Proven Practices for Hiring Principals

When a school leader moves on, many district boards still rely on tried and true ways of recruiting new principal candidates. Districts may, for instance, favor word of mouth candidates already associated with the school community and can, therefore, unwittingly or intentionally limit the principal pool to that of only local candidates. Yes, local and/or internal candidates may know how the school district currently operates. Such candidates may not, necessarily, also be in the best position to take a school where it needs to go in terms of ensuring continued student success and/or through a change process.

Recently, TALENTED posted an article highlighting 12 tips for hiring effective principals when sourcing beyond the local community. The article, in particular, provides suggestions as to ways in which superintendents can better gauge a candidate’s leadership ability especially if those candidates are not local. The tips are organized in terms of search activities that should transpire before a candidate is interviewed, those concerning the interview process itself, and then suggestions for activities that will ensure a smooth transition for candidates not already familiar with local school district practices. In this article, we will flesh out some of these suggestions in more depth.

Before the Interview

In preparing for effective transition, it is indeed good practice for the superintendent to involve the current school principal (if appropriate), staff, and stakeholders in discussions on succession planning. At the same time, what formal processes – in this regard – can be put in place should other principal/leadership positions become available in this or other district schools now or in the future? While planning with a large lead time is key, having pre-developed transition processes may help with unexpected leadership vacancies down the line.

Encourage the school community to complete online surveys, in multiple languages if necessary, and facilitate focus group meetings which can be replicated in additional district settings. What questions should be asked in regards to principal succession and how should the board analyze the returning data? Does the feedback change the principal’s job expectations moving forward? And in what way, since no human can be equally talented in all aspects of a job? We would therefore argue for the creation of an interview rubric that awards points to the candidate depending on how they meet the specific types of knowledge, leadership style, and attitudes the district wants the ideal candidate to possess and in what combination/rank order. This rubric should take into account any lessons learned from past administration. When creating such a rubric, in addition to revising the principal job description to reflect current district needs, the district can help mitigate any subjectivity that may arise during the ongoing candidate search process.

During Interviewing

How can the superintendent best ensure a “blind” interviewing process? Consider having all candidate applications forwarded directly to the superintendent’s office and/or external search firm, if involved, for redacting candidates names, data that can indicate age, gender tags, employer names, and school names from any resumes/applications before forwarding these application documents on to any internal hiring committee. Further, during the interview process itself, consider having a process whereby those on the interview panel are allowed time to score candidates against a rubric, independently, before proceeding to a group discussion. This will help in reducing interviewer bias from affecting which candidates proceed to the next stage of the interview process. As for school visits during the interview process, consider having a principal candidate observe a taped/real instructional lesson and provide mock feedback in a role-play with a hiring committee member, and/or role-play a stakeholder/family conversation. After an initial telephone interview, but before an in-person interview, candidates also could be called upon to develop a brief plan/overview of their future work given a set of school based data (i.e. attendance data, discipline, testing data, student grades, demographic data, teacher observation data, etc.). The principal candidate can then present this work during the in-person interview.

After the Interview

It should go without saying the importance of providing the successful principal candidate with system support and learning opportunities during the onboarding process whether or not the finalist is internal or external to the school district. However, what becomes of the also rans, especially those candidates who might be “almost as good” as the finalist? While it quite common for districts to comment that it will be in touch if another opportunity presents itself, if that opportunity does not happen immediately it is more likely that the candidate will be forgotten. Does the board office communicate with former candidates throughout the year about new positions that may become available? Does the superintendent go the extra mile in connecting good candidates with nearby districts – paying it forward? One never knows if there will be a positive dividend in return for doing this.