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How Do We Hire the Very Best Teachers?

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Note: Today's guest post comes to us courtesy of Joel Sacket, who has been helping organizations realize their digital visions for almost a decade. Joel has worked on numerous high-profile projects, including PBS Student Reporting Labs, Whitehouse.gov and 2012 Olympics coverage for AP. Joel joined Hanover Research to help expand its product offerings in the eager, under-served education market. He tweets at @joelstweets.

Think back on your education - all those years sitting in classrooms and diligently taking tests. If I asked you to name the best teacher you had, or to explain why that teacher was so great, could you do it?

I'm going to guess the answer is yes: We all had those few special educators that really got through to us, and it's easy to pinpoint teaching style, passion, personality or another key trait as the reason why. But as they say, hindsight is 20/20. So while it might be easy for us to remember which teachers made an impact, it's a bit more difficult for districts to determine and select teacher prospects that will do the same.

The ability to identify and hire the very best candidates is extremely important. While there are countless factors that affect the success of any student in the classroom, research has shown over and over that teacher quality is the school-based factor with the largest impact on student achievement. That's not to say teacher quality is "the problem" - but it should remain top of mind as an area of focus when considering and working toward district improvements.

Some teacher screening tools promise to help on this front, while also promising to save schools time and money. But many administrators are wary of these promises ... and it's easy to understand why. Screening tools offer very little candidate data; the software simply provides a flat compatibility score to compliment the teacher's resume.

When it comes to defining and identifying great teachers, the formula isn't that simple. It's not one characteristic, qualification or ranking that makes a great teacher, but a combination. On top of that, we need to make sure we are honing in on the right characteristics in the first place: ones that affect a teacher's propensity to impact student achievement. To add complexity, each school system and opening comes with unique challenges and requirements, and simple screening tools are ill equipped to handle this situation.

In fact, a University of North Texas study of one screening tool found that almost half of the workforce analyzed would not have been hired if their screening score was the only factor in the hiring process. The study also noted that the findings did not support the tool's ability to even identify effective teachers to begin with. So while it's appealing to simplify the hiring process down to a score, we run the risk of highlighting questionable candidates and weeding out top ones ... without even fully understanding why.

A great teacher may miss the cut-off by a mere point - all while a key and distinguishing quality is hiding in the data, but never seen or considered.

The good news is that second-generation technology moves beyond this black-box approach. Using big data and decades of respected research, we can work to select the best candidates instead of screening them out. Selection tools and screening tools differ greatly, especially when it comes to the level of data these tools are built on and provide.

Selection tools, once again, are built on research into which characteristics give teachers the greatest chance of positively impacting student achievement - the end goal of education - and use predictive analysis to help identify those teachers. Plus, they incorporate quantitative and qualitative candidate characteristics, on top of allowing users to really dig into that information. You don't end up with a simple score ranking a candidate, but a 360-degree view.

One way selection tools make this happen is by making cognitive and behavioral data and qualities, which don't often emerge until one-on-one interviews if at all, become a part of the data collection further upstream. Additionally, customized questions and free-form answers help shed light on a candidate's personality, thought process, philosophy and more.

Of course, HR managers still understand better than anyone how details like personality, cultural fit, teaching style and so on should impact the decision. That's why another key benefit of comprehensive selection technology is the fact that they free up more time for the most important part of the hiring process: personally interviewing top candidates.

At the end of the day, there is no one-size-fits-all solution or simple hiring formula to finding the best teachers - but there are clear ways to improve the process. Selection tools are a great first step to helping get that next life-changing teacher in the classroom.

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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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