Charlie Friedman is the Founder and Head of School at Nashville Classical, a charter elementary school in Nashville, TN that opened its doors in 2013. The school serves nearly 300 students in grades K-3. Charlie is focused on doubling the number of advanced, low-income elementary students in Nashville and creating the long-term plan that will achieve it. We recently chatted with him about teacher hiring and retention practices. This post covers some of the insights he provided to us on the hiring front.
Thriving Schools: What are the biggest mistakes schools make when it comes to hiring teachers?
Charlie: I don’t want to judge what other schools are doing, but I can definitely tell you what the biggest mistake is that we made. And that is to think about and complete our hiring in a vacuum. I believe that you need to have a comprehensive talent strategy, from A-Z, in place before you can even start to think about hiring.
Thriving Schools: Okay. So let’s explore some of the details of such a strategy. When do you start thinking about hiring?
Charlie: I’m going to challenge the premise of the question on this one because it’s a lot easier to ask, “When are we not thinking about hiring?” We believe there shouldn’t be an off-switch on the hiring front.
Thriving Schools: And what’s the problem with waiting until the spring to start your hiring efforts and then calling it quits once your positions are filled?
Charlie: It gets back to the idea of having a comprehensive talent strategy, and one of the components of such a strategy is that you must have good data. You need to have data on what your hiring practices have yielded in the past and you need to know what your current teachers’ plans are. Do you know which teachers are intending to come back? Do you know which of your teachers are planning to come back for 1 more year, vs. 2 more years, vs. 5 more years? When you have that information, the rest of the puzzle is easier to put together. And gathering that information needs to be ongoing throughout the year.
Thriving Schools: There are a lot of different ways you can spend your time and resources on the hiring front – career fairs, teacher leads, website marketing, etc. Which of these efforts do you prioritize and why?
Charlie: First, let me provide you with some important context. We’re a small school and a small team, so we’re making between 4 and 8 hires a year. So the answer that I provide might look a little different as we start to scale and grow. But when we looked at our team and thought about the teachers that have been most successful at our school, what we found is that referrals were a disproportionate lever in bringing them to our organization. So I would suggest that the more leaders can look at their current team and see where their all-stars and top hires come from, the better off they’ll be. Realizing this, we tried to implement systems that would allow us to get as many referrals as possible. For instance, we set-up a Google survey that we track daily and that is shared with our teachers, community partners, and others. We also run campaigns that have incentives and prizes to get as many referrals as possible.
Thriving Schools: How do you qualify the referrals you receive and start to think about prioritizing follow-ups?
Charlie: We look at the referrals we receive and start to identify candidates that match our organization’s priorities. The first priority is a needs assessment – where do we have the need? Right now, we’re focused on hiring upper elementary teachers because we’re growing into that area. Two, we focus on finding experienced teachers that have been in environments similar to ours or who have worked with students similar to ours. So on that front, we like candidates who have experience working in a high-performing charter environment. And three, we want to make sure that as our school grows, our staff reflects the diversity that we feel our students need to see.
Thriving Schools: And where do you go from there?
Charlie: We take our list of referrals, we find the people that match our priorities, and then we start a harder sell to the folks that we feel are a good match.
Thriving Schools: What are the most important qualities you’re looking for in a strong hire? And how does your hiring process allow you to identify those individuals?
Charlie: I do think this will look a little different at each school. But what we try to do is to put candidates in scenarios that will allow them to demonstrate they’ll be successful at our school. We won’t necessarily have them do a demo lesson with students. We prefer to have them do a scripted demo-lesson for adults. Then we’ll give them feedback and ask them to do the lesson again. We don’t expect candidates that we hire to come in teaching at the level of a highly-experienced teacher. What we’re looking for instead is how receptive they are to feedback.
Thriving Schools: Can you give us a few more examples of what your hiring process looks like?
Charlie: Absolutely! We’ll give candidates 45 minutes and ask them to draft a lesson plan using the materials and template that we’ve provided. What we’re looking for here is how a candidate performs under pressure. Again, we’ll give them feedback. We want to see how they take the feedback and how they implement it into their lesson plan. Here’s another example. We’ll have candidates role-play a difficult conversation with a parent. Once again, we’ll give them feedback in that scenario. And then the last thing we do, as strange as it sounds, is we have them do a case study on time management and time allocation. For instance, we’ll give them a series of tasks that they have to get done, a sample schedule, and we ask them to build out the times in which they’ll complete each of those items. We’re essentially trying to see how an individual’s brain organizes tasks into a schedule. It helps us learn a lot about a candidate and how they prioritize their time.
Thriving Schools: How did you develop your process of thinking in the areas of teacher hiring and retention? What books or resources were helpful to you?
Charlie: There have been two resources that have meant a lot to us. The first one is The Ideal Team Player – it’s a really good book on the nuts and bolts of hiring. The other item that has been really helpful for us is the TNTP Insights Survey and their study of Greenhouse Schools (links below).