Three Steps for Recruiting Talent

Erik EllefsenThe CACE RoundtableLeave a Comment

Talent3In my prior blog, “School Buses, Lord of the Flies, and The Right People”, I received comments and questions about my own experience riding school buses, how to develop exciting non-bus orientated analogies, and what dispositions I look for in candidates; however, the most significant interest and conversation revolved around the following comment:

Recruit Talent: No offense to those that asked the questions 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.

The most common question became: How do I recruit talent?

Before I provide my thoughts on this I would like to make three statements on recruiting talent:

  1. 100% accuracy and success is a fallacy in hiring.
  2. Hire for the short-term. Too often I talk to leaders who expect new hires to build their current job into their career. We know that this is not true with my generation and the millennials following me, and this older thinker is not healthy for the future of the profession either.
  3. Context matters, so you must take the following statements and orient them for your school and the needs of your educational system.

Three Steps for Recruiting Talent:

  1. Know the Profession:

I remember interviewing with New Leaders for New Schools and watching 3 minute video clips of 5 teachers in action. These video clips were followed by a written evaluation and questions. It became apparent to me at the end of the interview that I did not have a serious enough understanding of high quality professional practice as well as was not discerning enough to see quality and talent within such a short timeframe.

To remedy my lack of discernment I sought out the best in professional writing and an expert, Kim Marshall of the Marshall Memo, to help gain greater fluency in quality practice. I then followed this by watching hundreds of hours of classroom video followed by numerous short classroom walk-throughs to test my skills, understanding, and theories. This training and my preparation over the past eight years has allowed me to hone my skills, so that I can quickly and easily identify talent.

I find that most school leaders have not prepared themselves to see talent, so they don’t actually know what they are looking for and instead hire based upon the niceness of the candidate or quality of credentials.

  1. Build a Rigorous Teacher Evaluation Program:

Most school leaders take little time combining professional research and knowledge to craft a school specific evaluation program that not only forms internal professional practice and development, but also informs recruiting. The New England Patriots became a football dynasty partly because they cheat, but mostly because Bill Belichick created a sophisticated evaluation program based upon football research and the schematics of his system. Likewise, the San Francisco Giants and Brian Sabean have created a research-based system by which they evaluate current players that is used to draft, sign, and develop young talent.

The recruitment process in education, just as in sports, should be driven by an internal system that defines quality practice. This allows you as a school leader to identify talent that will thrive in your organization. This systematic process will allow you to evaluate any current educator or future hire through a clearer lens allowing you to be more precise in the hiring process.

If you don’t have a systematic program, build one and use it for everything you do professionally. Again, I used Kim Marshall’s research and expertise in “Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation.” I adjusted his work to fit the context of my school and my organizational system that sought to create a more dynamic profession of teacher-leaders.

  1. Build Your Network:

I’ve written about the importance of networks in “Navigating the Ed Policy Storms: Are you Connected” and “The Power of Connectivity” in which I argue for educators to connect as a way of mutual benefit within our profession. In this blog building a network is more selfish, if you want to find great talent you must know people and where to find pools of talent. To me there are three primary ways that building a network will help you find talent.

First, get to know college education programs that produce highly qualified and talented professionals. I am truly biased by prior success; therefore, anyone trained at Dordt University under Dr. Tim VanSoelen, Wheaton College under Dr. Jon Eckert, and Cairn University under Dr. Paula Gossard will be the first candidates I seek. There are other great institutions like Calvin, Trinity, Covenant, and George Fox but I know these professors, the quality of their programs, and their fit for my system. My first call will be to them in August to inquire about seniors in their program or graduates who are doing great things.

Second, get involved in the education profession within your community and region. This allows you to meet professionals who are in both the private, charter, public, and non-profit system to develop the connections necessary to know where the local talent might be and who might be seeking new professional opportunities. I find in particular that private school leaders are so insulated from the local community that they miss the talent within their grasp.

Third, build your professional network online through Twitter and LinkedIn. I have a personal disdain for what Facebook has become, but Twitter and LinkedIn have allowed me to build a broader and more global professional network. Use these tools as you seek every avenue to develop relationships before turning over your recruiting to outside firms or job postings on the traditional websites.

Overall success in the recruitment process comes from the school leader’s systematic understanding of the education profession, the system of education he/she is trying to develop, and the professional network that will allow for the pools of talent to be found and mined. And lastly, my final points of advice are to avoid becoming a static organization by:

  1. Never stop testing your assumptions about talent and its correlation with student learning.
  2. Never stop recruiting for talent, and be mindful of 2-3 years in the future rather than just the next school year.
  3. Hire that talent whenever possible even if there isn’t a current job opening.
  4. Resources are never unlimited, so make sure you have a strategic plan that allows you to hire, develop, and retain talent for the needs of your system.


  • 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.

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