School Buses, Lord of the Flies, and “The Right People”

Erik EllefsenThe CACE Roundtable10 Comments

kathrogers180 / Pixabay

In his blog from April “The Right People in the Right Seats” Tim Van Soelen encourages Christian schools to attract talent into their school through the lens of Collins’ research on Good to Great businesses. This sparked a question from a number of friends who were in the midst of hiring for next school year, which was: How do we attract talent?

Get a New Analogy:
I hate buses especially long yellow school buses, and I can’t say the analogy will get anyone of talent or worth excited about joining you on a slow painstaking ride to the past.

Yellow school buses:

  • Are long, slow, and difficult to maneuver.
  • Are uncomfortable, bumpy, and hot.
  • Were made for efficiency, similar to the model of education we are attempting to reform.
  • Were dominated by the “big” kids who sat in the back of the bus and made life as miserable as they were.

Personally, I remember walking out to the school bus as a boy preparing for events similar to the Lord of the Flies for my bus ride to and from school. I hated those twice daily rides and can fully understand why many parents don’t make their own kids ride that same bus and experience the cruelty that can come from classmates, peers, and even friends.

Therefore, my first suggestion is to get rid of the “Right Seats” on “The Bus” analogy. Create a new analogy that will inspire recruits, new hires, and old talent alike to rip the seats out of the bus and turn it into something else. No real professional wants to join you in a journey on a bus, so come up with something meaningful, better, and fun.

Let the Recruiting Commence:
Now that you have a new analogy, go find the talented people that will make this work happen. I think most school leaders should shift their hiring in three ways:

  1. Recruit Talent: No offense to those that asked the question above, but there are very few schools that actually attract talent. Apple, Nike, Facebook, BMW, and others attract talent, schools must recruit for talent. Have a vision for what you want and go find (if need be steal) the talent you seek instead of waiting for it to find you.
  2. Talent supersedes skills and credentials: Skills are credentials are important, but they can be developed and gained if you find someone who has superior talent. I remember being denied the opportunity to hire one of the most talented leaders I’ve ever met because he didn’t have experience or credentials. That leader has now gone on to become one of the most respected leaders in his 16-school charter-network.
  3. Dispositions Matter: I learned working for a very successful baseball organization that it wasn’t enough to find great talent, but that great talent had to be a fit for the culture and values of the organization. If you have great talent with the wrong dispositions you will create a highly dysfunctional school; therefore, it takes courage as a leader to bypass a talented recruit that isn’t a dispositional fit for the organization.


  • Erik Ellefsen

    Erik Ellefsen is a CACE Senior Fellow and the Director of Networks and Improvement at the Baylor University’s Center for School Leadership. He also serves as Senior Fellow for Cardus, hosts Digital Education (a podcast providing engaging conversations with some of the most innovative education leaders), and is a leading collaborator and author of the Mindshift and Future Ready projects.

10 Comments on “School Buses, Lord of the Flies, and “The Right People””

    1. Great question, LuAnne. One that I hope we get a bunch of replies to. I was just watching CBS This Morning as I read your question. They were highlighting Time Magazine’s cover “How High is your XQ?” The gist of this piece was that institutions are looking for a fit, a strong correlation to the bottom line of what the institution is created to do. Developing a profile (or an EQ) for what constitutes an outstanding employee

      While this is certainly an evolution of IQ and EQ and even Covey’s xQ (Execution Quotient), it reminds me that past performance is still the best predictor of future success. We can measure outstanding past performance in a number of different ways (GPAs, previous job reviews, high levels of success in other activities (performing arts, athletics, Girl Scouts…). If I reflect back on the best people I have had the opportunity to be part of hiring, they all exhibit outstanding performance prior to coming to work at the institutions I have been a part of.

      So, I will offer this suggestion as a first round answer to your question – as you look through the resumes, which ones demonstrate outstanding performance in some area. If they do, maybe that resume makes it to the second pile? You can flush out these outstanding performances through a behavioral job interview and hopefully find the right candidate where you can build from their previous strength to your institution’s strength.

      Here is a link to the morning show in case you have a couple minutes:

      1. Good response Tim but
        I also wonder if we base too much on past performance we miss out on the candidate whose best performance may lie ahead of them. We have begun to use a strengths profiling program called Know Your Strengths which helps to identify the strengths of an individual but by collating the data on a range of good leaders, teachers etc., can generate an ideal profile for a particular role.

        This together with past performance will give us some really helpful data on an applicant.

        1. Thanks, Phillip – I agree with you, especially in cases of new candidates to our profession that do not have the benefit of experience. I like your protocol of using this survey data to match up a candidate’s profile with one you know has been successful in your school. Appreciate your insight and endorsement of a good tool to use in this most critical process. As education reform author Andy Hargreaves notes when talking about school improvement “It’s the teacher, stupid!” Every hire is a million dollar decision so let’s do everything we can to get it right.

  1. I doubt if anyone will disagree with what you are saying Erik, but the real question is how do schools, especially those in places like Indonesia, where I work, actually find talented teachers. Fifty percent of my 300 teachers have to come from North America, Australia, New Zealand or the UK. It is a big challenge to know how to really get in the market to talent spot. Simply placing adverts on job sites does not help me spot talent.

  2. This seems like an obvious response for faith-based schools, but I’ve been struck in a year in which we’ve had the opportunity to hire a number of faculty how God has responded to our prayers. Our board, faculty, administration, friends and families have bathed the process in prayer. We haven’t asked for a plethora of applications but have asked for God to just send us the one He had called to fill each opening. It’s been incredible to see Him work it out. Pray over those resumes (if you have them…and we’re in a remote area, Utah, so we generally don’t get a lot) and get on the phone. I don’t mean at all to underestate the value of proven experience, interviews, applications and analytics. Huge value. However, we are faith-based schools after all.

    1. Great comment Mitch and I agree entirely. We often get only one applicant but they prove to be the right one. However prayer and practical action are not incompatible so we are always trying to ensure both are operating at maximum capacity!

  3. LuAnne and Phillip, you are asking for some specifics that I will try to explicate in another blog because I do believe there are ways to recruit, find, spot, and identify talented educators. I will try to give some really practical ways to do this that I learned from experiences within and outside education. Phillip’s context of Indonesia may make it more complex, but I think you’ll be able to use the pracitcal and apply it to almost any context.

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