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Leadership and Activism, Philosophical Meanderings

What Do Vanguards Have To Do With Hiring?

One of the reasons I love being part of the Cooperative Catalyst group is that you people always push my thinking.  You are vanguards of leading and learning in so many ways, and often in ways that are quite different from my experiences. That constant exposure to new thoughts, new ideas and new questions keeps me engaged, interested, alive and always learning.

Do we do that in education for our teachers?  Do we do that for our students?  Do we even do that for our leaders?

Recently our CIO of assessment, research and technology resigned and the process of searching for a replacement began. We had 6 weeks notice, so I was excited about the possibilities.  I’ve been around enough to know how long some of the HR procedures take, but still, 6 weeks is a reasonable time to revisit the vision for the job, advertise, look and interview and hire. Our current process, as I understand it, is that someone is put in charge of the process, and typically that person and an HR representative create the job description, advertisement and interview questions. Having served on interview committees before, involvement of the committee members in the preplanning is usually not done–we simply show up and ask the prescribed questions.

I think the process needs to be revisited.

You see, when a position as vital as that one in our central leadership becomes available, I think revisiting the vision for that job is crucial. It’s an opportunity to rewrite the job description as you write the advertisement for the job. With a  job like the CIO of the Department of Assessment, Research and Technology, one has the potential to impact EVERY single piece of teaching and learning. (Professional development, instructional technology and information management are also in this department.)

Here’s what I would do, were I in the position to lead the process of finding a new CIO:

First, I would gather a vanguard groups of teachers and leaders in the use of technology, assessment, and professional learning to share what they would look for in the leader of this department. I would look for people who were using new tools, who understood things like blogging and wikis and the use of social media. I would invite folks who understood PLNs and online learning to share their ideas. I would gather people who were questioning traditional ways of assessing and reporting, and let them teach the group what they were learning as they studied their students through project- and challenge-based learning, kid-watching, student involvement in rubric-making and other non-traditional ways of assessment. I would ask them to share their experiences with parent-student-teacher conferences, and how they communicate to parents. I would look for the high end users of our student information system as well as our web page gurus, our online users and the folks who present at national conferences. I would look for students, teachers and leaders who embody and represent the type of learner we would like to see in our schools. I would involve as many people as I could in defining the type of leadership needed, including those who have experiences BEYOND our division, those who are connecting with our world in various ways. I would also make this discussion an open one, so that anyone I may have missed would feel welcome to join in the discussion. In my mind, it’s all about  finding the most forward thinkers to help us define not only what kind of leader we need in this position, but the types of questions that will help us find those people.

You see, our division’s first strategic goal is to : Prepare all students to succeed as members of a global community and in a global economy.

Part of the description of that says, “students can expect to collaborate, as well as compete, with people around the world for jobs and business. Lifelong learning represents the skills and attitudes needed to succeed in the multi-cultural, fast-changing global community. Developing graduates capable of acquiring new knowledge at all stages of life and applying it is a necessity.”

So, why wouldn’t we model and apply that process when looking for a person who will be instrumental in helping our division move forward in these ways? I would ask folks to share their ideas, ask them to suggest people to be on the interviewing committee and also to offer questions to use in the search. I would then gather a small group of thought leaders (and also some luddites) to brainstorm issues and ideas and help mold those questions and interview processes.

During this time, I would be working with our central office leadership to write the job description and advertisement utilizing the collective knowledge of the crowd.

After that, I would gather the group of potential interviewers together to suggest some questions and processes. Do we use technology to interview?  Do we ask interviewees to share their resume via an online drop box, or show us their digital footprint, or submit an innovative tape for review? Do we ask them for their social networking addresses, or look to their descriptions of THEIR global presence? I know I wouldn’t think of everything–so that’s why the involvement of others. After all, our goal says our students will need “to collaborate, as well as compete.”

Shouldn’t WE be collaborating as we define and envision our search processes and how to find the very best person to help lead us down this road? Shouldn’t we be modeling that  for our community? Shouldn’t we be looking for someone who is “acquiring new knowledge at all stages of life and applying it” in forward thinking ways BEYOND traditional college coursework and gathering degrees? Our students will be learning in new ways–shouldn’t our CIO understand these ways of learning? Shouldn’t the people creating the process of hiring for this position understand and be experienced with these things? If we set the process up where one person speaks with an “I” voice in creating the committee and the questions, then haven’t we negated our statement of belief in collaboration and best practices where “None of us is as smart as all of us”?

Developing the questions this person will respond to is probably the most important part of this process–if the questions don’t address the real work of the job, then they won’t help us find the best person for the job. So if the questions come from discussions with our vanguard teachers and leaders, and we have those folks on the committee to choose a new CIO, do you think we’ll have the best chance to get someone whose vision will lead both the adults and students into the future with confidence and skill?

It’s too late for this particular job–the 6 weeks passed and an interim Chief was appointed for 40 days, who has led the process in the traditional ways. I recently read Will Richardson’s piece in EdWeek where he talks about teachers being “Googleable.”  Committee members that pick a leader to take school divisions forward should definitely have a presence on the web beyond their current job, in my mind. And the leader they pick should DEFINITELY have experience publishing and building a digital footprint.

I believe we simply have to move those traditional ways of hiring into the 21st century, and that does NOT mean simply an online writing sample or a conference call just to say we did, etc. I see things like that as using technology for technology’s sake, not embedding it in real ways. When traditional leaders led the process to hire another leader, then we get more traditional leading, not transformation.  How sad.

How would you lead a process to hire someone in this type of position?  How do we embed the use of technology realistically in tis process? What would you do or not do that I suggested?  How do we look for leaders who will move us forward into the future in realistic and successful ways?  Ideas, anyone?


This blog post was submitted to the Inaugural Ed-Tech Blog Carnival, found here.


About Paula White

grandma, teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), DEN STAR, Google Certified Teacher, camper, Gifted Resource Tchr, NETS*T certified, lover of learning


4 thoughts on “What Do Vanguards Have To Do With Hiring?

  1. I wouldn’t object to including vanguard students – the ones that challenge all sorts of traditional notions of schooling – in hiring teachers this way, either. I’d happily go “so far” as to ask home-schooled students what they expect in a teacher. Bring in other teachers and parents, as well. There has to be a useful balance in numbers and “required” steps in putting t0ogether a hiring committee with vision and “buying power” in the public education sector.

    There are many layers of tradition, protocol, and politics. I think, in any hiring decision in most schools and divisions. At the core of the decision-making process is a desire to get the right person to do the right job, but by limiting the hiring process to the ways in which it’s always been done, divisions run the risk of hiring someone for “the right job” as the traditional gatekeepers perceive it – while an entirely different set of roles and responsibilities might better serve schools and might require a different hire. The right job might not be in the job description – the right person might not apply for that job. I’m not confident that the average division’s interview questions at any level are designed or asked to elicit anything but traditional answers. I don’t have enough hiring experience above my station to say. However, I don’t see many school divisions’ interview questions on those annual lists of wacky prompts from Google et al.

    The big question here for me, Paula, is how to bring disruptors into positions of influence in a division and either set them up for success in transforming culture or free them time-wise to operate as a red team/shadow cabinet for the central office. How do you keep the CIO from being silo-ed like anyone else can be? How do you hire for people that resist that?

    How do you muster the will to assemble a vanguard for hiring or of hires no matter how it looks to others?


    Posted by Chad Sansing | January 15, 2011, 8:26 pm
  2. Chad,
    Alec Couros (@courosa) recently set up a Google doc so people could post questions for beginning bloggers. I think some of those could have been used in this process very well–but our folks in charge of this process are least visible on the web, and one, at least, states openly “I don’t use social networking.” I believe they not only would never have seen this amazing list of questions (, but wouldn’t have the background or experiential knowledge to think of them either.

    I think the idea of including vanguard students in the interviewing process is a great one. Years ago, Becky Fisher (@beckyfisher73) first included students in our Technology Advisory Committee, and we have had them on there ever since. (I think there may have been a few years when she wasn’t in technology that the then -director may have let that lapse, but I’m not sure.) My students have served on that committee in the past as well as other technology planning committees, and I have been present when KIDS recommended things like, “Keep Facebook blocked. It would be too much of a distraction to open it.”

    I believe the process speaks for what the administration wants in our schools. If the admin wanted disruptors to the status quo, they’d provide structures that would seek that. If the people in charge of the hiring process use traditional ways of hiring, then that speaks volumes.

    The most forward moving time in our division was in the early 90s, I think, when we had a whole central office full of disruptors–and an assistant Superintendent who mentored others to be that–and a Superintendent who supported him and the Central Office Staff.

    All school systems need that kind of situation, but the right people aren’t in the right seats on the bus for most of us in education–and your question about how to bring disruptors into positions of influence in a division and either set them up for success in transforming culture or free them time-wise to operate as a red team/shadow cabinet for the central office is the crucial question. It’s also one that I certainly have no idea how to answer, and that I am feeling pretty hopeless about right now.

    SIGH. . . .

    Posted by Paula White | January 19, 2011, 12:10 pm
  3. thanks for the Blog Carnival submission. All the other posts in the carnival are here :
    Please can you put a link back to the carnival in your post? thanks!

    Posted by Danny Nicholson | February 6, 2011, 1:09 pm


  1. Pingback: The Inaugral Ed Tech Blog Carnival | The Whiteboard Blog - April 2, 2012

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