Freshmen meetings – easy version

I love my kids at school and I really try to make sure that the students know that I care, that I know them, and that I am approachable. Technically, it doesn’t matter if I know EVERYTHING about them – but it helps to know the big stuff or the “in joke” with them – that is what really makes a connection. What I mean is – if I have my own little joke or regular comment to them, then I have a connection. The “football kid” gets the weekly – how is the team looking this week? Another kid might have a nickname or a shared joke. That is a simple way to make a connection.

To do this, I set up a meeting with EVERY FRESHMAN (that’s right – 450 of them)! Here’s how it works:

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Feed your pig!

I don’t know if you are familiar with this saying from the south, but I heard it at a recent HIgh Schools that Work (HSTW) conference…

“Weighing a pig over and over won’t make it fatter!”

This is a popular anti-testing quip that seems so “common sense” but reveals a distressing lack of understanding about how weighing [testing] can inform the farmer [teacher] about whether the feed [instruction] is benefiting the pig [student].
I will be sad if I don’t get one comment claiming that I am calling students pigs or animals – I hope you get the point of the metaphor/analogy.

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Authentic job candidate activities

I love the interview process from both the candidate side and the selection committee side. It’s always exciting to meet people that are interested in joining the team and to hear all the different ways a new addition can enhance the team. I previously wrote a post about interview questions and practices related to hiring a complimentary mindset (here).

I very seldom see teacher candidates asked to complete an authentic task or activity related to the job as part of the interview process. I don’t know why we are content with the traditional resume glance and question and answer interview-but it may have to do with the large number of applicants and openings and the practicality of having an elaborate selection process. Regardless, here are some ideas that real schools can use to include an authentic activity to help identify strong candidates:

1) Mini-Unit planning! Provide a candidate with a textbook, resources, computer access, worksheets, and other curricular materials and ask them to sketch out an objective-based mini-unit; from the lessons each day, to resources they would select, to possible test items, to reteaching/enrichment activities. This activity could last 30 minutes and produce a couple pages of simply sketched out lesson plans. The goal would not be to have extreme detail in the plan-but to give a sense of what kind of things the teacher would look for when designing and planning a lesson on a specific standard. I’m sure we can all imagine what a good example and a poor example would look like. Seeing frequent formative’s and different levels of questioning aligned to a single objective would be a powerful example of a teacher’s skill. Seeing a textbook/workbook based unit might demonstrate a lack of understanding of concepts or an overreliance on following the textbook. The candidate could be given different choices based on the subject taught or their specialty area. This activity could be done adequately in 30 minutes with a typed “plan” to be reviewed by the committee related to any follow up question during the interview.

2) Angry Parent Email! A candidate could be presented with resources like gradebook, work samples, rubrics, observational notes or previous parent-teacher emails and then be asked to respond to a hostile email from a patent about the specific student. He goal would be to write a reasonable response that is respectful and shows positive regard to parent an student. Also, the interview committee could look for the candidate’s ability to show empathy, take a solutions-based approach, provide options to the parent/student, and demonstrate flexibility or a focus on student learning (not punishment/judgement). It would only take 15 minutes to draft an email and provide it to the committee for evaluation. It would be easy to develop a rubric to score the response on the qualities/characteristics listed.

3) Test Critique! Provide the candidate with resources and a sample assessment and ask them to analyze the test and provide feedback on its quality (strengths and weaknesses) or list modifications that they would make to improve the assessment. Some “look fors” would be the alignment of items to multiple standards, test item complexity, balance of items, individual item and answer quality, grading rubrics/point breakdown, and insight into their overall assessment philosophy. This activity could take 20 minutes or so – with a written critique.

4) Facilitate a high level discussion! Provide resources like a reading assignment or multiple brief text selection and ask the candidate to develop some discussion questions (and follow-up questions) for a small group of students on a specific topic or standard embedded in the text. They would write their own dialogue with questions AND answers. The committee could look for their ability to ask high level questions, good follow-up questions, positive reinforcements, understanding of what kinds of responses typical kids might give, or a sense of humor/teaching style. This could take 30 minutes before the official interview.

These are just ideas, but wouldn’t it be a great way to “go deeper” with candidates? I think it allows us to see both their skill and competence levels, but also their personal vision and mindset when doing routine educational tasks.