I founded the High School of Language and Innovation in 2011 with eight teachers teaching 90 students. We have now grown to 28 teachers and 350 students and have interviewed hundreds of candidates over the past seven years. In our interviews with teachers, we ask questions about topics like teamwork, teaching, taking responsibility for student results. But there is one question that tells us volumes about the candidate.
The question is, “Tell us about a time you received a piece of critical feedback. What was the feedback and how did implement it?”
Candidates have several reponses to this question.
One response is that the candidate thinks. And thinks. And thinks. “Hmm. Umm. . . hmm. Critical feedback. I mean, I haven’t really gotten critical feedback. Hmm . . .”
This response could really mean that the candidate hasn’t received any critical feedback. More than likely, though, it means one of the following:
- The candidate thinks critical feedback is a bad thing and is afraid to share it.
- The candidate is not someone who invites or welcomes feedback, so others don’t give it to him or her.
- The candidate received feedback, but didn’t hear it—and tends not to hear it.
Sometimes candidates complain about the feedback or the person giving the feedback. “My supervisor told me that I should use more hands-on science activities in my classes. But she didn’t provide us with any professional development on how to do hands-on activities. And she never taught science, so you know, she really didn’t know much about how to teach it.”
The perfect response is something like, “My supervisor told me I needed to use more hands-on activities. I was doing too much lecture and the kids were getting bored. So I visited a colleague who does hands-on activities really well and his students were really engaged. Like when I taught “phases of the moon,” we did an experiment with a basketball and a lamp that really made the idea come alive. The students got more engaged and I had fewer discipline problems.”
If a candidate like this does well in the rest of the interview, we invite them back for a demonstration lesson where they deliver a lesson for our students– another chance to see if they can hear feedback. We have both teachers and administrators observe the candidate and then give feedback as a group. We watch how the candidate takes feedback from a teacher versus from an administrator, as well as how they take feedback from men versus women.
Bronx schools can be hard to staff. The NYC Department of Education has had some great initiatives to bring top teaching candidates to the Bronx, but even so, recruiting and retaining top teachers remains a challenge. However, regardless of these challenges, if a candidate cannot hear feedback, they cannot work with our students. By being true to our values, we have found many teachers who are able to listen and take feedback, and that ability is largely correlated with their success and rate of growth, as well as their students’ success. Teachers who can listen can teach their students to listen, which is the essence of learning.
Photo credit: Julie Nariman