It is your final interview. Three Central Office Administrators are questioning you. “Do you have questions for us?” the Superintendent asks.
“Yes, what do you see as some of the greatest instructional challenges that the district has that I, if I’m lucky enough to get this job, would be expected to address?”
The Superintendent nods at the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. She responds to your question. “As you know, we have three elementary schools. Each of the schools has four or five classes at each grade level. What we have found is that despite our K-12 science and social studies directors having provided several teacher trainings that emphasize an inquiry approach to teaching in these content areas, there is little evidence that our teachers are demonstrating effective inquiry-based instructional strategies. Most of our teachers are pretty experienced and seem satisfied with the way things are. By the time the kids get to middle school, their content knowledge and skills are all over the place.”
The candidate silently reflects for a short moment, and responds, “What I’m hearing you say is that there is a need for greater teachers’ abilities to stimulate critical thinking and framing open ended questions that challenge students’ to tap into prior knowledge and identify evidence that justifies their answers. I encountered a somewhat similar situation in my experience. What I learned from these experiences was that the attempt to fix the problem could in some cases make things worse, but that there are approaches that work. This problem has obviously existed for quite a while. What I anticipate is that there are no easy quick fixes. It requires a well-planned and coordinated comprehensive approach that includes a comprehensive approach to professional development, feedback, demonstration lessons”.
The interviewers lean in and encourage the candidate to elaborate on how the problem was solved. The candidate briefly provides an overview of the context, the key steps and an analysis as to the advantages and disadvantages of alternative strategies. The interviewee then sums up his/her “lessons learned” from the case he/she described.
What is the “blueprint” for being a successful interviewee?
1. Find out what the interviewers perceive as their needs.
2. Paraphrase that need to demonstrate your understanding of it and, if needed, to get further clarification.
3. Concisely describe the context of a similar problem (i.e., situation, need) that you encountered, and briefly tell your story of what was done and what your role was.
4. Outline alternative strategies that were considered and briefly analyze the advantages and disadvantages of each strategy.
5. Summarize the key lessons learned, and the guiding principles that were the basis of how you solve problems and make decisions.
As an interviewee, effectively and spontaneously applying this blueprint is quite challenging. However, being aware that there is a blueprint and preparing yourself by practicing this process, is the best way to prepare yourself. A good coach can hone your ability to effectively respond to these questions. Your skillfulness in answering challenging questions will impress the interviewers and can seal the job for you.
Dr. Larry Aronstein is an experienced career coach who assists school leaders and aspiring leaders through the interview process. www.larryaronstein.com