Filling Teaching and Administrative Positions
Retired Educator—has served at all levels of education
The strength of a school can be measured by the quality of its faculty and staff. Student growth and spiritual transformation occur within a dynamic and affirming relationship between young people and the adults they look to as leaders. When students and parents respect and love the teachers at their school, they tell others how much they appreciate their school experience. But, unfortunately, when they don’t like the teacher, that negative story will also circulate. So how do we find, recruit, and retain the best teachers?
The process of filling teaching and administrative positions is more daunting now than in the past—and it has never been easy. The chronic shortage of teachers and principals runs across public and private education in North America. Long-term solutions will likely require system-wide changes beyond the scope of this discussion. Nevertheless, the following represent strategies that might prove helpful:
Fix the Problems
High-quality schools generally have strong faculty retention. Schools with a high turnover rate of administrators and teachers are often plagued with problems that make living and working in the environment unpleasant. Conference and board leadership owe it to students, their families, and faculty to address chronic school problems. The “washout” rate among new teachers is high. Data from the National Teacher Principal Survey notes that 44% of new teachers will leave the profession within five years. Often those leaving do so because they have not received the support they need to be successful. Experienced teachers will do their homework and determine whether the school has the leadership and financial resources to be successful. It is the responsibility of the conference and board leadership to ensure that the resources necessary for success are in place. Rather than simply keeping the revolving door spinning, leaders must analyze problems and make changes to create a better learning, working, and living environment. If a school enrolls disruptive students, asks teachers to work in dilapidated facilities, does not provide financial support, has a meddlesome church or board members, requires an unrealistic workload, or tolerates other correctable problems, simply finding a new teacher will not solve the underlying problems.
Reorganize and Retool
Sometimes a creative approach to staffing an organization will allow people to take positions they are better suited to fill. For example, whenever someone leaves a teaching position, leadership should look to see if others within the staff could better fill the vacancy. This might still leave an open position, but an existing teacher who can fill a position that may be better for them could result in more dramatic improvements.
Sometimes teachers can make a shift by securing certification that will allow them to move into a classroom that will bring welcome new challenges. In addition, equipping existing teachers with the tools needed to fill a vacancy might be a creative way to bring positive change.
Constantly on the Hunt
Wise leaders are always assuming they will need to hire teachers every year. As such, they are always looking for potential teachers and administrators. Every convention or conference that principals and superintendents attend should be to meet new people who might someday become direct colleagues. New teachers or administrators must often be recruited rather than simply waiting for them to apply.
Some might see this as “stealing.” However, stealing involves someone losing something because of dishonest methods or means. If you don’t want to lose a good teacher, create an environment that is difficult to leave. As we are all part of a school system, transfers should be anticipated and not viewed as barbarous thievery.
Use the Tools
Never underestimate the importance of advertising an open position. The North American Division website (
) is a powerful tool for finding new teachers and administrators. Using a local conference website can also generate interest from teachers within a geographical area.
Most teachers know other professionals outside their school. Enlist them to recruit friends. Those relationships can be a powerful incentive for teachers from other areas to move to your school and the church community.
Public school teachers and administrators are generally paid higher salaries than in Adventist schools. However, the work setting of their current school is sometimes not desirable. Teachers who transfer from a public school to an Adventist school will often tell you they can actually teach with less classroom disruption, and they derive great fulfillment from being able to share their faith with their students.
A challenge that will be faced by teachers and administrators who transfer from a public school to an Adventist school will be the requirement to hold denominational certification. Teachers with state certification will meet most of the requirements for Adventist certification. However, there will often be an assortment of additional courses they must complete. Fortunately, teachers can usually complete these courses online through Adventist colleges, universities, or the Adventist Learning Community.
Grow Your Own
Sometimes people with the best potential for success as a teacher can be found right in your own community. They may not currently be teachers. They may be alumni who are finishing college. Sometimes it could be a person who is in a different profession. Some of the best teachers have come from nursing, allied health, or other professional fields. They have had to complete teaching certification, and some might need to take additional courses to qualify for a certification subject endorsement. Employment requirements will generally give time to complete requirements while they are teaching. Is there a risk with this approach? Yes, but also great potential with the right person.
Once you locate a prospective teacher or administrator, how do you know if this person will be a good fit? It can be tricky, but some tools might be helpful. For example, the Kolbe Assessment can tell you about a person’s work preferences. The Myers-Briggs Type Inventory can give you insights into an individual’s personality. These and other assessments can help you increase the odds of success, but ultimately you won’t know until the person has been installed in the new position and time has demonstrated success or failure.
Getting input from those who have worked with someone in the recent past is a very powerful tool. Fortunately, within the Adventist system, references from numerous sources can still be secured without the debilitating fear of pseudo-legal repercussions. Failure to better understand a candidate based on the input of colleagues and former supervisors is irresponsible and reckless. Using multiple sources helps reduce the chance of bias from a reference with an unfair perspective.
An interview is of secondary importance compared to references but is still significant. Administrators might consider multiple conversations, starting with a get acquainted, less formal time together, followed by interviews with board members and even teacher colleagues. The interview process, coupled with thorough reference checks, can help reduce mistakes in hiring.
Education in North America is facing many challenges. Charting a course that addresses the shortage of competent teachers and leaders will continue to require the attention of system-wide decision-makers. The strategies above will not impact the issues that threaten the continuation of Adventist Education. However, these ideas might be helpful for those responsible for putting teachers in classrooms and principals in the front office. We all need to pray that church leaders have the wisdom and boldness to implement changes. The riskiest approach we can take is to continue business as usual.
The Three R’s
of Finding Teachers
By Kristine Fuentes, EdS | Principal—Madison Academy
While public school districts across the United States are looking for creative solutions to address teacher shortages and burnout, the Adventist education system should be considering some remedies of its own. A solid plan for diagnosing the real problem may be helpful. Division-wide strategies managed at the Union and Conference level may lead to some success. However, in the meantime, this principal will focus energy on recruiting, referencing, and retaining teachers.
Where are they? Why doesn't everyone want to be a teacher? It is a fabulous career and a worthy profession. So rather than wait for them to come to us, perhaps we should locate likely candidates and recruit them?
Classrooms. We know our students. Johnny did the "happy dance" when he finally understood the math problem, then showed all his classmates how to solve it. Sally is begging for the whiteboard marker, ready to lecture on transcendentalism. Joey has rebuilt the robot twice and can explain each step-in detail. Our future teachers are engaging in our classrooms right now. Recognizing these gifts and encouraging students to consider teaching as a lifelong learning journey seems a logical and simple step.
Camps. Our summer camps are full of motivated, fun-loving, hard-working young people who understand ministry. Teaching candidates who have summer camp experience always land on top of the application stack. So, why not start recruiting there? Anyone who can smile through the long days and nights of lifeguarding or horse-wrangling while supervising high-energy pre-teens should be seriously considered, especially if they returned for consecutive years. In addition, camp directors provide solid reference checks as they have a unique and authentic perspective from seeing first-hand their employees' work-ethic, spiritual focus, and capacity for teamwork.
Contacts. Our extensive and interconnected Adventist education system serves as a giant Rolodex. Our former schoolmates and friends all across the country can help us locate stars who should be on campuses inspiring young people. We must never stop looking for candidates while leaning on the wise, honest, confidential network of professional principals and conference superintendents who understand the critical importance of hiring well and recruiting for life.
Discovering quality teachers can be done in a few moments. Classroom observations often quickly reveal the teacher's preparedness, the students' degree of respect and engagement, and the level of learning success. Interviews are helpful, and reference checking is imperative. We need teachers who are capable, coachable, and confident.
Capable. Education matters. The coursework, the qualifying exam, and the continuing education classes all show that the best teachers are students too. However, degrees are not the only factor. Several of the finest teachers have been hired while completing their education courses for certification. Capable teachers can read the room. They migrate flawlessly between desks, tapping on a chair to encourage focus or squeezing a shoulder to affirm a student. They collect feedback frequently to ensure that students are learning what they think they are teaching. Competent teachers know their material, but effective teachers know their students.
Coachable. Capacity alone is not enough. Our athletic directors can tell stories of outstanding point guards and shooters who had the skill but peaked early because they could not be coached. Like great athletes, great teachers continue developing their talent. We need to locate and invest in teachers who willingly engage in reflective practice and are eager to have honest conversations with administrators and instructional coaches for the purpose of continuous improvement.
Confident. Today's students, influenced and empowered by many factors, need teachers who display confidence. This nuanced trait is not an arrogant self-importance; students see right through that. Nor is it a meekness easily swayed by the all-to-frequent and varied opinions of students, parents, or even current "trends" in education that may come and go just as quickly. Instead, educators who value students, know their content, and utilize varied strategies for inspiring learning create classrooms of confident students.
Once recruited, referenced, and hired, we need to do a better job of keeping our precious teachers. These gold mines should be nurtured, supplied with the appropriate resources, defended when necessary, and always encouraged. We accomplish this by having a school culture that is communicative and collaborative.
Culture. School culture can be the basis for which teachers stay for years or a simple reason to exit. We need faculty meetings focused less on scheduling details (which can be read in an email) and more time on sharing instructional wins, lessons from failed experiments, ideas for vigorous learning, and solutions to challenges. A culture of authenticity and openness among the staff creates a safe space for risk and growth. Our staff workrooms, weekly internal newsletters, and hallway interactions should bring hope, joy, and encouragement to the team every day. Teaching is hard, but loving it doesn't have to be.
Communicative. It seems trite to even mention this, but fostering communication between and among teachers, students, parents, leadership, alumni, pastoral staff, church members, and donors, remains a critical need. In an age when communication tools are everywhere, sadly, communication skills are near an all-time low. Engaging in crucial conversations can be awkward, even painful. Yet, we are daily faced with the need to decipher a concern, consider solutions, and maintain fairness while doing what is right. Each of these decisions requires some level of communication. Choosing to embrace it as an opportunity will most often improve relationships.
Collaborative. If we are honest, many teachers love the autonomy that a classroom setting provides. In this environment, the teacher, to a great extent, reigns over the curriculum, learning activities, schedule, and structure. The downside is that classrooms can also be isolating. To retain happy, healthy teachers, we should move from a silo approach to a collaborative process. In his book 6 Types of Working Genius, Patrick Lencioni explains how work gets done. He contends that people experiencing burnout respond by working fewer hours, changing jobs or industries, or compartmentalizing work from the rest of their life. This does not bode well for us. However, Lencioni says: "The real cause of burnout is spending too much time in our areas of Working Competency and Frustration, and not enough in our area of Working Genius. It's less about how much work we're doing and more about the kind of work we're doing." Rather than silo classrooms, the collaborative process allows teachers to leverage the Genius of others while living in the joy of their own. Simply put, a day spent in our Genius brings energy rather than depletes it.
There is one more C-word that, while it may come at the end of this list, rises above them all. We need teachers who are committed Christ-followers. Sure, we need instructional gurus, storytellers, scientists, historians, mathematicians, writers, compassionate listeners, careful watchers, and healthful living experts. We need all these roles filled, but most importantly, we need teachers who love Jesus and seek His wisdom for their classrooms and His promises for their students.
Careful Reference Checking
Dr. Doug Herrmann | Head of Schools Loma Linda Academy
Little that we do as administrators will affect the school so much as hiring teachers. And little we do in the hiring process is more important than reference checking. You likely have heard someone say, or said it yourself, that so and so was hired, "and they never contacted me." It seems obvious, but we have perhaps all made the error at least once—hopefully only once, having learned the lesson. But the lesson is worth repeating: check the references of hires carefully.
Let's look at a few parts of this task. First, this is your job as the principal. It would be best if you informed the search committee or personnel committee that it is not their position to make calls on their own. Next, who are the references you should interview? Begin with those provided by the applicant. They should be listed on the resume. I am always amazed and never impressed by this not-uncommon statement on resumes: "references are provided upon request." By posting the position on the website, I requested them. The statement diminishes the chances of my spending more time with that applicant.
By the same token, I do not place much value on letters of recommendation included in the application packet. I assume that they have been screened to include the positive ones only. I will, however, list those among the people to be contacted.
The other source of references to check would include people logically to be contacted, such as previous employers, people that have worked for them in the past, and current and past colleagues. You may wish to check with the applicant before talking with current employers in case their looking for another position would be problematic in their current position. Eventually, this will need to come out, but you should work it out with the applicant. You will need to get permission from the supervisor before contacting someone. It is appropriate to give the principal or superintendent a chance to talk to the candidate first if they would like.
The reference check is best done on the phone or in person, allowing all-important body language to come into play. For example, when you ask someone a question, one of the things you are looking for is silence before the answer. The silence may or may not be significant. The referent may be a thinker who considers every response carefully. (I hope you have plenty of time!) They may be thinking of the best way to phrase the answer. However, perhaps they don't know how to answer your question without speaking poorly of the person. So, you may want to put down in your notes that the answer came after a long silence.
You will want a list of questions that you will ask each referent. Doing so will help you compare the candidates. There are many forms out there for you to use or copy. Be sure to include how long and when the individual knew the candidate and in what capacity. You may want the individual to rate the candidate on a five or ten-point scale. Or you may ask open-ended questions to which the person responds. The choice is up to you or the referent. The individual may just start talking, and you will be furiously writing as you try to capture their thoughts which will likely range over several questions. Or it may go quickly with the referent giving short answers. It will depend on the person you are interviewing.
Go over your notes as soon as possible "before the colors fade." You might want to write a summary of each referral you did, perhaps sharing these with the search committee or the personnel committee chair.
Be careful not to go into the interview with a preconceived idea about the candidate and find yourself not listening for the key concepts that will speak against or for an individual, depending on what you have already decided. I must confess catching myself doing that very thing.
You may want to ask, "has the candidate ever been accused of sexual misconduct with a minor?" Asking this question was required of us in the conference where I worked. I read the question word for word and almost always received a thankful "No." Since the question is based on an accusation, a yes answer does not need to disqualify the candidate immediately. However, it will open a new line of investigation.
You may want to end the interview with a catch-all question such as "Is there any question that you would like to answer that I have not asked?" You might be surprised at what you hear.
Dr. Gayle Rhoads used to tell me that hiring teachers is like picking peaches in the dark. With careful, prayerful work, you will increase your chance of harvesting a good crop.
The reference check is best done on the phone or in person, allowing all-important body language to come into play.
Be careful not to go into the interview with a preconceived idea about the candidate ...