Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Recruiting Strategies

In uncertain economic times the quality of a school's faculty matters more than ever, and the conditions of 2009 should occasion that smartest, most intentional hiring season ever. Whether the school is looking for one teacher or many, thoughtful recruiting--based on the hiring self-study recommended in a previous post as well as on the specific need--will increase the probability of bringing in appropriate candidates who, as teacher, will be able to deliver to students the programs on whose quality the school's reputation and well-being will depend.

Smart recruiting is mission-driven. The qualities of prospective teachers should match the stated and lived values and purposes of the school. Therefore, schools ought to think carefully about where they begin to post positions and cast their nets in search of candidates who will be good matches. No school should rely exclusively on agencies and hiring fairs to meet their needs, although these can be great sources of outstanding candidates; neither should schools automatically table applications that come in "out of the blue." Agencies, incidentally, are more than willing to work very closely with schools to match candidates, and whoever is in charge of a school's hiring should not be afraid to push agency contacts in search of the best people.

In recent years most independent schools have expressed a desire to make diversity an important part of their recruiting efforts, but too often the challenges of a what is often described as a "small pool" force schools to abandon this goal. This is an unfortunate situation that at its worst can breed some cynicism in the school community among those committed to diversity, but any school can make the extra effort needed to expand the reach of its recruiting efforts. At the least, organizations like StrateGenius and NEMNET, which both offer minority placement services, should be consulted at the outset of the hiring season.

To begin with, schools should explore local recruiting resources. Job listings for teaching positions can be posted in local newspapers, and such listings increasingly show up on sites such as Craig's List--it's not crazy to recruit where more and more people actually go looking. If there are local or regional publications where an inexpensive small display ad about "working at St. Basalt's" would attract attention, consider using such an ad as a conduit for contact with the school; this will be most cost-effective in cases where the school is making multiple hires.

In communities or regions with newspapers or on-line publications focused on traditionally underserved populations, want-ads for teaching jobs--even translated into languages other than English, if appropriate--are likely to reach potential candidates who might not be "hooked into" the agency or job fair scene or who might not know about school "jobs" webpages or regional association listing sites. Additionally, such ads are signals to that community that the school is thoughtful about its desire to participate in a multicultural world and sincere in its desire to have a diverse faculty, and such signals can attract new student applicants, as well. (In fact, all teacher-recruiting materials should be considered as having a role in student recruitment, as well.)

The content of the school's position listings is important. Some ads make schools sound so august and formal as to be potentially off-putting, while others supply so little information about either the position or the school as to be practically useless. Boilerplate language about the school should be concise but as warm as possible, and job descriptions should leave enough room for flexibility so that qualified candidates who do not fit a precise description are not discouraged. Visual content should be inviting; it is possible that the school seal and Latin motto are better left out or replaced simply by the school name in its official font.

I posted earlier on "employment at" websites, which should be made as comprehensively informative and as attractive as possible. If the school creates its own print materials for teacher recruiting, these should obviously be good-looking and focused on why it's great to teach at St. Basalt's--professional development opportunities, community, programs--and try to differentiate or at least be very specific about the professional and social culture of the school; good photographs showing actual teaching will help. Schools need to remember that the recruiting season is about attracting and energizing smart, committed teachers and not about impressing them with the school's past glories; these matter, but the teacher will be starting work in 2009 and needs to have a sense of what the school is like as a place to work, grow, and live.

Other places to look for potential teachers include such usual suspects as college and university placement offices but also employment fairs with a public/charter school focus (look around or check with your local public school system), industrial employment fairs (there might be some potentially terrific STEM teachers who could be curious to sit down with a school at such a fair in times when job pickings are slim), and even local teacher union newsletters. The U.S. government's Troops to Teachers program "helps eligible military personnel begin a new career as teachers," and teachers ending their stints with Teach for America may be good bets and can be reached at the TFA outplacement site.

Although some school administrators detest the hiring process and work to complete it as soon as possible, its importance to the vitality and even viability of the school should inspire creativity, serious effort, and patience. It may take time to bring in a "ideal" candidates, but they are out there: expert, diverse, enthusiastic, and excited by the mission of your school. Work thoughtfully to find them and to let them know as much as possible about the school even before beginning to interview and hire, and the next year will go even more smoothly because the new hires will understand and be committed to the school and its mission.

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