Best Practices

Hiring Great Teachers: The Right Questions to Ask and the Best Responses to Listen For

Read Time: 4 minutes
Beth White
Sr. Manager, Educational Content, Teaching Strategies
June 22, 2021

It’s no secret that an essential component—in fact, the essential component—of a great organization is the people who comprise it.

Many aspects of a school or childcare setting are important. The tools used for instruction and assessment of development and learning, the philosophy behind those tools, the materials that are provided for children to use, the physical set-up of the school and its classrooms, the daily and weekly schedules—all of these are important for making sure your program runs smoothly and effectively.

But none of them will ever be more important than the people.

As a school leader, you have the responsibility (and I believe joy!) of handling what business management expert Jim Collins famously referred to as “getting the right people on the bus.”1 This process can be time-consuming and complex, but the first step is astonishingly simple: articulate for yourself the kind of program you want to lead. Clearly state the goals that are most important to you and then make a conscious effort to hire and inspire people who can help you fulfill those goals.


Ask the Right Questions

“Getting the right people on the bus” begins with hiring them to join you in the journey, and hiring the right people starts with asking them the right questions during your interview with them. If you want to know how a potential addition to your faculty or staff feels about the issues most important to you as a leader, then make it clear to them what is most important to you and ask them what they think about it.

Here are a few examples.

  • If you believe it’s important to foster an inclusive environment that is welcoming to and supportive of all children, say quite plainly, “It’s important to me that our school provides an inclusive environment that is welcoming to and supportive of all children.” Then ask, “What do you think our school can do, and what can you do, to make sure that all children know they belong here and that each child’s unique strengths, needs, and interests are supported?”
  • If you believe it’s important to provide meaningful engagement for all families—regardless of their makeup, background, neighborhood, or any other demographic—say, “It’s essential that we meaningfully engage all children’s families. What do you think our school can do, and what can you do, to make sure this happens?”
  • If you believe it’s important to get to know to all children and families well, show respect for all children and families, and build positive relationships with each of them, then say so: out loud, explicitly, often, and to everyone, not just during the interview process.

Listen for the Best Responses

Now that you know what great questions sound like, you need to consider what you think great answers will sound like. Here’s a tip: look for the learners.

Regardless of the specifics that a new teacher may suggest during the interview process (remember, it’s a nerve-wracking time for these people!), the most important thing that you must listen for is a person’s eagerness to learn. Materials can be complicated, processes can be problematic, routines can be upended without warning (I’m looking at you, COVID-19), and the only guaranteed constant is change. Successful implementation of any aspect of an education program requires teachers who are, at their core, learners, eager to take on new challenges and exceed old expectations.

Most importantly, listen and look for those people who are clear about their eagerness to learn about children and their families.

These are the people who will make a positive, lasting difference. These are the people who promote development and inspire learning. These are the right people to get on your bus, in your classrooms, and throughout your school.

A teacher engaging with a child over a small block tower.

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1. Collins, J. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap…and others don’t. Harper Business.