At the 2011 Forum, our panel guests had a lot of wisdom to share about finding and evaluating school talent. For the first post in this series, see Mike Piscal’s response to hiring 40 teachers and 15 admins in 4 months for the Andre Agassi Preparatory Academy, Las Vegas.


The other panelists included Cheryl Collins (Principal, Holy Family School, Chicago), Leigh McGuigan (Partner, The New Teacher Project, New York), with moderator Susan Work (President, Holy Family Ministries, Chicago).

Cheryl stressed the importance of teacher references, not only in requiring them from all potential hires, but also being “open and honest when you receive a call for a reference” from a teacher no longer with you. Require the same honesty of yourself that you would like to be given.

When you hear the weaknesses of a potential teacher, Cheryl recommends asking, “Are these weaknesses that can be turned into strengths?” She deems it important to find out where all applicants stand in regards to “instruction, differentiation, teaching in groups, scoring guides, and classroom management techniques.” Like Mike, she also allowed students to meet the final candidates to see if their decision matched hers.

Leigh added that after teachers and principals have been hired, the “most common mistake is to hold out to see if they will change when you should just replace them.”

The next topic prompted by the moderator Susan Work also brought about great advice:

“How do you coach and mentor teachers, move some from good to great? Do you have any coaching techniques?”

All panelists agreed it is important to stay in the classroom frequently with new teachers.

Cheryl: “Stay in teachers’ classrooms frequently in the first few months to make them more comfortable with the principal being around. Team teach with them, show them questioning strategies for the children. Sometimes just address the children. Other times don’t talk, then leave a note with comments, corrections, and suggestions. That way they are less nervous on the official evaluation.”

Mike went further with Cheryl’s technique of the principal team teaching with the students and said he follows a distributed leadership model that empowers teachers to train each other. He pairs “mediocre teachers with the best ones.” The cost of this runs about the cost of a substitute teacher. Mike stressed the importance of having clear goals for what should be accomplished in the classroom and plans for how to do so. “Teachers need routines.” He also suggested looking into the models being developed by the Gates Foundation. Resources include Learning about Teaching: Research and Policy, and the Measure of Effective Teaching Project.

Leigh recommended that teachers use the techniques described in Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College, otherwise known as Lemov’s Taxonony, named after its writer. A few tips include injecting joy into the classroom, “positive framing” – teachers correct misbehavior not by chiding students for what they’re doing wrong but by offering what Lemov calls “a vision of a positive outcome,” and calling on students as opposed to them raising their hands to be called. For more check out an article on the book at the New York Times.

STC teachers, are there any techniques that helped you get where you are today? STC leaders, are there any hiring effective practices you can share?