“People have one thing in common; they are all different.” – Philosopher Robert Zend
Last summer, Adam Phyall and I were engaged in an interesting conversation. This isn’t uncommon as anyone that knows us knows we can debate and discuss just about anything under the sun, but this time it was different. For one, we weren’t at a conference or a school building. We were “tubing” down a river in central Texas (a favorite past-time of ours down here). I throw that in not as a non sequitur, but to mention that we were both out of our normal “professional” environments which enabled some freedom in what turned into a highly engaging discussion around equity. During our 3 hours down the river we discussed our backgrounds. Where we came from. How we were raised. What we each had to overcome and what kind of supports we had. How we raise our children and how we find and cultivate “our crew” of friends.
We discussed race openly and honestly. This included conversations that might be uncomfortable for some, but with our years of friendship and genuine empathy, it was absolutely captivating. We wondered – how do we help students understand the differences in race and culture in a way that is productive? Too often uncomfortable conversations are avoided or left to HR personnel that come in and talk to staff about equity in the hopes it makes its way into the classroom. Not knowing how to proceed on that front, we stuck a pin in the conversation until a later date.
That later date was a month later. I was about to take the stage at the GAMEIS conference in Savannah when Adam came in to chat. We sat in the front row and re-engaged in the conversation from a month before, albeit in a much more formal setting now. As we went back and forth, we weren’t aware that more and more people began to seat around us and listen in to our discussion. They were both “highly engaged and intellectually stimulated” (their quote, not mine) at not only our content but how we addressed what they admitted was a hard topic to tackle with honesty. At one point near the end of the conversation, Adam remarked, “We should just do this as a session.”
Our opportunity would arrive just a few weeks later. As we are both national advisors for Future Ready Schools, there was an opportunity to present our idea at the February TCEA conference in Austin. Future Ready Schools not only tackles the issues of technology, budget, privacy, and curriculum, but is also an organization that champions opportunities to solve issues of inequity in schools across the country. Adam and I had our opportunity to formalize what started as an informal discussion and turn it into an interactive conversation around equity.
On February 3rd, we walked into our session with both excitement and un-easiness as to how our conversation would be accepted. To ramp up the talk, we decided to wear coordinating t-shirts of “Ebony” for me and “Ivory” for him. As it was a Monday morning session in a week-long conference focused on technology tools, we weren’t sure how many people to expect around the topic. We were pleased to see so many show up ready to engage and discuss the truth about stereotypes we make regularly in our schools and how to use student backgrounds as a way to better inform our instruction rather than pass judgment on their character.
During one of the segments, we asked the audience to list what words we use in education that could lead unintended stereotypes. While Adam and I brainstormed a few, they came up with an overwhelming amount as you can see in the screen shot below:
We also discussed recent cases in Texas and New Jersey of students being asked to change their appearance and what other cultural assumptions we might be making in schools. Technology also has a part to play in this discussion. As was witnessed at the conference, eSports is making a HUGE splash across many high schools throughout the country. Those students on eSports teams can practice in school but many also practice at home on $3000+ computer gaming systems. That immediately eliminates many of our lower-economic students from participating, a talking point many in the crowd hadn’t immediately considered.
While I won’t go through every point of the talk, our main goal was not to tell them how to solve every issue of inequity, but rather to make them think and reflect on their current situations. Neither of us represent an entire race. We only represent a viewpoint of two educators that have lived somewhat mirrored lives only from opposite identities when it comes to race. We listed the following three questions for audience members to reflect on:
At the end, we attempted to summarize our unique viewpoints with passion and emotion in 3 minute co-poetry slam titled “Ebony and Ivory”. After the talk ended, we were overwhelmed with the amount of support and interest from the audience. Many commented on the fact that these were the conversations we needed to be having regularly in schools. What kinds of conversations are you having at your school around equity and race? Too often times, these conversations are not conversations at all. They are a set of bullet points on a powerpoint at the beginning of the year staff orientation or a required video that staff watch along with blood-born pathogens so that schools can “check the box” on equity training.
We had definitely touched on a nerve while at the same time stretching both of us out of comfort zones when it comes to presenting. We’re not sure where this goes next but we do have some plans on how to engage students more in this conversation at the classroom level (stay tuned). We also hope to expand this session to more events in the future, as we feel this is a conversation that needs to take place in district offices and classrooms across the country.
Interested in having Adam and Carl come to your district or event? Reach out here: Mrhook.it/speak
When I started this position in 2010, hiring new educational technologists followed the same lines as all other positions in the district. A group would get together, look at resumes, and basically determine which 4-6 candidates made the most sense on paper to come in and interview for the position. The interview was a standard 1-hour process made up of the typical questions like “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” or “Tell us more about yourself.” While this process had been in place for years, it really didn’t shed much light on the ins and outs of the position itself nor did it give other candidates a chance to participate if they didn’t have what it takes on paper.
Something else I noticed in education (and somewhat in private business as well) is that it’s much easier to hire someone than it is to fire them. If hiring consists of a 1-hour interview and a couple of reference checks, firing takes months to years worth of documentation, discussions, mediations, and even at times, legal involvement. With that background, over the past few years, we’ve set out to make the hiring process much more robust. In December of 2011, I thought I had nailed it by adding a presentation component to the process.
Alas, it was just the beginning.
What follows is the now 9-part process we implement when it comes to hiring an Ed Tech at Eanes ISD. I’m sharing this because other districts may benefit from reviewing and updating their hiring practices and I would also love to learn from other districts that have a more rigorous or innovative process.
Round 1 – Application Score
Looking through the field of applicants, any that match the minimum criteria for the position as posted on the job description make it into this initial round. Putting all the applicant resumes and cover letters in a shared folder, my team reviews each and gives them a rating based on the campus that needs to be filled and how well their resume aligns.To keep consistent, each scoring section carries a 1 to 5 scale for interviewers to score the applicants.
Round 2 – Social Media Background Check
According to Career Builder, 43% of companies now add a social media background check as part of the hiring process. As our position involves sharing online as well as gathering content via virtual PLNs, I individually search each of the qualified candidates on social media. A candidate with no profile online can’t hurt them, but it also doesn’t help them. In some cases I’ve come across questionable material which has caused me to pass on a candidate and in other cases, I’ve seen some amazing digital profiles that could nudge the candidate into the next round if there is a tie or they are below the cut-off line. Based on profiles I either award a single point, a zero, or a negative point to the process. Taking the applicant score and social media background check bonus, we narrow the field down to 12-14 applicants which will then process to the next round.
Round 3 – Video Resume
Those 12-14 candidates that survive round one and the social media check are then asked to create a video resume. This is a 2-minute or less video that highlights the best of the candidate. We encourage candidates to be as creative and to not make the video Eanes specific (more on that later). Usually at this point, a few candidates drop out and some have even claimed they “don’t have time for this” which is somewhat telling. The candidates have 5 days to create their video and submit at which point I put each video into a form to be scored by the interview team. Here’s a mock version of the form (added some of my favorite video projects to protect the innocent). Following the scoring round, we reduce the field to either 4 or 8 candidates depending on the positions we need to fill. Those candidates are then invited to participate in “The Gauntlet”.
No, not that classic video game from the 1980’s, but it is somewhat equally challenging. In fact, at some point during the process I can almost hear the game narrator say, “Valkyrie, your life force is running out.” The Gauntlet all takes place on the same day. The idea is to give each applicant a snap-shot of a day in the life of an Ed Tech. It also optimizes the time of the interview committee. In the traditional interview method (1-hour Q&A with a candidate), reviewing 4 applicants would take 4 hours plus time in between each candidate as well as prep and debrief time. Looking at 4 candidates in this traditional format would generally take up to 6 hours. This process reduces the actual time with the candidates to 2.5 hours and gives us a much broader look at the skills and talents of each candidate. Here’s a matrix of what the day might look like for four applicants (A-D):
Rounds 4-7 – The Gauntlet Matrix
Each candidate participates in these 4 components. They are all done in a different order for each candidate but laid out as such that the interview portion doesn’t back up to the presentation portion, as those tend to involve the most stress. Each component takes 30 minutes or less.
Round 4 – One-on-One time
Each candidate gets an opportunity to ask a previous Ed Tech questions. In some cases, it could be an Ed Tech that was previously posted at the school hiring or one that has retired. Which this seems like a pretty easy step, you can tell a lot about a candidate based on the questions he/she asks. The Ed Tech being questioned returns at the end of the process to report out their view on each of the candidates based on the questions asked.
Round 5 – Interview
This is the most traditional component, but we tried to update some of the traditional questions to make it more modern. George Couros has a great post here that ties the 8 characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset (his book) to interview questions. To prepare the candidates, I email them the general topics around what questions are asked so they can have a story or two in mind. (i.e. Perseverance, handling failure, leadership, etc) Then, each person in the interview room is given a scoring form with each question asked. Here’s an example of what that form looks like.
Round 6 – Problem-Solving Room
Candidates are placed in a private office and asked to answer three different email scenarios on a Google doc (see example below). The scenarios involve an email from a parent, a teacher, and a principal that pose a problem or concern that needs to be addressed. The Google doc is viewable by the rest of the interview team which are then asked to score them (blindly) based on the candidate responses. (Mock example here) As a wild-card, during this process I walk in wearing a wig (yes…a wig) and different outfit. I’m playing the role of a teacher who’s iPad won’t work as well as someone who questions why we even have iPads in the classroom. As part of this role is constantly getting interrupted for just-in-time troubleshooting and problem-solving, the purpose of this wild-card isn’t to see how they fix the problem as much as how they deal with me. I then awarded a bonus point to the candidates with the best responses.
Round 7 – Mini-Presentation
Each applicant is asked to prepare a mini-presentation that lasts no longer than 20 minutes which builds in some time for set-up and Q&A afterwards. The audience is made up of administrators, Ed Techs, and staff from the campuses that are hiring. The candidates are encouraged to use this time to showcase their presentation/training style while also teaching the group an idea/topic/concept. Following each mini-presentation, the audience scores the candidate using a form like this one.
Following the jigsaw matrix of the 4 rounds above, the candidates are all invited into our main room to participate in the final collaboration challenge.
Round 8 – Collaboration Challenge
Each candidate sits with a team of 3 teachers to help solve a dilemma or disagreement. The teachers are asked to play three different roles: a teacher that is super excited to integrate technology, one that is not, and one that is in-between. They are then asked to choose one of two different blind scenarios and read them aloud. Over the course of the next 20 minutes, we observe how the candidates listen, ask questions, and help mediate the mock team meeting. Afterwards, each group assigns a collaboration score using a form like this one.
Following all the challenges, the entire group meets to debrief. We hear the strengths of each candidates as well as the areas which they would need support if hired. We don’t rank the applicants or ask for a ranking as the scores will bear that out. Even with the scoring system, it’s always good to hear from members of the interview crew. As this group is made up of teachers from hiring campuses, administrators and Ed Techs, they each provide a unique perspective on the candidates and how they can fit with the campus culture. I then ask them to submit their final thoughts on an open-ended form as sometimes, sharing in a group of 16-18 educators can be intimidating and I want to hear the thoughts of everyone on the committee.
Round 9 – Reference Checks
Pretty standard, but necessary. I use this time to ask not only the strengths, but also what supports the candidate might need going forward in our district.
While this is an exhaustive process, using technology helps us optimize time spent with the candidates as well as receive feedback from a wide variety of people. While this is the first year, we’ve implemented the “Gauntlet”, we have done the mock presentation, email scenarios and video resumes in the past. In looking at the blind scores and coupling that with the feedback from the group, EACH time the candidate with the highest overall score also gets the most positive feedback.
Communication is key for this to work. From the moment the applicant applies to the day I offer them the job, I’ve sent them an email with an updated timeline and instructions for each step along the process. I’m doing this not only to inform them, but to also see if they follow-up for questions or respond to let me know they received the instructions (testing their professionalism a bit). In many way, this process begins when that first email is sent.
For those candidates that don’t get hired, I try and give them feedback on things they could improve to earn the position in the future. In some cases, applicants return the following year and get hired based on this feedback and campus match. In other cases, I’ve had candidates tell me they’ve received offers in other districts based on their video resume (which is why I ask them to not make it “Eanes specific”).
Hiring will never be as hard as letting an employee go. I know this process isn’t perfect and we are constantly trying to improve it. One thought from the team is to weight the scores of different components based on importance (like the collaboration or presentation components). Regardless, my hope with this process is that we can be as informed about a candidate’s personality, skill-set, work ethic, and overall ability so that firing will never be an option.