Screening Interviews: How Does It Work?

How is my resume screened? How long is the interview? What is its purpose? What can you expect during the interview? If I apply for a job and don’t hear back should I call? 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 office of human resources to inquire about your status. They are busy people who are filling many different positions. A few directors of human resources continuously screen resumes as they come on-line. HR offices send them to the direct supervisor for further screening. Let’s assume there are 200 qualified candidates who apply. The goal is to have a small screening committee interview about 15 to 18 candidates. How do they get from 200 to 15? If it takes just two minutes to review each candidate’s resume, that’s 400 minutes. I’m sorry to say that each resume will get much less than two minutes. The reviewer is a busy person. Consequently, the reviewer will speed read the resumes. Typos and grammatical errors often get tossed out. These kinds of errors connote that you are sloppy and make mistakes. The screener’s first 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 and/or courtesy interviews; and (5) people with exceptional accomplishments. The B pile is created in case they can’t get at least 12 to15 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.

Outstanding universities, in my opinion, are Ivy League schools or 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.

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; and 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, and/or recommendations from friends of upper level administrators). A courtesy interviewee is generally only guaranteed a screening interview. Then they are on their own.

The screening interview usually takes 10 to 15 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. If 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 “meet and greet”. 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, likeable, respectful, and seemingly a good fit for the community. They almost always 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 process, 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 to hear more, they’ll ask.

They will wrap up the interview with the moderator saying, “We’re speaking to a number of folks. We’ll get 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. Then drop the interviewers “thank you” emails. The committee’s goal is usually to reduce the number of candidates to 6 to 8. The next step is going on to the larger committee for a 30-minute interview.

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


Getting the Job Is Like Becoming a Chess Master

Recently, a suburban school district posted an ad for an assistant principal. The district attracted more than 200 applicants, met with 18 for a screening interview, and then had a hiring committee interview 6 semi-finalists. At about the same time, the Kentucky Derby had 19 horses “Run for the Roses.” Those horses had the benefit of the best trainers in the world to prepare them. Trying to get a leadership job is very much like a horse race.

How much of an investment does a serious candidate make in getting certified as a leader? There are application fees, tuition, books, commuting costs and time. That can easily add up to more than $15,000. Does investing a tiny fraction of that for a book, a seminar or a coach make sense to you?

Being a well-prepared competitive candidate is the difference between playing a good game of checkers and being a fine chess player. A good coach will prepare you. A coach can help you hone your resume and cover letter; present yourself with self-confidence; tell a compelling story about why you are the right match for the job; anticipate and prepare impressive and unique responses to interviewers’ questions; strategize your narrative; and how to read body language. Yes, coaching does work. Those who receive coaching and mentoring do so confidentially.

Most universities provide some assistance for preparing your resume and letter and giving you interview tips. However, the right educational coach has walked the walk. He or she has a diverse and well-positioned network of former clients and colleagues; knows the schools and districts, and the inside stories of what they need and want. You will be guided on how to fashion your approach to the special needs and wants of the specific school and district. People who play horses get lots of tips—some good, some shaky. Practically everyone gets, and oftentimes uses, tips on how to invest, restaurants to dine, and places to shop. A tip, of course, is only an opinion. Most of us have been disappointed with tips. But good preparation goes far beyond informal “tips.” Good preparation often requires a good coach who teaches you actionable strategies based on thoughtful analysis of tried and tested practices in getting school leadership jobs.

A good coach or mentor gives you feedback on your interviews, and assists you in closing the deal and negotiating your contract. The difference between a coach and a mentor is that coaches are experienced professionals, while mentors are well-intentioned friends and colleagues whose experiences and insights may be limited. Like any good service, you should not expect coaching to come free of charge; however the cost of coaching is much more modest than you think. Getting a good leadership job is a lifetime gain that requires a modest short-term investment. But remember: the best investment you can ever make is in yourself. All of these “investments” increase your chances of winning that position. In some respects, it is a game of probability. All things being equal, my experience has taught me that the best prepared candidate has the best chance of landing that job.

         If you are serious about your future as a leader, then getting job coaching is a great investment. If you are not getting interviews, consider seeking feedback on your resume from someone who has done hiring. The purpose of your resume and cover letter is to get you an interview. If you happen to be getting interviews but are not moving along to the next step in the process, then you need help in interviewing strategies.

        You should feel comfortable in relating to a coach and sharing your life story, your strengths and self-perceived insecurities. A good coach will help you craft your message, teach you strategies, help build your self-confidence, give you model responses, role-play both sides of the table with you, and offer honest and constructive feedback. Coaching is, pure and simple, a vital critical investment you can make in yourself.


At this time, many leave replacement positions are available. Should you consider taking a leave replacement position? Like most other complex questions, the answer is, “It depends”. It depends on your set of circumstances. It depends on the conditions related to the leave.

What are your circumstances?

  • Are you trying to start 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 and getting all the experience of a teacher, and the pay is usually better.
  • Are you currently dissatisfied with your teaching job and have not been successful in your new job search? Or are you currently teaching and unsuccessfully seeking a leadership job? 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 appear attractive.
  • Are you currently unemployed, working outside of education, in the process of being laid off, were denied tenure, or ready to quit your present job? If you find yourself in any of these circumstances, then you have a lot more 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, or a different position opens up.
  • Are you an external candidate and is the incumbent who is taking the leave expected to return and, if so, when will he or she return? Most leave replacements are due to maternity or sick leaves. Most of these folks do return to their jobs. You need to find out the reason for and the expected duration of the leave if that information is even available 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.
  • Is the incumbent ambivalent about returning? In most cases incumbents do not announce their intention to return until the contractual deadline. This uncertainty leaves the replacement in a difficult and nerve-wracking situation. You will need to figure out if and when to initiate a new job search and if and when to inform your supervisor that you are seeking another 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 deciding. You should probably get sage advice from an experienced and knowledgeable mentor or coach.


“I’ve applied for over thirty leadership jobs over the last two years. I got five screening interviews; two of them were ‘courtesies’ due to contacts inside those districts. I moved on once to a second interview and was then cut. I need your help.” This is a typical email that I often receive. My advice to those of you who are frustrated in your job seeking, and to those who are considering or in the process of getting certified is to practice the 3P’s of job seeking—preparation, persistence, and patience.


Financial advisors will tell you that preparing for a secure retirement should begin early in your career, and if not early, then now. Athletic coaches know that good preparation is the key to winning. Similarly, early and sound preparation is essential to your school leadership career, and that includes your education and where you attend graduate school. If you are considering enrolling in a school leadership graduate and/or certification program, you should think about attending the most prestigious university in your area. I understand that tuition costs and commuting long distances are serious concerns. However, a degree or a doctorate from a place like Columbia Teachers College, or even NYU or Fordham, will go a long way in making you a highly attractive candidate in the most desirable and best paying school districts.

Another major component is your accomplishments. Serving on a committee, chaperoning school dances, and participating in the PTA sponsored fashion show, although good things to do, should not be confused with significant professional accomplishments. Accomplishments may include: initiating a new course or program that addresses student needs; chairing an important committee, writing a report, and doing a Board and/or community presentation; winning a prestigious award or gaining community, professional, and/or student recognition; writing and being awarded a significant grant.

Of course, preparation must also include preparing an effective resume, and preparing for job interviews. A great resume requires meticulous crafting and editing. It must be tweaked to make it better and better. Giving a great interview means constructing and delivering a compelling narrative that goes beyond what’s on your resume and letting the interviewers know who you are. Seriously consider getting quality coaching and feedback from a knowledgeable and experienced coach in order to prepare a great resume and giving a winning interview. Just blundering through the search process is a formula for failure. Instead, you must design strategies that are tried and tested and will successfully work.


Persistence means you stick with it; you must be determined and diligent. Over the course of my career in public education I could have wall papered every inch of wall space of my living room with letters of rejection from school districts in four different states. I was runner up in scores of jobs. It took me 24 years from the time I got my doctorate until I got my dream job. I jokingly say that I was an “overnight success”. It is terribly disappointing and demoralizing to repeatedly experience rejection. Nevertheless, if you are determined to achieve your career goal, you must be persistent in your belief and your actions. If you are not getting interviews, enhance your qualifications. Chalk up impressive experiences and accomplishments. Become a summer school or evening school principal. Volunteer for important and difficult assignments. Re-write your resume. Have a career coach review your resume and suggest changes. Once you get more interviews, reflect upon and diagnose why you came up short. Adjust your responses to often asked questions. Again, work with a career coach to hone your interviewing skills and strategize your answers.


Job seeking is not a 100-yard dash. It is usually a marathon. It requires patience and endurance. You must believe in yourself. Your mantra should be, “Sooner or later, my time will come.” When it does come, I predict it will come effortlessly.

Dr. Aronstein is a career coach who works one-on-one with leaders and aspiring leaders in their preparation of resumes and preparing for interviews. You can purchase his ebook: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B086HXY8MQ?ref_=k4w_oembed_agX9D63dSYiFsF&tag=kpembed-20&linkCode=kpd

Learn more about Dr. Aronstein by visiting his website: www.larryaronstein.com


Are you sending out your resume but only getting few interviews? Are you getting interviews but are not being called back? What should you do to get your fair share of interviews? What are the factors that determine your success?

Factors to Consider:

  1. Attractiveness of the District—stereotypically, highly attractive districts or schools are usually affluent, high paying, and high achieving. They are highly selective in choosing candidates. Unless you are well-qualified, that is looking for a parallel position, a graduate from a prestigious university, hold a doctorate, and/or have significant accomplishments, your chances of getting an interview are slim. That is not to say that you should not apply, but your expectations should be realistic.
  2. Quality of Your Resume—if you’re a qualified candidate but are getting less than a 25 to 30 percent positive return (initial interview per resume submitted), then you probably have a resume problem. Your resume’s job is to tell your story in a compelling manner and get you an interview. You might have your resume evaluated and edited by a highly credible and reputable coach. Educational resumes are somewhat unique; so be wary of having a well-meaning friend from the business-world review it.
  3. Effectiveness of Your Screening Interview—typically an average of about 15 screening interviews are scheduled for a leadership position. Sometimes they only last 10 to 15 minutes. Obviously, there are a limited number of questions that can be asked and answered. The interviewers are trying to get a sense of who you are by evaluating your narrative (your story), how you present yourself, your likeability, and how you would fit into their school-community. About 6 of the candidates will move on to the next round. If you get a screening interview and habitually do not move to the next step, then you need to evaluate your narrative and how you present yourself. You probably should be coached rather than trying to adjust on a trial and error basis.
  4. Quality of Your Answers—the next step is The Committee Interview composed of around 7 stakeholders (parents, teachers, administrators), which will run about 30 minutes. There is ample time for them to ask about 10 questions encompassing many aspects of educational practices. The Committee will likely narrow the field down to about 3 finalists. The candidate needs to perform a precarious balancing act. She/he must satisfy the vested and oftentimes competing interests of parents who are demanding greater sensitivity to their child’s needs and accountability, administrators who are seeking higher academic achievement, and teacher unions who are looking for teacher-friendly leaders. At the same time, the candidate must maintain a positive, thoughtful, sensitive, knowledgeable and diplomatic demeaner. This demands extensive preparation which includes becoming familiar with the strengths, needs, nature and values of the school-community. A successful candidate must do his/her homework and be ready to present him/herself appropriately.
  5. Flexibility—the final interview, usually 2 or 3 finalists, involves a 30 to 45-minute session with Central Office Administrators. Again, there is a shift in strategy for this interview. These leaders are trying to determine who is the best equipped to fulfill their agenda, solve existing problems, and represent the proper image that will satisfy the community and particularly the Board of Education. I often use the metaphor of a tennis match. Up until this interview, the candidate’s job is to “return serve” to each questioner. However, this match requires the candidate to be flexible in switching the “game” by creating a “volley”—a back and forth, give and take conversation. This calls for asking clarification as to the district’s issues and priorities, offering your related experiences, and as a result building a professional rapport.

These are the major factors you should be aware of and act upon if you are going to get your fair share of interviews and successfully move forward in the process

Projecting Your Gravitas: A Key to Winning the Job

I’ve coached hundreds of school leaders and teachers about the importance of presenting oneself in a confident manner during an interview. This is called “gravitas”; that is ability to project self-confidence, influence, credibility, and command respect. When you speak, do others listen? Do not confuse gravitas with arrogance. People who project gravitas should also be thoughtful; they think before they speak and enhance the conversation by adding. Be mindful that the court jester never becomes the king or the queen.

In seeking a position as a school leader or a teacher, you must convince your potential supervisors that you are the kind of person who brings a certain bearing to the position. The teacher represents the adult leader in the classroom. In the context of a job interview, here are several methods to project your gravitas:

1. Be present, listen, and speak once you’ve formulated a response

People with gravitas are attentive to the core of the interviewers’ questions, the underlying issues and agendas. So, during an interview, take a moment to formulate a thoughtful and relevant response, and draw upon your self-assurance that your response will have value. This can be done quietly without trying to show off that you’re the smartest person that they will interview. Be respectful of the people around the table who may be more accomplished and experienced than you. But be confident that your thoughts have value too.

2. Demonstrate deep understanding

Your challenge is to put forth relevant information and ideas that demonstrate deep understanding. Someone who is self-confident and secure treats everyone with respect, even some panelists who might challenge your answers and might not treat you with respect. Never appear combative or show irritation.

Remember the lyrics to the old song, “You’re got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em …”. Be mindful about timing what to say, when to say it, and what not to say. Try to make your ideas concise, on point, and clear. Don’t repeat yourself. Only when necessary, ask questions to clarify what is being asked, but keep answers on topic, and avoid providing a long context and introductions to your answers. Do not view questions as “gotcha” opportunities. Your goal should be to try to guide the process in productive directions.

3. Communicate like an adult

As an employer, I want to hire professionals—adults. People with gravitas speak like adults. Too many young people saturate their sentences with word fillers and phrases such as “like”, “you know”, “at the end of the day”, “to be honest,” and “in reference to”. You know what I mean! Also, avoid ending your sentences with an upward inflection to your voice as if you’re asking a question rather than making a statement. You want to be taken seriously. Therefore, you cannot just dress and look like a professional, you must also sound like a professional.

4. Do not confuse confidence with arrogance

There is a thin line separating arrogance and gravitas. Arrogance means that you’re perceived as coming across as overbearing, conceited, a know it all, someone who has a lot to say but really offers little in the way of substance. Most of us are repelled by arrogance in others. To me, the opposite of arrogance is modesty. Oftentimes, less is more. We admire wisdom. I once asked an extremely successful businessperson about his newest venture. He described his new business in one sentence. I commented, “You did that in one sentence.” He smiled politely and responded, “If you can’t explain something in one sentence, then you don’t understand what you’re talking about”. That’s gravitas.

5. Monitor yourself

How are my responses being received? Is my audience hearing me? Are they resonating with my ideas?  Are they nodding and smiling? Exercising your gravitas is not a trick—it’s a matter of being effective. When gravitas is lacking, people notice, and when it’s there, it’s magic.

When you walk away from the table, you want your audience to say, “That candidate really held our attention and was most impressive.

Dr. Aronstein is a career coach who works one-on-one with leaders and aspiring leaders in developing their resume and preparing for job interviews. Learn more: www.larryaronstein.com

Can You Be Over-Prepared for an Interview?

Can you be over-prepared for an interview? The answer is NO. Being carefully and thoroughly prepared is an important key to successfully giving an outstanding interview. Being well prepared includes: (1) building self-confidence; (2) demonstrating to the interviewers that you’ve done your homework; (3) and providing well-constructed evidence that you have mastered the knowledge, attitudes and skills that they are seeking in a top candidate. What can you do so that you do not come off as sounding rehearsed? How can you prepare yourself? How do you know if you’re well prepared?

  • Practice how not to come off as sounding rehearsed—Your tone should be conversational. Slow down your speaking pace. Speak directly to the question; do not go off on tangents. Eliminate using excessive verbiage and jargon. Listen to the entire question and do not start answering before the questioner has stopped talking. Briefly pause before you speak. Thoughtful people think before they speak. If you manage to do all of these things, you will come off sounding more natural.
  • Be prepared– Preparation has to do with taking a deep dive into all of the information you can gather about the town, district, school, school leadership, and school priorities and issues from a wide variety of sources. Try to anticipate areas or themes of questioning derived from the job posting and your research. Craft thoughtful answers and rehearse your responses. Time the length of your responses; keep your answers down to two minutes. Get high quality feedback from knowledgeable and a trusted mentor and coach. Based on feedback, carefully fine tuning your answers.
  • Am I fully prepared—Do you remember the saying, “The proof is in the pudding”? If you have a pattern of getting interviews but are failing to move more deeply into the process, then you probably are not adequately prepared. You can waste years in your job search trying to figure out what went wrong and attempting to make adjustments by self-diagnosing and “self-modifying” your answers based on shreds of incomplete feedback, and well -intended advice.  In other words, using “trial and error”. Be careful about getting too many opinions. Opinions are often contradictory, and it will be confusing. The answer is to find yourself an experienced coach. A good coach can evaluate your answers, help give you clarity, and remediate your approach to interviewing.

An interviewer once challenged me during an interview that I had anticipated his questions and that my answers appeared to be well rehearsed. Somehow I found the presence of mind to respond this way: “Assuming that you’re right, I would think you’d conclude that my ability to anticipate your questions were impressive pieces of research and thinking, and I assume you want well-prepared  and smart leaders working for you.” The result was that I was moved on to the next stage of the process. There is no downside in being “over-prepared”.

Dr. Larry Aronstein coaches school leaders and aspiring leaders in preparing for interviews and in the preparation of resumes. Learn more about him by visiting www.larryaronstein.com


As an experienced career coach, I have found that at least 20% of my clients are over the age of 45. There is no telling how many so called “older workers” are so discouraged about their age that they reject even considering applying for a leadership job. My older clients ask: “I am an older candidate and feel that my age is working against me, how do I compete against these 30-something year-olds?”
I have worked with more than 650 educators, about 600 of whom are well-qualified. Sixty (60 %) percent of my well-qualified clients successfully get a job. The success rate of “older worker” clients is the same as the rest of my clients.

Most of us are aware that it is discriminatory to ask about your age; you will not be asked that question. However, in most cases it is not difficult to figure out your age. Your resume indicates the year you graduated from college; add 22 to how many years ago you graduated, and they have your age. You are not required to include that on your resume, but you do have to include your record; add 22 to how many years ago you got your first teaching job. Of course, at some point you will submit your college transcripts; your date of graduation is there. If you google yourself, you will find a free site that provides your age. Therefore, don’t hide it by leaving your date of graduation off of your resume. You will only be signaling that you are uncomfortable with your age. My advice is to be proud of who you are. How do you do that?

Usually the first question you will be asked on an interview will be: “Tell us about yourself”. This is your opportunity to tell your story. Take what you might consider to be a deficit and make it into a strength. What is implicit is that with age comes maturity, experience, good judgment; life experience. In my book, “Landing Your School Leadership Job“: http://www.e-junkie.com/schoolleadership20/product/495531.php, my advice is avoid reciting your work and educational experience in answering that first question. The interviewers already have that information in front them on your resume. What you should do is to describe the characteristics that make you stand out.

Describe your life experiences. Tell them about a problem you solved or a decision you made based upon your sound judgment. Be proud of your maturity. Employers want leaders and educators who have good judgment.

Attend Dr. Aronstein’s March 7th four-hour workshop.https://schoolleadership20.com/events/larry-aronstein-1


Candidates for leadership positions are often asked: “What do you look for in an excellent teacher?” My response to this question is the ability to teach for student understanding. The learning of knowledge and skill are at the core of education. We want students to deeply understanding the important concepts in all the subject areas. Understanding does not mean that a student can memorize and recite minute facts and demonstrate routine skills with very little understanding. Understanding is more nuanced.

Acquiring knowledge and skill are not synonymous with understanding and does not guarantee understanding. Knowledge and skills can be acquired with little understanding of the underlying concepts of the topic or when to use them. Therefore, knowledge and skills that are not understood do little good. Rote knowledge defies active use, and routine skills (eg. invert and multiple; find the common denominator; listing the American Presidents or knowing the State capitols) are often of poor service when students do not understand mathematical concepts or civics. In short, we must teach for understanding in order to realize the long-term payoffs.

A math teacher asks her students to design the floor plan of a dance club, including dance floors, a place for a DJ, and a bar area. What’s the goal? The floor plan consists of several geometric shapes and a prescribed total area. The students must apply what they have studied about the geometric topic of area to create a sensible plan and explain their thinking that went into the design.
Down the corridor, another teacher asks students to explain about a time in their lives when they had been treated unjustly and a time when they had treated someone else unjustly. These students are reading works of literature, including To Kill a Mockingbird, that deals with issues of social justice. Making connections with students’ own lives and creating their own generalizations will be a theme throughout this literature study.

In a science classroom, a student, using his own drawings, explains to a group of peers how a beetle mimics ants in order to invade their nests and eat their eggs. In this classroom, each student has an individual teaching responsibility that includes providing an example to one another that develops a deep understanding of the animal behavior of mimicry.

In an elementary school, students who are studying ancient Egypt produce an on-line National Enquirer style, four-slide power point called King Tut’s Chronicle. Headlines announce “Cleo in Trouble, Again?” Why? The format motivates the students and leads them to represent the topic in a new way.
In each case students are asked to critically think through concepts and situations, rather than memorize and respond on a quiz. Teachers are teaching and assessing for understanding. They want more and demand more from their students than remembering the formula for the area of a triangle, or three kinds of camouflage, or the date of King Tut’s reign, or the names of the main characters in To Kill a Mockingbird. They want students to understand what they are learning, not just to know about it.
Teaching for understanding is neither easy nor is it particularly welcomed. It is complex and demanding, requiring creativity on the part of the teacher to design the lesson and the assessment. However, it is essential because of the necessity to prepare students for further learning and effectively functioning in their lives.
Critics say: “We are already doing it”; “It takes too long to do within a crowded curriculum”; or “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Research says differently.

Studies of students’ misunderstanding of concepts in math include, among a multitude examples: misunderstandings students have from over generalizing rules for one operation and carrying them over inappropriately to another; difficulties in the use of ratios and proportions; confusion about what algebraic equations really mean; and many more. We start teaching fractions in the third grade and we teach the same operations over and other again each year, sometimes for the next seven years. What’s with that? Other examples in science is the denial or misunderstanding of evolution; or the denial of climate change. Studies of students’ reading abilities reveal that, while they can read the words, they have difficulty interpreting and drawing inferences from what they have read. Studies of writing show that students experience little success with putting together logical viewpoints that are well supported by arguments. Students write essays by telling what they know about a topic rather than finding and expressing a viewpoint. Students’ understanding of history reveals that they suffer from problems such as projecting themselves into another time period and/or a different place. They fail to consider what Truman knew at the time he ordered the dropping of the atomic bomb. Shifts of perspective are essential for understanding history and the understanding of other nations, cultures, and ethnic groups today.

Imagine a gun fight in space. A handful of astronauts fire their guns at one another. What will happen? If you understand Newton’s theory of motion, you will predict that by firing the guns, they will be thrust in an equal and opposite direction. The astronauts would soon be hundreds of miles away from one another. Making predictions is a demonstration of understanding, in this case of Newton’s theory. Briefly stated, teaching for understanding involves designing demanding ways that students will demonstrate a conceptual understanding though performances. These performances usually involve the student being able to: explain, provide evidence, make a prediction, find examples, generalize, apply concepts, and/or create an analogy or a metaphor, or represent the concept in a new way.

Understanding performances are varied, they must be cognitively demanding; and they must challenge students to reach beyond what they already know. Typically, most activities are routine. To be fair, routine activities have value in teaching and reinforcing newly learned concepts, but they are not performances of understanding. Therefore, they do little to build understanding. Teaching for understanding is a tried and tested approach to raising student achievement.

What follows is a summary of how to teach and assess understanding:
Demonstrations of student understanding include the student: explaining, applying skills and knowledge, providing evidence and examples, predicting, generalizing, and creating an analogy or a metaphor.

• evidence of students explaining or justifying the newly learned concept
• evidence of students adapting, applying, and predicting based on their previous knowledge to create new knowledge
• evidence of students applying newly learned knowledge by giving examples
• evidence of creating generalizations or patterns
• evidence of creating a metaphor or simile that grows out of the concept

To learn more about Dr. Aronstein visit his website, http://www.larryaronstein.com

The Inside Candidate

Should you even bother to apply for a job when you know that there are inside candidates? Can you beat out an insider? Are the cards already stacked against you? The short answer is that you should apply—there is nothing to lose. The actual status of the insider or insiders is unknown. The “powers that be”, the superintendent, board members, other administrators, may not favor the insider. The insider may have been on the wrong side of some internal issue, or is just not well respected. Oftentimes, the screening committee or the hiring committee will reject the insider’s candidacy, which results in a wide-open process.

Even if there you wind up competing with an insider, it remains a possibility that you may prevail. You have no control over the status of other candidates, but you do have control over the quality of your performance. All you can do is to do your very best and then hope for the best.

Nepotism and xenophobia have always existed in many of our schools. It goes beyond just knowing someone on the inside to get a job. Sometimes you must be someone on the inside. Under some circumstances you must even live and work in the district. Organizations that regularly practice nepotism are often resistant to change and do not honor diverse perspectives which might come from outside sources. However, leaders in these schools might argue, “if it ain’t broken why fix it”. They assert the need for continuity and consistency. They preach that outsiders don’t relate to their community. They take pride in being a “close knit community”. Conventional wisdom seems to be that the only way to land a job in many school districts is to be an inside candidate. If this is the case, then you will probably be better off not working in a place like this. Be careful what you wish for because you may get it.

Besides being unfair, nepotism often results in mediocrity in that the best qualified candidates are passed up, and the same practices are perpetuated, as the torch is passed to another insider who was weaned in a closed system. The justification for rejecting outside candidates is often that “they’re not a good fit”which ironically is often true! Unfortunately, sometimes “outsiders” are chosen and then not listened to, sometimes even shunned. However, schools are entities that must continue to grow and learn.