November 26, 2006

Hiring teachers: what questions would you ask?

I've luckily never had to sit on an interview panel to offer someone else a job but have been on the receiving end of plenty of hard questions. On leaving university I managed to get down to the last dozen for eight hour job interviews with some of the big investment banks, The Bank of England and spent 12 months going through interviews, challenges and physical tests at the Royal Commissioning Board of Her Majesty's Armed Forces. What all this taught me is that good interviewers tend to get the best out of candidates, not just in the interview but for the rest of that candidate's time with the organisation.

It got me thinking, though, about some of the job interviews I have had in schools and how undemanding the questions have been. Most questions were of such a general nature that I could have prepared them in advance and recited to much aplomb: "What would you bring to the school as a whole? What would you do if...?" [hypothetical questions are such a waste of time. Why not ask about things that have actually happened?]. The job interview for my current job was, in fact, the most demanding I have been through, with the entire thing based in what I had actually managed to achieve, not what I would like to achieve if blah, blah, blah. It also helped me set out an agenda of things that I would need to do should I get the job making an even more potentially independent learner/worker.

Then, reading David Warlick's summary of this month's Smart Learning Interactive Educator I saw some of the questions I would love to hear asked in interview panels in East Lothian and beyond:

  • Tell me how you think the future you are preparing children for will be different.
  • What is your favorite gadget and why?
  • Describe the last new technology that you used and how you used it — and how you learned it.
  • Describe the last thing you learned related to your work, that you didn’t learn in a classroom or from a book, and describe how you learned it.

These aren't just about getting geeky teachers into classrooms. The answers could, in fact, be incredibly low-tech, ungeeky in their nature provided they showed that the individual seeking to lead others or work with our digital native kids was not prepared simply to stand still once tenure is offered.

These questions do help us spot those who make an effort to dip into the unknown, who learn organically from others, who know how to find out information for themselves.

That is, they help us find successful, independent learners.


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The most useful thing I taught myself, without a book or a teacher, was touch typing - in the hour while my second child had an afternoon nap... ;-D

Think the question "what piece of technology could you not do without in class and why?" is a good one. I was asked it by one of Joe's pupils at his conference and thought it was a great question.

Favourite gadget? Humour.
Second favourite gadget? Experience.
Third favourite gadget? Lists.
Fourth favourite gadget? Tautology.
Fifth favourite gadget? Brevity.
Sixth favourite gadget? Patience.
Seventh favourite gadget? The Bell.

My thoughts are very closely tied to the last one on David Warlick's list.

"Describe the last thing you learned related to your work, that you didn’t learn in a classroom or from a book, and describe how you learned it."

How do you learn new things? What tactics and resources do you use?

I would want the answer to include technology, books, print, video etc., but just as importantly how they network with others either on-line or face-to-face.

As important as any question might be, more important is that the interview committee agree on what would make up a good answer.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.

His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.

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