perfect Candidate?

Hiring & Recruiting

Is This Hiring Process a Better Way to Find That Perfect Candidate?

By Alexandra Roosenberg     Dec 13, 2017

Is This Hiring Process a Better Way to Find That Perfect Candidate?

This article is part of the guide: EdSurge’s Guide to Landing a Job (or Finding the Perfect Candidate) .

I’m starting a school. That statement took a year for me to feel comfortable saying out loud. It’s not just a dream, or a lofty goal—it’s actuality—and since I’ve launched my hiring process, it’s becoming more real with each passing day.

Capitol Learning Academy (CLA) plans to launch in Washington D.C. next fall as a nonprofit private elementary micro-school, starting with ages seven to nine and expanding in both directions to serve a capacity of 150 students over the coming years. The school plans to serve a socioeconomically diverse population and will use an indexed tuition model to make the school accessible to all families. To supplement this tuition model, CLA will campaign annually for fundraising.

Our mission is to prepare students to effectively use resources, tools and relationships in order to succeed as world citizens in an unpredictable future. We envision a school where each student progresses along an individual learning continuum and educators focus on developing skills, such as collaboration, perspective taking, technological adeptness, problem solving and adaptability. We want to prepare students to “roll with the punches” as jobs, technology and work spaces change at a lightning fast pace.

It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

The unknown is scary, and not everyone is ready to jump into it. Even those individuals who are interested in the model likely don’t have extensive experience with the practices we’ll be using because they’re relatively new. That makes hiring a tricky and detailed process, especially for my first hire. I’m looking for a non-grade-level specific facilitator who is creative, engaging, can manage an open learning space and is interested in working at a startup school. I’m looking for a unicorn.

Public and charter schools schools are bound to rules and even laws that dictate how and who to hire to fill teaching positions. From certification to tenure, these regulations can restrict school leaders from taking the time and being flexible in finding the right fit. But when you’re starting your own independent school, the world is your oyster—and that can be a blessing and a curse. I’m hopeful that putting time into developing a thoughtful process, it will give me the freedom to find the unicorn I’m looking for.

Developing My Hiring Process

Before I could start the search, I needed to determine my hiring process. It needed to allow for multiple rounds, requiring effort on the part of the applicant so that I could immediately see who was genuinely interested in this job—not just a job.

The process needed to be designed in a way that allowed the applicants and I to mutually interview one another and determine if it would be the right fit. You might liken it to building a relationship, from dating to marriage, as we test out the waters of compatibility. After all, there is a high likelihood that the first hire and I could be the only two employees of the school in its founding year since it will start so small. We will be working very closely together, spending countless hours making big decisions and probably challenging one another.

This first hire is a critical one and the process needed to reflect that, so I developed a four-round hiring process using NOLA Micro Schools as a model, and I’m hoping it will land me my ideal first hire.

Round 1: Online Dating

Other schools I’ve worked at in the past posted jobs, accepted resumes and cover letters, and brought candidates in for an interview—I needed to do more.

To start, I developed a set of questions to encourage the applicant to consider their level of interest and dedication to working at a startup school. The questions were formulated with advice and suggestions from other startup schools, specifically NOLA Micro Schools, which also uses in-depth application questions and had already fine-tuned their number of questions, question type and language over the years.

I landed on 15 questions covering personal experience, problem-solving skills, mission and vision alignment and general educational philosophy. My hope is that they’ll give me insight into each candidate’s personality, views on personalized learning, perspective about the skill set necessary to prepare students for the future and what attracts them to a startup school with a progressive model.

Each applicant’s collection of responses determines whether they are invited to the second round.

Snapshot of questions from the Capitol Learning Academy application process, Image Credit: Alexandra Roosenburg

Round 2: Our First Date

The second round is a phone or Skype interview. The purpose is to provide applicants with an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the school’s expectations related to this role and what the job might entail. It also will give me a chance to dig into the questions and responses from the initial application with each candidate. This is where I can determine if a mediocre written application is or is not reflective of a candidate’s possible fit for the school, if a fantastic application is a red herring, or if everything can proceed because I may have found “the one.” A successful phone call will move on to the next round.

Round 3: Finding Common Ground

Successful phone calls are immediately followed by a homework assignment. Applicants will read an article about alternative approaches to learning, watch a TED Talk by Sugata Mitra and view a video by Sal Khan. Then they will reflect by responding to some questions. The texts and videos give the candidates and opportunity to hear some experts in the field, discuss important factors to consider when implementing a personalized learning model, and consider what it looks like to build a student-centered learning environment. These resources are all firmly in line with the mission and beliefs of CLA, and provide background knowledge that we feel is imperative for all faculty who work with us.

There are three purposes to the “homework” assignment:

  1. To establish a shared understanding of what some thought leaders are saying about the future of learning
  2. To continue to demand a high level of dedication and effort throughout the interview process and to ensure commitment, which will continue to be critical once employed by the startup school
  3. To subtly highlight the importance of professional development for all faculty at CLA, showing that professional growth will always be supported and provided

Round 4: Meeting the Family

The final round of the interview process is an in-person meeting with myself and some school board members paired with a casual opportunity to interact with prospective students.

The in-person element gives each applicant a chance to meet different members of the school community, and to have some final conversations based on all we have learned from previous rounds.

After these four rounds, fingers crossed, the best candidate will be an obvious choice. I’m hopeful that the process naturally siphons out the candidates who want to teach—and teach well, but don’t necessarily have the energy and grit that a startup school requires. I also hope it allows me to maintain flexibility and an open mind.

I don’t want to have some predetermined profile of who I hope to hire. Just as I don’t want to box students into grade-levels or age-specific curriculum and outcomes, I don’t want to look at my candidates based on their years of experience or grade levels taught. I want to see them as individuals and what they might bring to the school as such. What matters most is that they share the philosophy, values and vision for the school and have the personality and skill set necessary to thrive in a small, startup environment.

Even with a clearly outlined process, in-depth questioning, and high level of commitment required of our candidates, I’ve got some underlying fears. What if my application doesn’t find its way into the right hands? What if there is some element of the process I’m missing that will be critical to finding the right person? But I'm hopeful that I'll find the right match.

Maybe I’m overthinking things. Maybe my level of detail in this process is too arduous and all candidates will balk. But launching a new school is a lot of responsibility and I owe it to my future students to put time and care into building a strong school community—and in my case, the first step is finding my unicorn.

Alexandra Roosenburg is founder & executive director of Capitol Learning Academy, a micro-school planned to launch in Washington D.C. in September 2018.

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