Hire Teachers Who Empower Parents

I’ve just recently started referring to myself as my school’s Lead Learner, following the example of extraordinary educators I’ve met through #PTchat on Twitter (Wednesdays at 9 pm EST; shameless plug, I know) and through my summer #PTcamp Voxer conversations with my PLN.  If you’ve read my other two blog posts (yes…two…I’m a blogger-in-training), you will not be shocked when I tell you that I am kicking around a new leader label: the school’s Lead Dreamer.  Not to leave you hanging, but I have to move this particular post along, so if “Lead Dreamer” does not make sense to you, you might choose to read my other posts after you finish this one. 🙂 
Hiring exceptional teachers is one of the most important Lead Dreamer jobs. Effective teachers make the most difference for student learning.  These teachers embody certain identifiable dispositions.  One critical disposition of effective teachers is the desire to build relationships with parents and the ability to draw parents into the school community as partners in education.  These teachers build school-parent partnerships that have positive impact on students.  Schools who hire these teachers empower parents by sharing teaching and learning knowledge and by including parents regularly in the school decision-making process.   
My school district has embraced dispositional hiring for finding the most effective teachers to lead our classrooms. One of my favorite interview disposition questions is: “Will the parents of students in your classroom be involved, engaged, or empowered, and what is your role in getting them there?”  Of course, there is no “right” answer to this question. However, if the hiring committee listens closely to HOW the candidate responds, they can get a pretty clear picture to what extent the candidate values parent-teacher partnerships.  For example, an answer such as, “I will ensure that my parents are involved by providing them opportunities to make photo copies and to help when I need it,” does not likely indicate a disposition for fostering true parent-teacher partnerships. On the other hand, a candidate who responds with, “My students’ parents will be empowered to join my class at anytime during the day so that they might learn along with us and share their experiences with us,” is likely a teacher who values school-home partnerships. 
Over the summer, armed with my disposition questions for hiring, I set out to build dream team interview committees of educators and empowered parents. For the first interview cycle, I received 206 applicants for one teaching position. I decided to conduct three rounds of interviews.  The first was a screening round where pairs of educators and parents asked applicants four questions, two of them being disposition questions.  From there, we narrowed the field down to six candidates who interviewed with a full committee of educators and empowered parents.  Finally, two finalist candidates were invited to teach a classroom of Grade 5 students in front of the committee. After the lesson, the students were given the opportunity to provide input – student voice – regarding the teacher selection.  Did the parents on the committee feel empowerment in the education process?  Did it make a difference?  You betcha!  Kim, one of the parents on the interview committee, described her experience:
“I was surprised at the entire process.  While the disposition interviews, panel interviews, sample lesson being taught to kids were impressive, it was your willingness to trust and put your faith in us to find the right teacher. I felt empowered, as did my daughter, to have a voice in the process.  I’m sure that the candidates that came through my room, were less than thrilled to only meet two parents during disposition interviews, but it sent a strong message as to what your vision/voice is about our school. While this new hiring process is lengthy, you should continue to do it this way and always ask parents to be involved.”
For a second interview process, I turned the parent empowerment dial up a notch.  I assembled a hiring committee where the educators and parents were equally represented in numbers: five parents and five educators. The parents on the committee were parents of the children assigned to the class for which we were hiring.  Maria, another parent, described her participation this way:
“I’m going to be honest, I thought maybe we (as parents) would get to ask a few questions but otherwise be there mostly as a side note. I might be a bigger “nerd” than I originally thought; but being able to be a contributing part of the interview committee was absolutely invigorating…. we were trusted with the freedom to comment during the interview and ask the candidates our own personalized questions. Huge!”
Do parents want to be engaged and empowered in their child’s learning? Of course they do.  But, we have to provide them with the opportunities, entrust them with the knowledge, and likely give up a portion of the control to which we have grown accustomed. Listen to how the following parents from the interview committees describe their desire to be engaged and empowered:
Jen: “I would like to see a stronger Parent-School partnership in every aspect of education, from being more active in the PTA or PTA activities to being present more in the classroom. I am a single mom with a full time job so I know it can be difficult, but it is so rewarding to be a part of your child’s/children’s education.”
Maria: “We have hundreds of kids in our school, that means that we have a whole lot more sets of parents associated with these children. Each of these parents are good at something. Experts at something. Trained in something that maybe nobody else in the school knows anything about. I would love to see parents in the school teaching classes or something as simple as making a presentation on something they specialize in, mentoring kids, using the skills they have gained through their lives to help advance our children. For instance, I’m a commercial certified inspector for a pest control company. I could talk to the kids about bugs or maybe have a presentation for the staff on helping prevent bed bug infestations or avoid taking it home.”
Knowledge is power.  In schooling, we educators are the keepers of that knowledge. Hiring teachers who will empower parents and who embrace school-home partnerships is essential for all students to find school success.  The more we empower parents in the decision-making process, the more engaged parents will become in their children’s learning and in the school community. The question is, are our schools staffed with teachers and leaders who possess the dispositions to take that leap? Hiring with effective teacher dispositions in mind is the answer.

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