Month: January 2017



Should you consider taking a leave replacement position? Like most other complex questions, the answer is, “It depends”. It depends on your specific set of circumstances. It depends on the conditions surrounding the leave.

What are your circumstances?

  • Are you starting a new career as a teacher? If you have been unsuccessfully seeking a position in teaching, then a leave replacement makes sense. A leave replacement is a far better alternative than substitute teaching or being a teaching assistant; you will be fulfilling all the responsibilities of a teacher, and the pay is better.
  • Are you currently teaching or serving in a leadership job, and have you been unsuccessfully seeking a new leadership position? Resigning a secure position in order to take a leave replacement job is a high risk move. Getting your first leadership job can be a career breakthrough. Leaving a job in which you are unhappy, can be very attractive.
  • Are you currently unemployed, working outside of education, in the process of being laid off, or ready to quit your present job? If you find yourself in any of these circumstances, then you probably have little to lose and perhaps something to gain.

What are the conditions of the leave replacement position?

  • Are you an internal candidate for the position and will you be able to return to your present position if and when the incumbent returns or things don’t work out for you? As an internal person who can return to your job, there is little downside and lots of pluses. You will gain experience and acquire new skills, and positively position yourself should the incumbent not return.
  • Is the incumbent expected to return and, if so, when? Most leave replacements are due to maternity or sick leaves. Most of these folks return to their jobs. You need to find out the reason for and the duration of the leave before accepting the job. If the job does become open, you will have had an opportunity to prove yourself and forge relationships. You will be in a very strong position to get the job.

What are the consequences, positive and negative, of taking a leave replacement position? The most dire consequence is winding up on the unemployment line. Needless to say, it is extremely difficult to revitalize a career with a gap in your employment record. Any gap or step backward on your resume will be viewed as red flag and invite interviewers to closely question you about the circumstances of your employment timeline. On the positive side, if things work out, you can propel your career ahead. Taking a leave replacement position needs to be carefully considered before making a decision.


How Screening Really Works

How Screening Really Works

If I apply for a job and don’t hear back should I call? How is my resume screened? What is the screener really looking for? How do interviewing committees make decisions? Although each district customizes their process, the variations are usually minor. So, how does it really work?

When you apply for a position, be prepared to wait. Don’t be a pest and call the personnel office to inquire about your status. They are busy people who are filling many different positions. Some directors of human resources will quickly screen the resumes as they accumulate on-line. My practice was to have the folks in the personnel office print out the letters and resumes of all qualified candidates and send them to the direct supervisor for further screening. Let’s assume there are 100 candidates in the pile. The plan is to have a screening committee interview about 15 to 18 candidates. How do they get from 100 to 15 using the paper work? If it takes just two minutes to review each candidate’s papers, that’s 200 minutes. I’m sorry to say that papers will get less than two minutes. The reviewer is a busy person. As a consequence, the reviewer will generally scan the resumes. Typos and grammatical errors get tossed out. These kinds of errors connote that you are sloppy and make mistakes. The screener’s goal is to sort the total pile into three piles. Pile A will contain the “must see”, B “maybe”, and C are of “no further interest”. Those in the A group are: (1) seeking a “good” parallel move; (2) people who hold degrees from outstanding universities; (3) holding a doctorate; (4) qualified internal candidates or courtesy interviews; and (5) exceptional and/or interesting candidates. The B pile is created in case they can’t get 15 to 18 into the A pile and then get a second look. The C pile is composed of inexperienced people with little in the way of accomplishments, folks with poor reputations, the “perennial” candidate, and those who have unexplained and suspicious gaps on their resumes. A “good” parallel move is when you have earned tenure in your present position, are seeking to move into a better district that often pays more, or the move represents a significantly shorter commute.

Outstanding universities, in my opinion, are the Ivy League schools or those fine schools with which we are familiar. In the New York area, graduate degrees from Columbia Teachers’ College, NYU and Fordham are the most coveted. Under-graduate degrees from fine colleges are also appealing on resumes. I always counsel aspiring leaders who are serious about their careers in leadership to earn the doctorate from a prestigious university. It’s an investment in yourself that will get you into that A pile, and will save you years of disappointment as you apply for positions that result in coming up empty. Yes, the tuitions are costly and you might have to commute longer distances, but in the long run, the investment will pay off.

Exceptional and/or interesting candidates are people who have been successful in: the business and corporate world; the non-profit sector; the world of entrepreneurs; the military. When qualified, these candidates, depending on their accomplishments, are often worthy of a good look. Finally, courtesy interviews are given to those who “have friends in high places” (Board members, recommendations from friends of upper level administrators). A courtesy interviewee is generally only guaranteed a screening interview. Then they are on their own; meaning that they must compete fairly with everyone else.

The screening interview usually takes 15 to 20 minutes. If it lasts longer, then that’s a good sign—it shows interest. The screening committee will likely consist of two or three people. Assuming that you’re interviewing for an assistant principal position, you will probably meet the principal, an assistant principal, perhaps the director of human resources, and/or a teacher. Be aware that the screening interview is essentially a “beauty contest”. It’s designed to see if you’re a “regular person” (not quirky, odd in some way, or inappropriate), well spoken, professional, intelligent, easy to engage, respectful, and seemingly a good fit for the community. They usually start by asking: “Tell us about yourself”.

Be prepared to answer what I call resume questions. “You’ve been an assistant principal at the ABC School for four years, why do you want to leave now?” “I understand that your school recently hired a new principal, were you a candidate for that position?” “I see you were a dean for two years and then you went back to the classroom. Can you explain this?” They may also ask, what I call, process or “how would you” questions: “Given the teacher evaluation regulations, walk us through how you would observe a teacher who is not in your area of teacher certification?” Limit your answers to no more than two to three minutes. If they want more, they’ll ask.

They will wrap up the interview with the moderator saying, “We’re speaking to a number of folks. Hopefully, we’ll be back to you within the next couple of weeks. Do you have any questions for us at this time?” Now remember, they are under strict time constraints. They are being polite. They really don’t want to answer a lot of questions. It’s time to thank them for the opportunity, indicate that you look forward to seeing them again, and leave them.

Then, the committee’s goal is to reduce the number of candidates to a reasonable number, let’s say 6 to 8. At the completion of all interviews, a good moderator might ask the committee, “Can we reach agreement on which we can eliminate?”  They usually can quickly get down to 9 or 10 remaining candidates? Ultimately they screen it down to 6 to 8, and their job is done. The next step is going on to the larger interviewing committee.

It’s time to wait it out again and hope for the best. If you’re rejected and the moderator appeared to be sincerely approachable, you might want to write a short email thanking them for their efforts, and asking if it would be okay to schedule a brief telephone conversation to get constructive feedback.

Good news travels by phone, and bad news comes in the form of a letter or an email. Let’s hope your phone always rings!

Answering Frequently Asked Questions

There are strategies in answering the most frequently asked interviewers’ questions. It takes some work, but these strategies can readily be mastered.  First, you need to think through your narrative — the story you want to get across about who you are. You should always assume that the first question is going to be, “Tell us about yourself”. The second piece of advice is to formulate a set of your professional guiding principles. Actually write them down. What do you believe to be the most outstanding practices and what are your deeply held beliefs? Your guiding principles will morph into the central themes of your answers along with examples and your experiences that relate to the principles.

Let me lay out a few sample model answers to some of the most frequent questions.

Q: “Why do you want to be a school leader?”

A: “As a teacher, others see me as a teacher leader in the school.  My reputation is that I ‘m someone who has good judgment, a moderate point of view, and a steady and consistent performer.  I serve on many committees, including curriculum, wellness, and school safety.  I find that when I speak, people tend to listen.  Growing up, as an athlete, my teammates looked to me to be a leader. Leaders effect change and bring about improvement in conditions. I aspire to impact, not just what happens in my classrooms with my 120 students, but to leverage my influence in what happens throughout the school with over 1,500 students.

Q: “What do you know about our school district, and why do you want to work here?”

A: “I like being associated with excellence and that’s why I want to come here. I have researched your student achievement results, and they are very good. I have spoken with several of your staff members and they told me about your initiatives in literacy, your fine special education support, the training they received when you started your IB program. I know of your athletic teams’ recent accomplishments in volleyball, track and field, and basketball. I have family and friends who live here, and they are very satisfied with the high quality of education that their children receive, and the quality of colleges that your kids get into. I’ve also driven around to see your schools, and have been impressed with the maintenance of the facilities. This all speaks well of you. I want to be part of this tradition.”

Q: “How can the use of technology enhance teaching and learning?”

A: “Computers are powerful tools. I think that having a variety of instructional modalities is beneficial to students. When technology is used in its powerful forms it can be really advantageous.  As a science teacher, putting up a simulation on how a complex organ system works with all of its interactions and movements captures so much more than I could ever do by putting up a two-dimensional drawing.  I’m also a proponent of project-based learning, meaning you give students projects to explore and they become researchers. They gather information and data and they create their own knowledge.  Students should be able to create data bases. They can use the technology to create reports and generate presentations. Knowledge work and technology is a wonderful approach to project-based learning.”

Q: “How do you know, what evidence do you seek, that students are learning the concepts and skill that are being taught?”

A: “We shouldn’t confuse student learning with how they do on teacher-made tests or scores on achievement tests.  The question is, how do you know that students are actually learning?  To me learning means student understanding.  How do you know they understand the concepts or skills you are teaching? I know that there is understanding when I ask a question, have all students independently write out their answers, and then walk around the classroom checking answers.  This approach is far superior to the teacher asking a question, students raising their hands, and then one student answering correctly. Student learning grows out of maintaining high student expectations. Demonstrations of student understating include the student: explaining, generalizing, transferring of knowledge, applying skills and knowledge, providing evidence and examples, and creating an analogy or metaphor.  That’s how you know students understand.

Q: “How would you learn to become an effective instructional leader, if most of your time is spent on student discipline and managing buses and lunchrooms?”

A: “All the responsibilities you just cited may not be glamorous, but they are essential in running the school. Somebody needs to do them, and they need to be done well.  Someday I would like to become an instructional leader, and I would like to become a principal. I will do whatever the principal needs me to do, but I would really appreciate any opportunity to learn more about the instructional side of things, which would lead to improvement of instruction. I would like the principal and the other supervisors to act as my mentors. I’d also appreciate any available opportunities to receive state-of-the-art training.”