How COVID-19 Can Impact Teacher Recruitment - For the Better.

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

Almost daily we come to grips with new challenges that COVID-19 presents to the safe and effective operation of international schools; cleaning protocols, closure/reopening policies, enrollment uncertainties, distancing requirements, and shifts to online/blended learning. With the completion of the school year in the Northern hemisphere, many school leaders are now focusing their gaze on the many challenges for the next academic year.

Teacher recruitment is where the most positive change can occur.

International school teacher recruitment has never been an easy task. It is a year-round activity that occupies substantial real-estate in many Heads of Schools schedules. In a COVID-19 environment, three contributing factors will serve as the main drivers of change to recruitment and schools that implement the right changes will be able to hire more effectively than ever, positioning their schools to better deliver on their missions.

Economic pressures of COVID-19 affecting recruitment

Over the past several years the stark economic reality of international teacher recruitment has become ever more apparent; thinning supply from global teacher shortages and increased demand from continued international school growth. With the arrival of COVID-19 we will likely see reduced overall demand for teachers as a result of anticipated reductions in student enrollment. Data showing reduced willingness to travel combined with preventative travel restrictions will also reduce the supply of available teachers. At the macro level, it is unclear whether the reduced global demand will outpace the reduced supply of teachers.

The question of ‘how will schools respond to lower enrollments?’ speaks to a major challenge that COVID-19 presents to the international schools. Pre-COVID, many schools competed for families with world-class sporting facilities, chef-inspired cafeterias, climbing walls, and in-class technology. Most of which will be inaccessible for the foreseeable future. To remain competitive, schools will need to re-evaluate their value proposition to concerned parents. Clearly, the ability to effectively deliver on remote and hybrid instructional modalities will be core to that revised value proposition. Accordingly, not only will competition be high for teachers with proven skills in virtual or remote learning environments but under-skilled staff will also require significant preparation and training over the summer months.

Successful schools will be those that both broaden their recruitment reach and deliver onboarding and preparation online.

Logistical impact of COVID-19 affecting recruitment With the arrival of a global pandemic and its associated travel restrictions, in-person recruitment fairs are likely out for the 2020/21 recruitment year - perhaps forever - and we may all be better for it. After all, the simple reality is;

Teacher interviews have been the most expensive and carbon intensive in history.

The massive costs associated with in-person interview attendance has negatively impacted the size of the talent pool available to schools. And, while many will say that shaking hands with a teacher and looking them in the eye will reveal all they need to know, readers of Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Talking to Strangers’ will recognize that data clearly shows;

When it comes to judging character, we’re not as good as we think we are.

Of course there is value in meeting an individual in-person, observing their interactions with their peers, and evaluating how they comport themselves in social situations. Yet, it is difficult to justify the massive financial and environmental costs when there are other ways to make those assessments and additional areas for improvement of our hiring methods. It is likely that the coming year of online recruitment will catalyze those realizations.

Ethical realities If the economics and logistics of current recruitment models alone don’t make you want to press the reset button, events of the past weeks have highlighted one of the most compelling reasons of all - there is structural racism in international education recruitment. This has been courageously called out by education professionals Shelley Moldonado, Nunama Nyomi, and previously by Proserpina Dhlamini-Fisher, all of whom speak to its impact on teachers and students who are black, indigenous, and other people of color. Recognition of this racism is only a first step, and many schools are taking action to develop diversity and inclusion strategies to guide teacher recruitment efforts. A key component of which is identifying the many biases (conscious and unconscious) inherent in the hiring process. Especially perilous to diversification efforts are discussions of ‘fit’, which often (consciously and unconsciously) translates to ‘people like me’.

When conversations of ‘fit’ are informed by a quantifiable focus on skills, biases can be laid bare.

What is skills-based hiring? Skills-based hiring is a strategic approach centered on identifying and developing the core competencies - the knowledge, skills and attitudes - required for an organization to be successful. Core competencies are a key component of a schools overall competency architecture that establishes connections between mission, job descriptions, interview questioning, selection criteria, and professional learning plans.

Why skills-based hiring?

Ensuring teachers have the right competencies is key to both raising student achievement and - as has become very clear with the sudden shift online - maintaining organizational resilience in the face of great change. Despite this, evidence of required competencies is often overlooked during the hiring process in favor of ‘gut feeling’, where an educator got their degree from, or the prestige of the school (or that of the head) where they previously worked.

Although a teacher’s education and credentials are important to the hiring process, skills-based hiring prioritizes a candidate’s competencies during the hiring process by ensuring they demonstrate the necessary attitudes and skills to be a great teacher at your school.

Using a skills-based approach also allows for greater consistency and transparency in the hiring process - internally and externally. By creating a standardized framework based on the principles that are important to your school, you create a shared understanding of what is desirable of a teacher among those involved in the hiring process. Candidates will be clearer on the expectations and the culture of your school, helping both you and the candidate to decide whether it is a good match. Making these expectations clear early in the process is vital to reducing staff turnover.

Applying the same principles to your current team, a skills-based approach provides you with a mechanism to both identify and close skills and competency gaps more effectively. Clearly identifying skill gaps creates an opportunity to jointly develop professional learning paths that encourage both the personal growth of your staff and support effective planning and targeted allocation of professional development funds.

Creating a skills-based approach

Start by developing a competency framework for your school. To ensure you hire the skills you need, you first need to understand the core competencies that are important to your school. Identify the common competencies - knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors - integral to your school operations and guided by your schools vision, mission and values. These competencies will create a clear statement about who you are and what type of person you need to be to work at your school. This will provide the foundation from which you can develop other competency layers by level, role or team.

Once developed, create clarity for applicants by integrating the competencies into your job advertisements and competency-based interview questions. Ensuring that each member of your interview team is focusing on a shared understanding of what is required of a teacher at your school will make discussions at the selection process much more transparent and effective in hiring truly the best teacher for your school.

At SkoolSpot, we have been interviewing school leaders from around the world to better understand the core competencies required of an international teacher. The goal of our research is to support schools in developing their own competency-based approaches to sustainably develop highly-effective teams.

Updated: The SkoolSpot International Teacher Competency Framework has been published - see here.

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