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Selecting Your Next Leader in Education

A skill that effective leaders take pride in possessing is the ability to identify other great leaders and recruit them to their organization. While the processes – and requirements – for recruiting, identifying and selecting individuals to serve in leadership roles may vary depending on the organization and employment sector, leaders in education should consider a process that involves a wide-range of stakeholders and promotes competition between both internal and external candidates.

When looking to fill a high-level leadership opening in a school district, Superintendents should consider the following important steps for a strong hiring process:

1.       Post the position on your website and on local, state and national online job boards. Make sure to follow requirements relating to the length of time it must be publicly posted online. This is a simple, yet important step that is often overlooked and even undervalued. Never assume that the best candidates are trolling your website waiting for openings to appear.   

2.       Convene a group of stakeholders directly impacted by this individual’s role and collect feedback on the type of leader, or the characteristics, educational training and skills they would like to see this person possess. For example, if it is a campus principal opening, bring in parents, school staff, and students and ask them questions related to the individual’s desired skills and experience, as well as other aspects of the campus and school community. Gather their feedback for the next stage of the process.

3.       Convene a small panel of district leaders to screen the applicant pool. Provide this panel with the feedback gathered during the “characteristics” meetings to cross reference the experiences and backgrounds of the applicants with what was desired by the stakeholders who provided input. Select candidates – no less than 4, no more than 8 – to advance to a first round of interviews.

4.       Develop a first-round interview panel consisting of individuals representative of the entire campus (parents, teachers, students, other school staff) and include district-level staff members. After interviewing the pre-screened and selected candidates, instruct the panel to rank the candidates based on their interview, and recommend two to four to advance to a second round. Ask the panel, “Did we meet at least one candidate who you believe can be successful in this role?” If the answer is “yes”, the process moves forward. If the answer is “no”, go back to step one. (I emphasize recommend in this process. While these individuals are an important component to a robust process, the district superintendent is ultimately accountable for the performance of school leaders.)

5.       After your first round panel has recommended two to four candidates to advance past the first round, convene a panel of senior staff and district leaders to conduct a second round. You should try to have at least one individual who sat in on the first round to be included on this panel. Conduct a second round and deliberate with your senior leaders. If necessary, bring candidates back for a third round.

6.       Once you have selected your preferred candidate, check the references they provided you. You should take it a bit further and look for additional references they did not provide but may have had experience working with your candidate in some capacity. If the references all check out, you have found your candidate through a very thorough and competitive process.

While these steps may seem fairly commonplace, oftentimes leaders and organizations are inclined to select a leader they already know or with whom they already have a great level of comfortability. While expedient, this may not result in identifying the best candidate to fill your leadership opening.  If there is a person who you believe to be the best leader for the opening, not only will they emerge as the top candidate, but they will also gain gratification knowing that they earned the position through an open and competitive process.

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Published by Heath Morrison Superintendent

Heath Morrison is an award-winning superintendent and education expert based in Charlotte, NC. He currently serves as superintendent of Montgomery ISD.

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