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Recruitment tips (2)

June 24, 2008

Hello again,

I am posting the second part of my entry containing recruitment tips.

6. Interview
It is crucial to give careful thought to your interviewing technique before you meet the candidates as you want to ensure that the interview, which is the most important stage of all, is structured to produce the best results. You will need to think about pre-interview activities, the layout ...

...and seating arrangements of the interview room, the questions you wish to ask and the post-interview assessment.

It will be helpful for the interviewees to meet the DOS and other teachers as the need for new recruits to fit smoothly into the team is important. This could be part of the pre-interview stage with the DOS showing the interviewees around the school and perhaps meeting teachers in the staffroom afterwards.
Make sure the interview room is welcoming and that the seating arrangements will make candidates feel at ease and not intimidated. The interview panel needs careful selection too. The Principal and DOS are obvious choices but do you need somebody from administration who can explain some of the technicalities of working with the school and should you have a teachers’ representative?

Plan questions that will give the candidates an opportunity to speak freely. If you ask closed questions such as “do you feel confident about teaching adults?” you limit their response. Instead ask, “what makes you confident that you could teach adults?” List “why”, “what”, “how” and “when” questions as these are the types that probe. You should find out about motives for wishing to teach with you, past experience, attitudes to such issues as classroom discipline, plans for the future and any additional skills, hobbies and qualities the candidates have that can benefit the school. Also ask very precise questions on points of teaching to satisfy yourself that this person can handle key classroom situations.

Have clear strategies for moving the interview on—if the candidate goes off at a tangent, bring the interview back on track. An interview is not an excuse for a general chat. And make a note of that tendency too. A candidate who tries to move out of the interview groove may not be able to focus closely on the issues at hand. Translate that to the classroom and you have a bad teaching habit. Listen carefully for answers that sound rehearsed. If you think a candidate is merely reeling off a pat answer, probe more deeply, asking them to elaborate, to explain in more detail.
Have a checklist for each interviewee so that you can make notes, otherwise you might forget details that would help you choose between people. After the interview, gather the views of the other teachers and staff members who have met each candidate.

7. Request references
It takes a little more time and effort to request references but if a candidate produces glowing testimonials you can’t help wondering whether the same writer would be quite so enthusiastic in a confidential report. I suggest that you should ask for at least two referees so that you get a balanced picture. Past employers may have an axe to grind so you need to see if the references are giving consistent opinions. Also, if you write a reference request, state what you want to know. You could ask in your letter for a brief report on the candidate’s professionalism, preparation, absenteeism, punctuality, classroom success in terms of exam results: whatever is important to you.
Better still, telephone and speak to somebody personally. If there is something unpleasant to report, a former employer may not wish to put it in writing but will feel easier about dropping a hint orally—I was once approached about a teacher whose performance was usually excellent but occasionally spoilt because of an intermittent drink problem. I was far happier to discuss this diplomatically orally than writing something that would form a permanent record.

8. Have a written contract
In many countries a written contract of employment is a legal obligation on the part of employers. But even if it is not, a written contract is helpful to both employer and employee in providing a clearly drafted understanding of all aspects of the job: the rights and responsibilities of the teacher and the rights and responsibilities of the employer.
Basically the contract should cover the number of class contact hours, number of admin hours and number of preparation hours. If you have a basic 38 hour week and you expect teachers to spend 25 hours in the classroom, two on admin and the remaining 9 on preparation, don’t think of the preparation time as a free pool from which you can ask teachers to do extra teaching. If you need teachers to do extra contact hours to cover for an absent colleague or a sudden influx of students, build the terms of the required flexibility into the contract. For example you may say that teachers could be expected to do up to two extra teaching hours per week to cover emergencies. If further hours are required, offer to pay them as overtime. List any additional duties, such as invigilating exams, designing teaching materials or socializing with students.

Be as precise as possible in every area. If you offer accommodation, make it quite clear how this it to be provided and describe it accurately. State whether teachers will be expected to travel to other branches or to companies and explain how such travel arrangements will be made. Make sure you are clear about sickness insurance and medical treatment: what would happen if a teacher had to be repatriated because of an accident, for example, or suffered long-term illness?

Specify probation terms and period (see point 9) holiday entitlement, grievance and disciplinary procedures, and notice terms. Above all, try to make the contract a reader-friendly document rather than one that is full of dense legal terminology. Before you issue a contract, it might be a good idea check with a lawyer to ensure that it is comprehensive enough to satisfy your local legal requirements.

9. Have a probation period

Bear in mind that for many newly qualified teachers taking their first job abroad, the pressures may be overwhelming and they may find that despite their aspirations they cannot cope with the challenge. Of course, as I shall explore in the next point, a proper induction period can help them though this culture shock. However, inevitably one or two people will not be able to cope. Have a one month’s mutual probation period inserted into the contract so that each side has an easy means of withdrawal. View this as a safety valve; you hope it will not be invoked but it is a civilized means of ending a post that is just not working out.
10. Plan an induction

The process of successfully recruiting a new teacher doesn't stop when the teacher enters the classroom for the first time. If you are to reap the rewards for the time and money you have invested in finding your new staff you will need to know how to keep them in post. The induction phase is crucial because the first few weeks are the most difficult for the newcomer. The time spent on helping your teachers settle in will be valuable not only for the new teachers but for the school as a whole.

The induction program can be planned in any way that suits your working patterns. You could have a day of intensive training followed by weekly training sessions for a term, or you might begin the induction even before the teachers arrive by sending them an information pack or a handbook that gives them interactive sessions each day of their first week with follow-up sessions as required. The structure is less important than the spirit and content of the induction. Your aims should be to:
• ensure the new teachers have an adequate understanding of the cultural norms of your country
• support them through the official stages they may need to follow - registering for health care, opening a bank account etc.
• give them practical advice on cost of living, shopping, traveling, leisure etc.
• ensure they can find their way about the buildings
• give them health and safety information
• help them understand the structure and working methods of your organization
• familiarize them with all their duties - academic, administrative, social
• ensure they understand who can advise them and support them when they have queries and problems.

While each organization will have different ways of structuring the induction, you should consider the kinds of activities that will be most helpful to the new teachers. Where cultural information is required, you could give a presentation followed by a question-and-answer session that involves both local people and more experienced teachers. To help staff get to know the layout of the building, it will be useful to give them a plan, a guided tour and a debriefing to check that they remember where the key areas are. For teaching methods it will be helpful for them to observe a lesson and to be paired with an experienced teacher as a mentor for the first few weeks. If possible involve all staff in the induction so that the new teachers have a sense of being welcomed by the whole team.
It is daunting to start a new job and even more so when it involves settling into an unfamiliar environment. Don't forget that culture shock is a well-attested syndrome and once the initial excitement has worn off, the new teachers will experience emotional and even physical upheavals. It will take time for them to adjust, so don't try to rush the settling-in period and be watchful for any signs that they are under stress. Have support mechanisms available. If you can help ease the path for your new recruits, the benefits will be many: they will want to stay in post, the team will be strengthened and they will be able to settle down to teaching effectively without being anxious.

11. Have a holistic professional development plan

So, you have assembled a successful teaching team. Only one question remains and that is how can you retain them—a least long enough for you to feel the investment in the recruiting process has been worth it? If you have a policy of continuous professional development (CPD), the teachers will see their post in your school as more than just a job: it will be instrumental in their strategy for personal and professional growth and they will feel integrated into the overall plans for the school’s success.

CPD implies the involvement of teachers in their own evolution and suggests that the professional development of a teacher is an ongoing process. It encourages a reflective approach to professional practice but also, I suggest, requires us to think afresh about the relationship between teachers and their employing organizations.
Ideally the entire organization should be thinking about integrated CPD. Inevitably this will progress along two lines: the direction in which the individual teacher or staff member wishes to take his or her career and the direction in which the whole school is moving to better reflect the needs of the students and the increasing quality of the service. The school needs, therefore, to communicate across functions—pedagogic, administrative, financial, marketing, welfare—to ensure everybody is working towards common goals and to avoid the kinds of “team islands” that produce excellence in parts but breakdowns sometimes between departments.

A school might embark on a program of CPD by encouraging cross-team meetings to air problems and find whole-school solutions. The individuals in the school could be encouraged to reflect on the areas of their performance that they feel are weak and to draw up targets for future improvement. These plans should be discussed across teams so that everybody understands how the targets meet both personal and school goals.

Thus if accounting staff feel they need additional training to use specialized software, for example, other staff will understand that this will enhance the promptness of transactions, producing a benefit for all, as well as a new skill for individuals. But without this integrated approach, the muttering in the teachers’ common room might well be “the school can pay for admin training easily enough but we don’t get the training we ask for.” And, of course, the same is true of the way admin staff view teachers.

An effective approach to CPD—a movement away from fragmented, individual training towards a cooperative framework in which each team member understands what is important for them as individuals and as contributors to the group effort—can turn your school from a mere workplace into a community in which all the members feel their contribution is valued and that they are themselves growing in experience and understanding.

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