Friday, October 17, 2008

"Employment At" School Webpages

I’m writing this from Canada, where I will be speaking at the Canadian Association of Independent Schools conference for school heads on the subject of “Building Faculties.” It’s hard not to have been distracted by financial turmoil as I have been putting my presentation together, with grim scenarios of hiring and salary freezes or worse spinning through my head. It’s pretty certain that we’ll see some enrollment reductions, and schools are already figuring out how to tighten their belts. “Holding Faculties Together in Tough Times” may be next year’s topic.

Maybe, in the worst cases, either hiring new teachers won’t be necessary, or maybe there will be so many people in the job market looking for anything that every open teaching job will attract hordes of qualified applicants. But I don’t really think things will necessarily reach that point.

Experience tells me, and I’ll admit that others may have data to contradict me, that tough times may actually mean that excellent teachers become harder to find. This may be because veterans elect to stay where they are or because independent school teaching looks like an economically vulnerable luxury service to young people looking to start careers. What this experience suggests to me, however, is that in a recession schools may find themselves in the ironic position of having to look even harder for teachers.

One point I’m going to make to my audience in Canada is that individual schools’ “employment at” (or “jobs at” or “careers at”) webpages are in need of some sprucing up. No longer is it enough just to list job openings, formal descriptions, and contact information. Hiring webpages need to be thoughtful, appealing, and as specific and informative as possible not just about today’s job postings but also about what it is like to work at the school.

College admission websites are pretty good models here; for a number of years now the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, has used student and admission-office bloggers to give something of the flavor of day to day life at M.I.T., and prospective students can find out anything they want to about just about any university by contacting someone in the admission office. While this level of response to the merely interested may not be feasible for schools’ hiring sites, the up-close-and-personal aspect of blogs written by a couple of teachers and perhaps even students seems like a great way to give candidates a sense of what it means to belong to a school community.

If the school already has blogs, virtual tours, or other interactive and “insider view” materials on its admission or other webpages, the hiring pages need to link directly to these. The same goes for online newspapers or literary magazines, sports pages, and anything else that reveals the school as it is. If the school has some great materials or information to share about teaching in particular, make these easily available for the world to see.

And even if prosperity turns out to be just around the corner, the challenge of attracting the very best teachers will remain. Schools often forget that prospective teachers make up a vital target audience for marketing materials, and, whether the future holds famine or feast, infusing the school’s hiring webpages with real vitality seems like a great way to enhance the recruiting process for relatively little cost.

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