Amy Turner, principal of Copeland Elementary School (grades 2–5) in Huffman ISD, uses a unique approach to develop teacher selection committees on her campus. As a new principal, she found herself responsible for filling an unusually large number of vacancies.
She called a family member for guidance and was pointed in the direction of a very successful, seasoned principal in the Dallas area who suggested using a book study to prepare her teacher interview committee. From this, Turner was inspired to implement the innovative process and has worked with the resulting committee for the past three years.
Developing an inclusive process
Being a new principal, Turner felt the need to connect with existing staff as she sought to fill campus vacancies. During the fall of her first year, she sent an e-mail to all teachers to solicit volunteers who were interested in participating on the selection committee. The only requirements were to be willing to participate in a book study during the fall semester and be able to help with interviews during the summer, if available. About 25 percent of her staff volunteered to participate in the process.
Each volunteer was given a copy of Six Types of Teachers: Recruiting, Retaining, and Mentoring the Best by Douglas J. Fiore and Todd Whitaker. The book is intended to sharpen the reader’s ability to hire better teachers, improve those already on campus, and retain top quality educators.
About every two weeks, Turner met with the group to discuss one to two chapters. Discussions centered on comparing and contrasting activity on the campus with best practices described in the book. At the end of each meeting, the group brainstormed interview questions that aligned with characteristics of a great teacher as well as campus goals and school culture.
Turner said she had participated in interviews in the past and the practice had been to only ask team leaders or department heads to sit in on the committee. Typically, no instructions or training were provided. In contrast, her approach of accepting all volunteers empowered other teachers who might not have ever had this opportunity.
Positive outcomes realized
When the hiring season started in the spring, the committee began their real work. According to Turner the results were extremely positive. Benefits of the new approach were apparent, including increased staff buy-in, improvement in the quality of interview questions, more efficient processes, and most importantly, the quality of new hires increased.
Buy-in: During the fall semester, as the book study progressed, a sense of unity developed among the group. Other teachers who had not signed up to participate became interested in the process and were impressed by the participating group’s comments as their understanding of the purpose grew.
Quality of questions: The interview questions developed by the team were designed with a goal in mind. The committee sought to find not just a replacement for the resigning or retiring teacher, but a high-quality replacement. The new questions produced a depth of information that allowed the committee to reduce the number asked, resulting in a more efficient process. The committee also identified the “look fors” or desired response to each question to assess the quality of applicant responses. As the interview progressed, the team analyzed the potential of each applicant.
Because everyone participating in the interview process had participated in the book study as well as the creation of the questions, details of what to expect from the process were clear. Team members felt the new model took less time and that they were able to obtain a more thorough understanding of applicants. Improving the efficiency in this manner freed up more time for the committee members to focus on instruction.
Overall, this process has improved school culture. The relationships that were built through this hiring process, not only among the interviewers, but with the interviewee, has contributed to this change. The process has resulted in committee members having a sense of ownership in the success of new hires.
The role of HR
Turner credits Shirley Dupree, the district’s executive director of human resources, for the success she has experienced with the implementation of this process. Dupree has supported Turner’s unique process from the beginning. Instead of determining that things needed to be done the way they've always been done, she listened to Turner’s idea and helped along the way by vetting applicants and helping find candidates for critical shortage areas. This collaboration has paid dividends not only in the quality of applicant that Turner has secured but in an improved retention rate of teachers on her campus.
Looking into the future
When Turner originally began this process, she was principal of Huffman Intermediate School, which served grades 4–5. This year, the district merged her campus with Copeland Elementary, which now serves grades 2–5. Turner plans to expand the committee to include grades 2–3. This time around, she's going to have a teacher from the original cohort lead the process. She plans on participating, but intends to empower this experienced teacher to prepare the new committee members.
 Huffman ISD is a commuter district that serves 3,300 students on the northeast side of Houston and has four campuses: Ben Bowen Early Childhood Center (PK–1), Copeland Elementary School (2–5), Huffman Middle School (6–8) and Hargrave High School (9–12).