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How We Hire Employees Who Embody 21st Century Skills

How We Hire Employees Who Embody 21st Century Skills

Personalized Learning

At Education Elements, we are proud that our team members model the 21st Century skills we encourage in the classrooms we serve. Our consultants think big, seek collaboration, and enjoy solving the unique challenges each of our districts face. As we continue to see the positive impact of our work, school and district leaders commonly ask us one thing about our team - what does Education Elements look for in a hire?

The truth is, we’ve had a lot of practice to get where we are. Not every hire has worked out and we’ve had to learn from the natural trial and error that comes with the evolution of a growing organization. These lessons have helped us fine tune the lens we use to evaluate candidates.

For one, we’ve learned to look for candidates who are comfortable with a high degree of ambiguity. We personalize our services to meet district needs and rarely walk down the same road twice. Like districts, we have a desire to get things right, but when things are customized, it is natural to fear taking a wrong step. This has been a tension for team members who prefer a more scripted and well-trodden approach.

We’ve also taken care to ensure that team members grow comfortable managing multiple priorities  and building connections across their work. On top of leading district projects, our consultants write blogs (like this one!) and white papers, plan our national conference, and facilitate team book clubs, among other internal accountabilities . These roles and responsibilities are intended to build collective expertise, but it can take time for each individual to find the systems that work for them as they become accustomed to the variety of demands of the job.   

While these experiences teach us valuable lessons, our greatest insights have come from identifying the traits that our team members share. Calling out these attributes has helped our team home in on what to look for. A few examples include:

  • Synthesizer - Can this person synthesize complex information so others can easily understand and work with it?
  • Relationship-Builder - Can this person make meaningful connections to people both around work but also outside of it?
  • Thought Leader - Can this person come up with new ideas and approaches to district challenges and then also communicate them or share insights broadly?
  • Mission-Driven - How passionate is this person about working with districts to build and support dynamic school systems?

It’s no coincidence that these attributes have long been identified as characteristics of effective school leaders. Michael Fullan, former Dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education,  identifies similar characteristics of leaders capable of making sustainable change: moral purpose, the ability to improve relationships, knowledge creation and sharing, coherence making, and an understanding of the change process. We’ve found that people who possess these qualities innately transfer them to the leaders and teachers they work with, which transfer to their students.

Though we see the parallels between our team members and the incredible teachers we serve, we recognize there are challenges that teachers face that make our work different. Education Elements consultants have time and space to try new things, opportunities to visit and learn from hundreds of schools, and structures to collaborate with team members from a wide range of backgrounds and expertise. We believe these opportunities are necessary for our team’s success, which is why we help schools find ways to offer them to their teachers.

For leaders who ask us about hiring, here are a few lessons we’ve learned as we’ve developed our hiring practices:

  1. Make a list of the attributes that make up your most successful employees and build a hiring rubric from these. Try to keep this list concise–we’ve found that more than eight attributes makes it difficult to track and measure.
  2. Align your questions and performance tasks to these attributes. This might be a lesson demonstration or staged faculty meeting, one-on-one conversation over coffee, or role plays of a common parent-teacher scenario.
  3. Know your purpose and seek candidates that embody it. If your goal is to personalize learning, hire teachers and leaders that value ownership, individualization, and innovation.

In the end, hiring is an art and not a science, but we believe that if you stick to these principles, you may just end up with an awesome team like this:



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About Daniel Johnson - Guest Author

Daniel Johnson is a former Associate Partner at Education Elements and works with district and school teams to develop responsive, stakeholder-driven practices that improve student outcomes. In his seven years at Education Elements, Daniel has led projects in mid- to large-sized school districts across six states, and worked with state-level departments of education to lead instructional initiatives across Georgia and Kansas. He specializes in instructional readiness, strategic planning, and teacher recruitment. Daniel is a former science teacher, having taught in school systems in Mississippi and Brooklyn, NY. During his time in Mississippi, Daniel served on the school’s leadership team working with state consultants on school improvement efforts. In New York, Daniel worked for the charter network, Achievement First, working with a team of science teachers to build the network’s inquiry-based science curriculum. He holds a B.A. degree in Political Science, a B.S. degree in Journalism, and a Master's degree in Teaching. Daniel is originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan and currently lives in Washington, D.C.

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