The promises we make

It’s been eight years since the interview that got me a job with the Edmonds School District. I have no recollection of what was actually said in that interview. But I wish there was a record of it: What kind of teacher did I say I wanted to be? Did what I expect of myself match who I have become?

I started thinking about this thanks to Bill Ferriter’s recent post “Innovation Interview Questions”. In it, he argues (with the help of Dyer, Gregersen and Clayton Christensen’s book The Innovator’s DNA) that people in charge of hiring teachers should be intentional in screening for innovators. I hope that people are paying attention as his list of questions could be of enormous help to those administrators and teacher leaders hoping to build innovative schools.

His post also helped me clarify something that recently bothered me. This year I moved to another high school in the district. I’ve found collaborating with other teachers in the building both frustrating and rewarding. Rewarding in that I’ve made a couple of professional relationships that have already improved my teaching. But I’m also frustrated that, on a whole, the building lacks the environment of collaboration (and expectations of collaboration) that I’ve been accustomed to.

I was discussing this with a couple of colleagues and said something along the lines of “Surely everyone wants to collaborate with others if given the proper balance of time and expectations.” The colleagues then proceeded to run through a list of other teachers in the building and point out several that they thought were more than happy to teach with their doors closed and avoid all collaboration.

I had to admit that, in some cases at least, they seemed correct. But it also seemed fishy. For the sake of argument assume that there are teachers in the building that feel and have always felt that way. Did this show in their job interviews? Was it clear that they weren’t team players? Or did they portray themselves as collaborators but never followed through on that vision of themselves? Or were questions designed to ferret out this information never asked?

As I said, I don’t remember my own interview. But I’ve been in on a couple of hiring committees and I certainly don’t remember collaboration being a major point of the questioning and decision making.

Bill’s excellent list of interview questions focus on the individual. They hint at impact on colleagues and building, but only in their supporting questions. As such, I would like to humbly suggest two addenda to his list – questions that more directly get at an applicant’s willingness and ability to share their innovation outside their own classroom:

How would you go about promoting your innovative ideas outside of your classroom?

What would you do if they met resistance or indifference? How would you convince skeptics? What evidence would you use?

How would you make sure that you are learning from your colleagues?

What benefits do you see in learning from colleagues and what is happening in their classrooms? How would you deal with someone who just wanted to close the door and teach? What would you learn from colleagues outside your department? Outside this school? How would you make this learning a two-way street?

They’re not perfect questions, perhaps you have ideas for better questions, but they’re a start.

Finally, I think there’s potential for tying that first interview in with a teacher’s professional development process. As we work to improve the learning and evaluation processes involved in teaching I believe we need to focus on coherence. Too often one professional development activity doesn’t follow on another. Nor does the feedback from one evaluation build on the previous evaluation. Worst, when we plan our own professional growth for a year we usually find it difficult to remember what we stated as our goals the previous year. Certainly our goals don’t need to be the same from year to year, but the system should be more deliberate in reminding us of our ideals and aspirations. By starting that system with the first interview we might lay the groundwork for more innovative, collaborative careers for teachers.