The Importance of Hiring Only The Most Talented Teachers

By Pete Pillsbury


What’s the single most important decision educational administrators make?  The answer, research tells us again and again, is the selection of a classroom teacher.  The classroom teacher, without a doubt, is the most critical element in a student’s growth and academic achievement.  Peel all the layers of administration and there would remain the core of the educational process—a teacher in a classroom with children.  Think of teacher hiring as the leverage for moving the development of youth and their performance upward to new levels.  The teacher is the lever, and the quality of the teacher will determine how much leverage our students get to positively affect their learning and growth.  Thus, in my mind there is little doubt that teacher hiring is the most important action an educational leader takes.What most concerns me is how little educators know about hiring—the most important action they take.  What are educational administrators least trained to do?  If you said, “select the most effective teachers,” you would be dead on.  As I have worked with administrators around the country, I asked how much formal training in teacher selection they had received.  The responses usually indicate that they have had no training in teacher selection.  However, when asked about training in curriculum or supervision, the indications are that they have had substantial training in these areas. However, a great curriculum in the hands of a low performing teacher is just a low performing curriculum.  The key to the success of a school is the quality of its teachers, yet school leaders receive little or no training in teacher selection.  Selecting great teachers is a skill—a skill that is learned through purposeful training, and without it one can get mired in trouble fast.  Yet, most school leaders go through the interview process of hiring with little training in the skill.  They rely on subjective intuition in making critical decisions about selecting teachers, rather than basing their decisions on objective, predictable, performance data.

I was one of those untrained administrators who made hiring decisions based on subjective experience—“flying by the seat of my pants.”  I was, making the most critical decisions over which teacher to hire with very little skill at interviewing.  When a position opened at the school, I’d start a fly by the seat of the pants process.  Screening of applicants was done without well thought out criteria, and there was no objective, predictive gathering of performance data on each applicant.  Interviews were set up and key stakeholders asked to participate in the interview.  I kept a file of interview questions from which I could draw about five questions for each stakeholder participant to ask.  They’d ask the questions I had given them, and then, at the conclusion of the interview, the group would rank each candidate (rankings were highly subjective and all over the scale) and come up with a final choice.  Following this process, I luckily, made some good hires, but I also made some bad ones.

In retrospect, I understand the problem with my hiring process.   I thought it was important to involve key stakeholders in the hiring process.  However, by doing this with no objective criteria or process in place, I was compounding the subjective, “fly by the seat of the pants” process. What I wanted was consensus on an applicant, and then that would be the one we hired.  This told me nothing about how this applicant might actually perform once in the classroom with our students.  Furthermore, I thought that by ranking the candidates we were getting some objectivity.  Wrong.  We were, at best, sharing our feelings and surface impressions.  These were not objective measurements.

If we are not trained in the best selection methods (and for most of us our hiring process is flawed) then, what do we need to gain the skills necessary to hire based on objective performance criteria rather than human emotion?  How can we accurately and consistently predict which candidates will be the most effective teachers?  This requires an objective comparison of candidates.  In order to accomplish this, we must first establish a set of clearly delineated criteria of excellence in teaching.  These will the underlying principles that bring order to our chaos of hiring practices.  These will be the standards by which we measure each candidate.

It is my experience that these criteria of excellence are already imbedded within us—we know what great teaching looks like!  I have taken hundreds of educators through a process of identifying the qualities of excellence in teaching by describing the qualities of one of their own great teachers.  The results of this exercise are always similar; we share a common knowledge of quality teaching.  The results are also always parallel with the research of high performance teaching.

The model of effective teaching I use has been developed over the past thirty years.  It breaks teacher qualities into four categories:

  1. The teacher’s focus;
  2. The nature of the affiliation the teacher builds with students, parents and other professionals;
  3. Dominant teaching strategies;
  4. Extension of learning.

Put in broader terms: Excellent teachers gain their satisfaction and sense of purpose by investing in the growth of students and from seeing them learn and grow.  Excellent teachers build relationships that are positive, caring and lead to self-affirmation in others.  Excellent teachers involve students in learning in meaningful ways and seek to primarily motivate students intrinsically.  Excellent teachers believe they are accountable for student learning and growth.

My years in education as a teacher and administrator and my extensive research have focused me on the following attributes of highly successful teachers.  Although these broad themes and attributes are not definitive, they, I believe, represent the core essence of how great teachers believe and behave.



Successful teachers are drawn to teaching primarily by the excitement and satisfaction of seeing students learn and are intensely focused on maximizing the growth and achievement of each student.  They have a compelling vision that includes learning for all students. They are optimistic, even in the face of challenges, about what students can become and achieve.  They see themselves unequivocally accountable for the growth and achievement of their students and they continuously monitor the progress of each student.

Growth and Learning:





Successful teachers build positive, caring relationships with students and other stakeholders within the learning community.  They demonstrate caring and empathy.  These teachers communicate openly and seek input that might improve what they can do for students.  They listen to others and are especially open to what students have to say.





Successful teachers get students motivated to learn by using intrinsic strategies that help students develop a positive self-concept through self-affirming.  They are flexible, able to change course if it will enhance learning, and can see multiple options to solving problems.  They effectively design, organize and manage the classroom while maintaining an expectant and positive climate for learning and growth.



Classroom Management:

Designing and Planning:


Successful teachers work positively with parents as partners in the child’s learning and growth.  These teachers are constantly self-initiating ways to personally grow as a teacher and apply what they learn about effective teaching in the classroom.  They help students apply learning in and outside the classroom and actively discover how what they are learning is relevant to their lives.  These teachers are comfortable with diversity and help students learn to work cooperatively within a multicultural society. 




The establishment of these categories and their sub attributes takes us below the surface of pedagogical skills and down to the core beliefs and values that will drive a teacher’s behavior when he/she is alone in the classroom with students.  Think of an iceberg.  Above the surface of the water is a small tip of a massive object.  This tip represents skills and strategies.  This is what traditional interviewing has focused on.  Below the surface is the real mass of the iceberg.  This is where we find the core beliefs and values that will drive teacher behavior.  It is these beliefs and values that must be probed in a measured manner to accurately predict behaviors and measure an applicant’s potential level of performance.

An objective selection process should be based on a set of attributes, such as those above.  It should include a simple, objective and effective way to screen applicants.  Final interviewing of screened candidates should be conducted with a scientific, objective, structured interview that measures each interviewee against the attribute standards and provides objective, predictive information on how the interviewee is likely to perform in the classroom.  Anything less than these components I have laid out undermines the critical importance of the decision to hire a teacher.

The tools used for screening and the structured interview need to be developed by people familiar with research on effective teaching and understanding of the psychometric process of developing predictive, structured interview tools.  The development of these tools is a long and arduous task.  For instance, here are some of the action research steps I have taken in the creation of an effective and predictive structured interview:

  1. Established through research and observation specific performance criteria to be measured. (success attributes)
  2. Developed a large number of questions and listen for’s
  3. Field tested questions
  4. Determined by data analysis questions that sort
  5. Field tested and gather data on effectiveness of predictability of questions
  6. Finalized interview questions and listen for’s
  7. Continue to gather data on effectiveness of the interview

In the end, an interview is created that will compare and sort prospective teachers (based on the pre-determined attributes for success) on a continuum from low to high predictability for high success in facilitating student learning.  Having this powerful objective data leads to selecting the very best teachers—our students deserve this!

Users of forced choice screeners and structured interviews, like those designed and marketed by TargetSuccess, Inc., find these tools to be far more accurate and efficient in predicting job performance of an applicant than the old subjective, “fly by the seat of our pants.”  We know that many people hired fail within the first year.  Their failure usually has nothing to do with lack of competence or skill.  The failure is caused by deeply imbedded beliefs and behaviors—beliefs and behaviors brought to the surface and objectively measured in the TargetSuccess Interviews.


Copyright, all rights reserved by TargetSuccess, Inc. 2013