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  • Writer's pictureMike Vachow

Groundhog Day

Updated: Jun 24, 2021

Independent school heads steward hundreds of relationships beyond their immediate school communities: neighbors, leaders at peer schools, mentors, professional association leaders, consultants, community activists, higher education leaders, city government officials, realtors, corporate recruitment managers, relocation agents, to name a few. They might share many of these relationships with other members of their admin teams; the Director of Enrollment might own the last 3 in the list above, for instance, but a wise head will make time for them as well. Trustees can also be instrumental in helping heads build these relationships, by providing access at the outset and by helping the head deepen the relationships along the way.

Heads build these relationships for very explicit purposes, of course, and work hard to strengthen these ties during fallow seasons so that their network partners don't dread seeing their names pop up on caller ID. Hiring should be an important motivator behind one set of these relationships, and yet many heads start each hiring process from point zero, Groundhog Day style, with job postings and the hands-folded wait for resumes to float in. I posit that even very prestigious schools who collect hundreds of resumes for every position posting cannot afford this complacent approach to hiring, especially when it comes to building a group of candidates who are diverse in every respect.

I'll start from the beginning here, imagining an audience of rising star heads with no prior understanding of whom they should build hiring relationships with and how they should go about it.

Peer school leaders: There are many other reasons to get to know school leaders in your community, but your school being top of mind during their hiring season should be one. As they encounter teacher parents and alumni at their schools, or talented educators in their hiring pipeline who have educator partners, you want your number on their speed dial.

Higher education leaders: Deans of schools of education, faculty cross-appointed from other disciplines into teacher preparation programs, chairs responsible for hiring into their departments, medical school auxiliary groups and others who might encounter "trailing partners."

Professional network organizations: It is a certainty that the most prestigious, centuries-old independent school in your community, known like their own heartbeats to the privileged members of your city, is virtually unknown to thousands of people whose own histories are characterized by centuries of structural racism and neglect. Organizations like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Jack and Jill Club, historically Black fraternities and sororities, Urban League have long served to connect black and brown people to opportunities from which they have been historically excluded or discouraged.

Your colleagues, current and past parents, alumni: School people tend to know other school people. Tap into their networks. Likewise, the open, generative conversations that you make time for with everyone in your community not only help strengthen the community fabric but also put you in a position for serendipity: alumni-teacher, somebody's brother-in-law-teacher moving back to town, current parent considering a career change, past parent who's been your substitute school nurse moving into a life moment that allows her to work more.

Your files: Every search process should generate some "bullpen" candidates who didn't make the final cuts but whom you'd be happy to see in future searches. Organize and store these files so that they're easy to review as you initiate any search in earnest.

Unsolicited resumes: That interesting resume you get in October from the educator who just moved to town, months before hiring season? Give that person a call, thank them for their interest, invite them to campus, find out their story, let them know when and how the hiring season shapes up at your school, get them on the sub list, invite them to call back in December as you start to shape your hiring needs.

How do you build this network? I've known a few high-empaths for whom networking is like breathing and requires little reminding, but most people, especially those as busy with human contact as independent school heads, need to customize and routinize these efforts. Take advantage of the large window of opportunity that you have when you first arrive. People should reach out to you and will expect you to reach out. Build into your schedule key times of the day when you can be at large in public spaces and available to faculty, kids, parents. Use the flexibility of the summer schedule to dig into networking calls: set up two or three networking coffee or lunch dates each week, visit people on their turf, set a goal of building a few new relationships each summer, spend part of a day popping phone call reminders into your yearlong calendar, attend events where you'll have firsthand access to people, ask your administrative assistant to ask you once a week, do you owe anyone outside the school a staying in touch call?

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