Don’t Wait for Superman

Update:  links to other blogs for those “Applying & Hiring” here.

I just finished the last chapter, System Leaders, of The Moral Imperative Realized. Fullan begins the chapter with identifying three forms of “system leadership”:

    1. school leaders who link to other schools
    2. school leaders who take positions that oversee/help other schools
    3. system leaders who lead and direct whole system reform

Fullan later uses Ontario, with reference to Finland, Singapore, etc, as an example of linking moral purpose and strategy to illustrate the importance of all leaders working together to focus on eight important and necessary components:

    1. A small number of ambitious goals
    2. A guiding coalition at the top
    3. High standards and expectations
    4. Investment in leadership and capacity building related to instruction
    5. Mobilizing data and effective practices as a strategy for improvement
    6. Intervention in a nonpunitive manner
    7. Being vigilant about distracters
    8. Being transparent, relentless, and increasingly challenging

It is important not to take each of these statements in isolation, but to further explore the meaning Fullan attributes to each of these components. In particular, for me, I find value in Fullan’s further expansion on the sixth component to, “encourage risk taking, learning, and sharing of successful practices while intervening in a nonpunitive manner.” This particular strategy, Fullan explains, is, “deliberately light on judgment.” This is linked to a question posed in a previous post about Chapter 3 [here], “are leaders allowed to make mistakes, learn from errors, and move forward having learned… or do leaders fear criticism and backlash from above?”

Early in the book, Fullan references the movie Waiting for “Superman”, and in this chapter he emphasizes that there is no Superman coming, and that we need to be doing the work ourselves. He reminds us that “creating dramatically better leadership and working conditions with associated capacity building prior to and during one’s career” is imperative.

Fullan states that Finland, Singapore, South Korea, and, in some cases, Canada, have, “figured out that the quality of the teacher force and moral purpose realized are one and the same.” Fullan references a report (McKinsey & Company, 2010) examining the teaching profession in the United States compared to Finland, South Korea, and Singapore. In these three countries the teaching force is made up of the “30+ group” (100% of teachers in these countries are made up of the top 30% of university graduates plus “suitability to teach”). The research used in this report suggests that in the U.S. 23% of teachers come from the highest university ranks, and only, “9% of the top-third of college graduates” intended to enter the teaching profession.

Fullan acknowledges that improving pay and financial incentives is necessary, but is not the only solution to achieving the desired results. Fullan continues to include the following factors which the remaining 91% identified that they value in a job:

    • Quality of co-workers
    • Prestige
    • Challenging work environment
    • High quality training

These are also some of the qualities the 91% found lacking in the teaching profession, and some of the factors Fullan indicates are necessary to fully realize the moral imperative.

@LynHilt [here], @PeterJory [here], and @jvbevacqua [here] recently posted their thoughts on interviewing and hiring. I also recently read a brief article entitled Behind the Mask: How to Effectively Evaluate a Candidate Before Interviewing which offers some great reminders when screening applications.

In this last year, the “other duties as assigned” as per my administrative contract has included hiring teachers to the District’s Teacher-on-Call list. This is one of the responsibilities I do find interesting. However, recruitment, selection, and hiring is not a perfect science. We continue to adjust our practices in our efforts to increase the reliability of our decisions.

Our process for considering applicants currently includes several stages, with further screening before contemplating a move through to each stage.  There are so many factors to consider at each point in the process. However, I believe that above all, the candidates considered must have demonstrated excellent qualities in all areas of the classroom, including instruction, assessment, and connections with students. We also look for the personal and personable qualities the applicant brings to the job. We further consider what the applicant brings and can contribute to the school and community.

We sometimes get feedback that these are “just” Teacher-on-Call positions, some of these applicants “might” improve over time, and as a result some of our concerns should not be a big deal.  However, it is ultimately important to remember that shaping employees is more difficult once they’re in, so it is important to ensure that applicants considered and hired have strong foundations on which to build.

Recently, a guest blogger on Dangerously Irrelevant [here] and @chriswejr [here] commented on teacher education programs. However, it was a panel discussion at a symposium last month, which included @janetstewart, that especially extended my thinking further.

One of the questions posed to the panel included a query as to what needs to be done to raise the teaching profession. Separate from comments regarding our present workforce, some of the points which stood out for me included the notion that we shouldn’t be assuming that universities and teacher education programs will inspire students to meet our needs and thus provide the quality applicants we require.

We do however, I believe, need to, in conjunction with Post-Secondary, continue to encourage our best teachers to take on university students for their student-teaching placements, and provide the mentorship and guidance necessary to further strengthen our teaching ranks.

The panel affirmed that recruitment, selection, and hiring practices have not changed much despite changing times. However, it was pointed out that if we’re not entirely getting the people we want, we need to ensure that we target the right people.

The panel challenged us to consider the value and importance of attracting, encouraging, and inspiring the brightest high school students to the profession.  I’ve always enjoyed observing the students I’ve known over the years who found their passions early in life – the students who put their energies into pursuing their dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers, musicians, artists, athletes, mechanics, chefs, etc.  What a system we could have if we mobilized a large number of youth early, passionate about pursuing the goal of becoming teachers.  Imagine the energy, enthusiasm, and excitement as an increased number of our students approach and enter their post-secondary lives with the passion to be teachers already instilled.

In order to begin approaching this goal, one of the significant pieces which needs to be in place, in part, is to ensure that we have engaging and innovative role models in the classroom who will help grow this cause.

Ultimately, we need to inspire and attract the best to the profession – whatever we determine constitutes the “best.” Improving the system is hard work. It takes time, and it takes persistence. However, what a missed opportunity if we don’t make every effort to put the strategies in place to do so.

Update:  links to other blogs for those “Applying & Hiring” here.

photo credit: Xurble via photopin cc

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3 Comments on “Don’t Wait for Superman”

  1. Peter Jory says:

    Thanks for the mention, and for adding to this very important conversation. I took note a few years back at a dinner where teachers were telling stories about their first interviews and some of the questions they remembered. Some had been hired without any interview at all, some had experienced some kind of “meet and greet”, and some were formally interviewed but did not recall many (if any) questions that addressed the core factors of student learning in a classroom. We’ve had some great conversations over the last few years about assessment and learning and there has been some pretty deep pedagogical ideas coming forward from all participants, but it made me wonder how much learning was happening by chance in the old days, as apposed to by intention. It is our role as educational leaders to make sure these important conversations are happening and they are shaping the practice in our schools. The interview and hiring process gets us off to a great start, as these set the tone for our organization with learning as the priority, as well as ensure we are selecting teacher candidates and who are capable of taking their own deep thinking and effective practice to the classrooms right away. PJ

    • Michael Kee says:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the hiring process, it’s connection to staff development, and moving us all forward in a positive direction in regards to teaching and learning.

      I have an appreciation for the points you made in your post about hiring. We want applicants to present themselves at their best when they submit an application, and, as a result, assist us in making good decisions when selecting for interviews.

      Part of what we try to promote re assessment of our students is that there is no need for assessment to be a surprise. We want to give our students every chance to be successful and demonstrate their learning, and, as a result, what they think.

      Why not approach interviewing and hiring from the same type of perspective. Interviews can be stressful at the best of times. Lets work towards setting up our applicants for success and an opportunity to show us who they really are and what they truly believe.

      Thanks again!

  2. […] in the end, we’re still looking to hire the best teachers {Don’t Wait for Superman}, and there are many different ways of demonstrating excellence just as we have several different […]


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