In Part 1 I reviewed some of the research around the best way to recruit and how this might apply to school recruitment. One of the suggestions I made was that schools should “design an interview format around no more than six qualities or attributes and come up with a short list of questions for each attribute. Then score each interview on a scale of 1-5 for each of the metrics you’ve come up with.” In this post I will go into more detail about exactly what that might look like.
I’m basing these suggestions on the ideas of Daniel Kahneman and Paul Meehl, neither of whom were interested or involved in the recruitment of teachers. Meehl was a clinical psychologist, probably best known for his work on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), who in 1954 wrote a short book called Clinical versus Statistical Prediction. In it he set out some of the problems with relying on the intuitions gained through interviews. Essentially, his finding was that an algorithm that had only students’ high school grades and the results of an aptitude test provided better than a trained interviewer at predicting the performance of college freshmen. Although the interviewers had access to far more data, most of it was irrelevant and led to the interviewers basing their predictions on emotion and bias. This is a finding that has stood up to further research in the intervening decades and, years later Meehl said in Causes and Effects of My Disturbing Little Book, “There is no controversy in social science which shows such a large body of qualitatively diverse studies coming out so uniformly in the same direction as this one.”
Kahneman, the Nobel prize pinning economist and behavioural psychologist, applied Meehl’s findings to real situations and designed an interview process that harnessed the power of statistical rules without completely sidelining the role of intuition. Kahneman was tasked with improving the interview process for determining whether a prospective soldier would perform well in the military. Previous attempts to use psychometric tests and probing interviews had shown no statistical validity and so he determined to apply Meehl’s insights.
What he did was to select six characteristics that seemed relevant to a soldier’s performance and, for each trait, he came up with a series of purely factual questions about aspects of the candidate’s life: what different jobs he had done, how punctual and reliable he’d been, what sort of relationships he had, and what sorts of interests he had pursued. The focus on factual questions was an attempt to combat the halo effect where favourable first impressions influence later judgements. As a further precaution, the questions were to be asked in a strictly standardised sequence with each trait scored from 1-5 before moving on to the next. After these six sets of scores had been compiled, Kahneman asked his interviews to ‘close your eyes’ and assign another holistic score of 1-5. He found that totting up the scores to give a total from 6 – 30 provided a much more reliable prediction than the previous regime of testing and unstructured interviewing, but, surprisingly, so did the ‘close your eyes’ exercise. The lesson he learned was, “intuition adds value even in the justly derided selection interview, but only after a disciplined collection of objective information and disciplined scoring of separate traits.” (Thinking, Fast and Slow p. 232)
So, how to apply this to a teaching interview? The first job is to select a set of no more than six desirable traits. This could result in hours of fierce debate as to what makes an effective teacher, but for simple expediency I’m going to go with the traits suggested in the Sutton Trust’s What Makes Great Teaching:
- Pedagogical content knowledge: “a strong understanding of the material being taught” and “the ways students think about the content” Effect teachers are “able to evaluate the thinking behind students’ own methods, and identify students’ common misconceptions.” (p. 2)
- Quality of instruction: “effective questioning and use of assessment”; “reviewing previous learning, providing model responses for students, giving adequate time for practice to embed skills securely and progressively introducing new learning (scaffolding)” (p. 2-3)
- Classroom climate: “quality of interactions between teachers and students, and teacher expectations” and “attributing student success to effort rather than ability and valuing resilience to failure”. (p. 3)
- Classroom management: the ability “to make efficient use of lesson time, to coordinate classroom resources and space, and to manage students’ behaviour with clear rules that are consistently enforced”. (p. 3)
- Beliefs: “Why teachers adopt particular practices, the purposes they aim to achieve, their theories about what learning is and how it happens and their conceptual models of the nature and role of teaching in the learning process”. (p. 3)
- Professional behaviour: such as “reflecting on and developing professional practice, participation in professional development, supporting colleagues, and liaising and communicating with parents”. (p. 3)
The next, and much trickier step is to come up with questions from which each of these traits can be indexed. I’ve had a go at this and, while I’m sure my attempts won’t satisfy everyone, I hope they might at least provide a useful starting place for developing your own questions.
Pedagogical content knowledge
- What do you consider to be strengths in your subject knowledge?
- What areas of your subject knowledge need development?
- How do you respond when a student misunderstands a concept?
- How would you go about assessing why the misconception occurred?
- What are the common mistakes you see students making in your subject area?
- How do you anticipate and avoid these mistakes being made?
Quality of instruction
- How do you assess whether all students have understood a new topic?
- Give an example of how you would question students to ensure they have understood what you have taught.
- How would you go about reviewing what has been learned in previous lessons?
- Explain how you would model how students should [insert a task relevant to subject].
- How much time would you give students to practice applying a new skill or demonstrating their understanding of a new concept?
- How would you scaffold a task to make sure all students were able to achieve a high standard?
- How do you think teachers should interact with students?
- How do you demonstrate high expectations for all students?
- How important is it to recognise students’ sense of self-worth?
- If a student has performed well in a task, how could you get them to aim higher next time?
- If a student has performed poorly in a task, how could you ensure they try harder next time?
- If a student decides they are incapable of achieving a task, how could you stop them from giving up?
- How do you ensure lesson time is used effectively?
- How would you organise your classroom to make the best use of the space?
- How would you go about making sure resources are used effectively?
- What do you see as the teacher’s role in enforcing school rules?
- How would you respond if a student was disrupting your lesson?
- How would you use the structures and support in place at your current school?
- What do you see as the most important aspects of being a teacher?
- What do you see as the purpose of education?
- How do you go about achieving this purpose?
- What is your view on current theories of learning?
- What are the main barriers to students learning?
- What do teachers need to do to ensure learning is taking place?
- Considering the lesson you taught earlier today, is there anything you would change if you were to teach it again?
- How do you go about seeking feedback on your development as a teacher?
- How do you go about finding out about new developments in your subject?
- What steps have you taken over the last year to develop your practice as a teacher?
- Explain how you would go about offering support to a struggling colleague.
- How do you go about communicating with parents?
As you can see, I’ve come up with six questions for each of the six traits. This happened fairly naturally but I don’t think an equal numbers is especially important. It is important to decide on what you think a good or bad response will look like before asking the questions. This will vary greatly between individuals – especially for the section on beliefs – so you probably need to discuss this with other members of the interview panel in advance. I think the advantage of scoring each trait individually and giving each equal weight is that it should help to reduce the effect of our inevitable biases.
In order to avoid group think and false consensus, your panel will be composed of people who don’t all believe and expect exactly the same things. I would recommend giving everyone’s scores equal weighting; for this to work it’s vital to avoid giving the headteacher a casting vote. Ideally, the final decision maker would not be part of interview panel but just given the totalled scores.
The final thing to reiterate is that the candidate with the highest scores (and by all means feel free to assign scores for other aspects of the interview such as the observed lesson) should be the candidate you appoint. Kahneman cautions us against second guessing ourselves and deciding that a candidate who we preferred but who scored less well should be given the job:
A vast amount of research offers a promise: you are much more likely to find the best candidate if you use this procedure than if you do what people normally do in such situations, which is to go to the interview unprepared and make choices by an overall intuitive judgement such as, “I looked him in the eye and I liked what I saw.” Thinking, Fast and Slow, p. 233
Please feel free to add to, adapt or improve upon my suggestions in the comments below. In the final part of this blog series I discuss ways we could improve the interview lesson.