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  • Writer's pictureMike Vachow

What Do Your Hiring Practices Say About Your School?

Updated: Jun 24, 2021

Hiring is the Head's most important task. Independent schools have been excellent for many years because we hire great teachers and give them breath-taking autonomy. The classroom (be it a chemistry lab, a stage, a mountainside, the long ride to the game on a yellow bus) is the epicenter of the school, and everything and everyone else serves the teachers and children who form those learning communities. It stands to reason, then, that our hiring practices should reflect the school's most closely held values.

Unfortunately, however, hiring practices at many of our schools at best miss the opportunity to recruit marketing ambassadors for the school and at worst confirm the perception of independent schools as clubby, elitist enclaves. I offer here some practical steps you can take to improve your hiring practices and recommend professional growth opportunities to help you take on the process of discovering and mitigating hidden cultural biases in hiring.

  • Plan: The excellent 2017 NAIS report on the state of hiring suggests that on average our schools need more purposeful, granular hiring procedures and policies.

  • Communicate: The lowest hanging fruit on the list. Letting each applicant know that you have received his materials will vault your school into a rarefied group. Like just about every other industry, independent schools fail over 50% of the time to provide applicants with the courtesy of a simple acknowledgment. With solid planning , you'll be in a position to provide candidates with crisp, timely information at each step of the process. If you have entrusted consultants with some of this communication, ask for evidence that they have accomplished it.

  • Cull--Aggressively: For those candidates whose profiles are far from meeting the position's requirements, send an immediate, polite but clear "no". With the rest build three piles: sleeper, bullpen, ringer. "Sleepers" don't fit the immediate needs of the school but are folks you'd love to see turn up in a future search. The appropriate administrator should jot a quick email communicating exactly this sentiment and pop the resumes in a folder. Contact "ringers" and bring them in for interviews as quickly as possible. Tell "bullpen" candidates that they have been advanced to the committee for consideration and promptly cut them loose or bring them in as the process evolves.

  • Educate: It is the Head's responsibility to teach these essential hiring skills to senior administrators and to ensure that those senior administrators have educated their search teams. More important, the Head should lead an on-going process of discovery to make the hiring process as inclusive as possible. I highly recommend the work of NEMNET whose excellent workshops and recruitment counsel help schools connect with minority candidates who would never arrive through the traditional channels, and help schools discern the implicit biases inside their hiring practices that would make the school unappealing to these candidates, and likely many others.

Your hiring goals are directly analogous to the goals your Director of Admission has for prospective families: to leave each prospective employee feeling that, even with a negative outcome, the process was fair, transparent and carried out by caring, ethical people. No school, no matter how big and prestigious, nor small and humble, can afford to shrug off this obligation.

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