High-Poverty Schools With No Trouble Attracting Great Teachers

Fact or fantasy? A high-poverty, high-need school posts several teacher openings and ends up with far too many candidates. More than 25 candidates apply for every open position when recruiting in spring. Even when waiting until summer to recruit, 10 candidates per position apply. Make that great candidates, real teaching stars, and ones eager to teach kids with big challenges. Possible?

Fact: The four school districts participating in the Opportunity Culture initiative in the first two recruiting seasons found themselves in this position for their high-poverty schools. The strongest results were in Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Project L.I.F.T., a zone of struggling schools within a large, urban school district, which got about 30 applicants per position in the first two years. Metro Nashville’s results were similar in their one year of recruiting. Syracuse City Schools, which started planning late but had schools ready to launch in the 2014–15 school year, began recruiting in early summer and still got 10 applications per job. Cabarrus County, N.C., had similar results. We hadn’t quite anticipated such strong recruiting effects right off the bat at these schools, which Public Impact along with Education First and Education Resource Strategies have been supporting.

Few of these schools and their districts are accustomed to being highly selective when it comes to hiring teachers for their high-poverty schools.  Opportunity Culture schools, though, are schools with something different to offer job applicants: The chance for great teachers to extend their reach to more students, sometimes using blended learning, and lead teams, for more pay within regular budgets (not temporary grants). Everyone—great teachers and those aspiring to be great—gets more support through increased planning and collaboration time.

How should districts and principals sort through such a large volume of candidates, and continue attracting more with the right stuff? We’ve created a Teacher and Staff Selection Toolkit and a Recruitment Toolkit to capture the lessons and tools of the most successful recruiters among these early Opportunity Culture districts.

For example, Project L.I.F.T. leaders began recruiting early in the spring—a key to attracting great candidates before other districts scoop them up. Their recruiting hook was the jobs they had to offer that let teachers reach many more students and other teachers, for much higher pay, without leaving the classroom.

But just starting early and getting a lot of applicants aren’t enough to ensure great hires. Schools need strategies to choose wisely among the candidates. It’s harder with a bigger pool. They must quickly whittle the list down to something manageable, while figuring out: Is each teaching candidate truly the right fit?

A track record of great teaching is just a start for candidates to succeed: An unyielding and demonstrated belief that all students can make learning leaps is crucial. Likewise, they need the ability to connect emotionally with kids facing many challenges, in and out of the classroom. Tenacity, flexibility, and teamwork in great abundance—all essential for these teachers.

That’s where behavioral competencies come in. Understanding candidates’ competencies, or habits of behavior that help predict how they will do a job, can guide schools and districts in placing teachers and staff in the right roles and helping them succeed. The Teacher and Staff Selection Toolkit suggests behavioral competencies for Opportunity Culture roles, largely derived from Competence at Work by Lyle and Signe Spencer, the vanguard publication of research applied widely across sectors for hiring outstanding professionals and leaders (including Singapore’s teachers and leaders).

For example, a multi-classroom leader who leads a team of teachers, coaching, co-teaching, and co-planning to achieve results for all the team’s students, needs demonstrated team leadership capacity, the ability to influence others (directly and indirectly), and the drive and planning habits to serve a larger number of students exceptionally well with a team.

What’s most heartening: In Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Project L.I.F.T., the candidates were so eager to work in this new type of school that many who were not selected for Opportunity Culture advanced roles were willing to take regular teaching jobs in those schools, just to get a foot in the door for future openings. With development on the job that’s built into most Opportunity Culture models, L.I.F.T. leaders hope that many of these teachers will excel and advance, too. Higher pay is one currency, but hope is just as powerful for attracting great educators and developing them to serve in the schools that need them most.

– Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan C. Hassel

Last Updated


Notify Me When Education Next

Posts a Big Story

Business + Editorial Office

Program on Education Policy and Governance
Harvard Kennedy School
79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone (617) 496-5488
Fax (617) 496-4428
Email Education_Next@hks.harvard.edu

For subscription service to the printed journal
Phone (617) 496-5488
Email subscriptions@educationnext.org

Copyright © 2024 President & Fellows of Harvard College