Improving Teaching & Learning by Hiring the Right People

How can we improve teaching and learning? It’s a big question and one where we might leap to some standard ‘stock’ answers. It’s class size. The curriculum. Learner engagement. Or perhaps it’s managing the move to academies or changing landscapes from government directives.

These are all true – but when it comes to teaching and learning, doesn’t it all start with the right people? As Charlotte Danielson, author of Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching tells us, “High-level learning by students requires high-level instruction by their teachers (2007).”

In 2016, it was estimated that the UK is in requirement of another 160,000 teachers, and with studying for a degree and doing initial teacher training taking three to four years full-time, or four to six years part-time, there are ‘peaks and waves’ that FE institutions need to ride.

However important getting people on the ground is, we can and should afford to be selective in our candidates. Great teachers make a lasting impact, and hiring the right people for your FE college or training provider is a big deal. With AOC estimating that colleges educate and train 2.2 million people, it’s incredible that FE recruitment can be seen as a burden, chore or something that needs to be done with as soon as possible.

Can you look at your own experiences and really say that the hiring process has been exceptional?

Where FE hiring goes wrong

If we want improved learning experiences for our learners, we need to do things differently. However, there are still the same processes in place, the hurdles from the application, to interview, to references. If we take a look at the process in the private sector, things are a lot more ‘fluid’. You might meet your new team on interview number two, have an office tour on interview one or perhaps be asked to sit with your new team for a trial.

Meanwhile, in FE and training, things don’t always run as smoothly!

According to Career Builder, if your application form is too long or complex you could be losing up to a staggering 60% of your qualified candidates. With nearly a third of candidates (30%) saying that they won’t spend more than 15 minutes on an application form, FE is in dire need of a shake-up – as the paraphrase says, keep doing the same thing and then, of course, you get the same result. Let’s not mention mobile applications either…

It’s not just about attracting fresh teacher talent or millennial applicants. An issue in hiring affects the whole sector, across generations. Did you know that every year, 15 percent of teachers quit, either switching schools or leaving the profession entirely, often to retire. That, in turn, means that each year, schools get a new slate of teachers to replace those who leave.

There’s also evidence to show that teachers or educators who are hired late in the academic year are also more likely to leave sooner. This could be because they came in through a rushed process and were not correctly vetted. With long processes, we minimise our chances of hiring great educators.

Another factor? The need for FE to attract talent from other industries. AOC has stated that it is key that Post-Brexit and easy migration, that we skill up our workforce.

“It is particularly important that people get industry-relevant skills, and it’s really difficult to get this all the time. So the sector needs people who want to make that transition and can bridge across to train the next generation in the cutting edge skills needed for the labour market.” (David Hughes, Chief Exec at AOC).

In today’s world, great leaders and educators don’t have to have studied literature at a red brick university. Many transferable skills come from private sector business. FE has to look beyond the standard design of college recruitment sites with 6-10 page application forms if we are to attract the best in breed from across the whole country – not just from one small pool.

Take a look at our post on how to create a better hiring process here.

Great learning begins with great teaching

Great learning begins with great teaching and if we take a step back and look at the hires we make, we take the pressure off students, scores and grades. We all know the panic of an Ofsted inspection, but it’s clear that the fear, distress and suspense the watchdog creates would be minimised with a team of people who have confidence in their abilities to get that ‘good’ rating.

That doesn’t mean we think that teachers, trainers and educators in FE and training institutions are to blame for anything. As we know from the latest AOC reports for 2017-18, 72% of colleges have been judged good or outstanding for overall effectiveness at their most recent inspection. We are not ‘falling behind’. But as in any job, they are stretched thin and need support. Asking more of someone already in a role isn’t the answer.

Instead, we propose creating an ‘improvement culture’ and starting the search at the hiring stage. When you look out for a variety of attributes that will create the A-Team of teaching, you’re setting yourself and your FE institute up for success.

Here’s what you should look for when hiring.

  1. Evidence they love learning

How can they inspire the power of learning if they too don’t take on their own growth opportunities? Look for evidence that they continue to learn in their own lives, whether that’s the strange and absurd (juggling lessons) to the normal (learning a new language). Consider learning styles as well. Not all students will be academic learners. Many will be better suited to more artistic pursuits or will take on information in different ways. What can a candidate bring to the table outside of grades and evidence of training capabilities?

  1. They see the positive

A great leader sees the positive and can lead from the front. Can they reinforce positivity and ‘see the best’ in situations and learners? This is going to be key when the going gets tough. On that note – are they engaging with students?

Jane Klir Viau, an AP statistics and microeconomics teacher at the Frederick Douglass Academy 1 in New York City, NY said this of her attitude:

“In order to expect commitment from my students, I must first demonstrate my own commitment to each of them. I take the time to try to understand each of them personally; I make myself available during lunch hours, free periods, and after school . . . Through seeing that my motivations lie with their success and not my own track record, the students come to their own conclusions about my sincerity. It is after this realization that I begin to see my students, one by one, meeting me halfway.”

Don’t forget that as of 17% of students in FE and skills provision have a learning difficulty and/or disability, and many students will come to an FE establishment or training provider having not enjoyed or seen the benefits of previous education facilities. It is key that your new hire has not only the skills in facts, stats and data to impart real knowledge, but the tone, attitude and energy to work with people at all stages of their lives.

  1. Do they challenge?  

Doing things ‘because they have always been that way’ is deadly – especially in learning. Do they have the power to overcome objections to make real changes? We cannot afford for educators to be complacent. Consider that even today, as we speak, FE students aged 19+ generate an additional £70 billion for the economy over their lifetimes! This is a job that demands real attention to detail and the ability to extract the very best out of people.

  1. Are they excited?

It doesn’t matter if they are loud or quiet at interview or in the classroom, but you need evidence that they are excited, passionate, and enthusiastic about learning, so much so that their passion is infectious. If they are genuinely interested in learners, their experiences and their growth, they will create excitement about the forever journey of learning.   We really like this quote which we think surmises it best.

“Exceptional test scores, brilliant job applicants, and competitive colleges should simply be by-products of a great education, not the sole purpose of it.” (Josh Anderson, English teacher and debate coach at Olathe Northwest High School in Olathe, KS and 2007 Kansas Teacher of the Year)

We know that teaching is not an easy job, but it can be a joy, an art, and a dream job for the right people. Get the hiring process right and you’ll find that the right people become your superstars, naturally bringing up grade levels and rankings, organically improving your prospects. It’s never been so important to leave ‘tick box’ recruitment at the door and to really invest in looking for your star educators. Start with the hiring process and try and use your common sense. By shortening the times as much as possible, you can capture the very best talent before other employers do.

Next Steps

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