We’ve all been there before. We sit on an interview committee. We interview candidates all day long. Maybe we meet 8-10 of the “chosen ones” from a pool of hundreds of applications that are now mostly done using on-line application software solutions for candidates to upload their resumes, letters of interest, transcripts, and references. We even get a FREE lunch out of sitting on our school or district interview committees. The pizza and subs are good. I would highly recommend those menu items.
But, what are we really doing? How do we even know that the “top 10” should even really be sitting in front of us in the first place? How do we know that the dispositions and attitudes of our candidates were already screened at the district level using narrativized stories? Using what? Stories?
Yes, stories. In Hiring the Best Staff for Your School (Routledge, 2016), I present years of research which illustrates how stories can be used to mine for attitudes and dispositions that will help staff members to be the best fit possible in your school and community. The methods in the book are clear and simple. Hiring is a form of instructional leadership. So, why not try it out? Why not see what stories can do for you?
The Four “SLAC” Creeds
In my book, I contend that creating narratives with impact have to do with highlighting the important roles that students, learning, assessments, and culture (SLAC) have on your organization. Through stories, we can mine for the best attitudes about anything that we want to ask about. But, it better be an important story that really gets at the heart of what you want to find out about your candidate pool. Take a look at this narrative used by a principal in North Carolina who wanted to glean the attitudes and dispositions from candidates about block scheduling which was a hot topic for their particular school district:
“Jacobs Middle School moved to a block schedule format last year. I’m not sure what I think about it for our school, but there are pros and cons to everything, I guess. I mean, having the students for two class periods in a row? Wow . . . that takes a lot of prep work and energy. I would have to really re-think my teaching. On the other hand, sometimes one class period isn’t enough time to get my students situated or have them accomplish everything that they need to complete. I dunno . . . it is such a complex topic . . . maybe we should just wait to see what happens next year at Jacobs . . . or maybe we should jump right in and try it. Either way, we have to come to a decision regarding block scheduling before the schedule is created and students receive their schedules over the summer.”
--Ron Gladstone, Washington Middle School Social Studies Teacher
This narrative tool has the power to uncover human attitudes about block scheduling by situating the speaker to respond, authentically. It presents the topic of block scheduling and a few opposing positions through the thoughts and reflections of Ron which give readers two possible avenues to entertain: The candidates being interviewed would have to either like it or not like it and detail their position in writing. It also touches upon the idea of “someone needing to make a decision,” which gets to the heart of how collective decisions in an organization might either upset or not affect the candidate being interviewed.
The narrative is non-biased, indeed, but it will open up emotional responses based on the use of this human tool—story telling. To ask an interview question about block scheduling will not give you the same “way in” to the specific dispositions of the candidate. Sure, one can simply ask, “How do you feel about block scheduling,” but many other points might be forgotten by the respondent.
Instead, as we read stories, from a real person, about real topics, using real language, we are compelled as humans to take a position, wrestle with it, and as we explain our thoughts, we are left with insights about our own true passions regarding the issues presented in the original stories that we read, respond to, or author, ourselves.
You have to believe that telling stories to assess attitudes would matter, because it does matter. Dealing with a difficult employee is perhaps the worst problem to have when going to work. Remember, there are hundreds, even thousands of candidates out there competing for educational positions. You have to find the best match for your organization without stifling creativity and freewill and you really wouldn’t base your entire interview on this one narrative sample, anyway. But, it certainly would help. No other screening tool will help you to assess attitudes, unless you construct questions that are attitude based, such as those outlined below:
Attitude-Based Interview Questions
1.) Tell me about your own experiences in physical education classes and what you now wish to do the same or differently from those past classes that you took when you were a child.
2.) Discuss your attitudes about State mandates for physical education requirements.
3.) What are your thoughts about grading students in your physical education classes?
4.) What are your attitudes about students who play football? Golf? Yoga? Cheerleading?
5.) How do you feel about obese students needing to complete the same course requirements as their peers who are not obese?
6.) Should students with poor grades be able to continue participating in extracurricular activities or playing a sport?
Remember, using narrative tools should be a cultural and consistent process for your school or district that would be relevant and customized to your institution.
Stories that can be Measured
You might be wondering: How in the world can I measure something so human during an interview. Easy. Hiring the Best Staff for Your School includes tons of information about how to set up rubrics to gauge that which we think cannot be measured. You would come up with criteria that would be useful for gauging a story response and all of that is outlined in the book.
The research is tough to refute: When stories are used, the likelihood of you finding positive attitudes and matching those attitudes to your organization as you make a recommendation for hiring the best staff member possible is something that we often ignore while finishing up the French Fries that came with our lunch.