Getting schooled: a look into KO’s teacher hiring process

Investigative

Think of a teacher you’ve had that has changed your life. It’s not a difficult thing to do – in big ways or small, practically every teacher you have studied under has imparted lessons that have defined what you know, what you’re passionate about, and even who you are as a thinker and as an individual. 

Over the course of the past few months, groups of teachers and administrators throughout Kingswood Oxford have been reckoning with these realities as they undertake the task of filling a handful of teaching positions in the Upper School and the Middle School. To do so, they use KO’s hiring process, a system constantly in the process of being built and refined in order to be as effective as possible at the ever-challenging task of finding and selecting a candidate. 

While the process works slightly differently for each department and each position, understanding its fundamental design as well as how it has been modified during a pandemic provides critical insight into these positions that influence the lives of so many students.

The one or two month-long hiring process begins, naturally, with a vacancy and subsequent job posting. When a position opens, the school posts a brief blurb to that effect on their website under the “Career Opportunities” section. The same notice is then posted on several job aggregator sites, such as the National Association of Independent Schools’s Career Center and, for some specialized, non-teaching positions, Indeed, a more generally-focused online job board.

To reach as broad a field as possible, KO employs additional sites and services. These include Nemnet, a service which works to connect schools and nonprofits with a more diverse field of candidates, and Carney Sandoe, a website that works with teachers one-on-one to secure employment. 

The hiring process is designed to strive toward fairer, more equitable hiring practices at all stages, and this process begins at resume review. KO employs a wide range of staff and faculty, including Director of Teaching and Learning Heidi Hojnicki and Director of Equity Joan Edwards, to determine the specific prerequisites for a position before looking over resumes. “We come up with some criteria that we’re looking for in a candidate, and we read the resumes for those specific criteria,” Ms. Hojnicki said. Through this approach, the hiring committee works to ensure that all resumes are held to an equal, largely objective standard to the greatest extent possible.

Furthermore, the mere presence of different voices in the resume review process serves in itself as an additional tool to ensure fair hiring. “There’s evidence that the more people you get in the room when you’re talking about a resume, the fairer it is,” Head of the Upper School Daniel Gleason said, “because if you and I are sitting here together and we both share the same bias, maybe it’s unconscious but we might both discard the same resume,” 

Candidates whose resumes satisfy the team’s requirements are invited by the corresponding department chair for an initial interview with the chair and Dr. Gleason. Throughout the process, the department chair serves as the point of contact for each candidate; from here on out, those candidates are in frequent contact with the chair as interviews are scheduled and questions are answered.

“The first round interview is a chance for me to ask them about their educational perspective—who they are, how they see themselves as an educator,”  English Department Chair Catherine Schieffelin said. It provides the first look past the resume into how a given candidate truly carries themself and articulates their passion for their field. 

On the administrative side, Dr. Gleason looks for how the candidate embodies KO’s core values and if they have experience working with certain aspects of the strategic vision, such as devising projects that incorporate the local area into the classroom. “We’re looking for and listening for someone who’s been really thoughtful and reflective about their own growth,” he said. 

Candidates who are selected to move on to the next stage of the process engage in a second interview that incorporates a larger group of voices. Ms. Hojnicki, Ms. Edwards, and Director of Athletics Joshua Balabuch, along with a member of the academic department other than the department chair, guide a brief interview with each candidate. 

To create a fairer process at each step, the four teachers involved at this step each ask a pre-written question based on their respective specialties – education, equity, extracurriculars, and collaborating with other teachers in a department. Each applicant is given access to the questions beforehand, and the questions remain the same for each applicant. “Everyone asks a question within their own sphere, and then we open it up for questions from the candidate,” science teacher Kathleen DiSanto said. 

Then comes the third and final round of interviewing. In this last stage, by which what typically starts as a large pool of candidates has been narrowed down to just a few, potential hires are invited to a class to teach a lesson. Through these lessons, members of a committee get a chance to observe the teacher in action and develop a deeper understanding of how they teach, how they interact with students, and their mastery of the material they are teaching, among other factors.

This stage presents the biggest wrinkle in the hiring process during a pandemic. While a couple of candidates have had the chance to visit in-person, the majority of candidates have taught their class and “visited” one last time with members of the hiring committee over Zoom, a major departure from the hiring process in prior years. “They would spend a full day on campus and get to meet lots of people face to face,” Ms. Schieffelin said. “And I think that’s so valuable not only for us, who are the hiring committee, but also for the candidate to really get a feel for the school.” 

In another move to ensure equitable practices, hiring committees have asked all candidates to present over Zoom for positions where any one candidate has no choice but to do so for whatever reason, thus preventing those candidates from being at an arbitrary and unfair disadvantage. 

Following these final interactions with candidates, a hiring committee confers to reflect on each candidate and come to a decision. “They give a final recommendation to [Head of School Thomas Dillow], who interviews the person, and then we make the job offer,” Ms. Hojnicki said.

That final interview provides one last chance for the candidate to learn about what will be expected of them as a community member and teacher and for Mr. Dillow to gain perspective on the candidate’s “fit” relative to the school. As one of his duties as Head of School, Mr. Dillow reserves the right to reject any hiring recommendations made by a committee, although such a situation is extremely rare.

Due to the effectively fully-virtual hiring process this year, the new hires have not been able to experience the KO community fully before landing and accepting a job. Members of hiring committees have tried their best to counteract that isolation by providing ample information about the campus and the school’s culture during interviews and by representing the school well through digital communication.

In the eyes of one candidate for a teaching position in the Upper School, KO has handled the community-building aspect of the hiring process successfully simply through digital interactions. “You can get a good sense of if you want to work at a place just based on the way that they handle the hiring process,” the candidate said. “And [at KO] I’ve never felt treated as if I were just a number.” “Regardless of the decision, I have appreciated the process,” they added.

Although hiring committees have simply had to make do without in-person community-building with many prospective candidates this year, the fully-online hiring process has not come without the unexpected benefit of incentivizing those who live further away to apply. In the past, those candidates would have to fly out for the time they are visiting, creating an inconvenience and an additional barrier for otherwise capable yet distant candidates.

As comprehensive and grueling as it is, the hiring process provides an invaluable service to the KO community. The hard work and countless conversations had by members of the hiring committees, while not often celebrated, is meaningful, dignified work. Through their efforts, the departure of each teacher is complemented through the introduction of a fresh face who will bring a new perspective to our community and will undoubtedly inspire future students.