What your website says about your school operations

Search consultants who really pay attention encounter school-operations issues in many different ways. Consultants have to understand our client schools’ operations in order to understand the kinds of leader that each school needs. We need to understand competitor schools’ strengths and weaknesses to understand our clients’ position in their markets. Finally, we can learn about our candidates’ effectiveness as leaders of their current schools.

You can’t see everything on a school’s website, but you can see quite a lot that aligns with the Baldrige Performance Excellence Framework for Education, the approach we use at Tradition to understand organizations. For example:

1. The website just works

The basic topics are covered. The links work. You can perform all the functions you’d expect to perform, and it’s easy to get around the website to find what you need. It’s easy to donate, and there are parent links to Blackbaud or whichever system is used to manage the administration of the school.

2. The content is current and mission-aligned

A parochial school uses imagery and language that supports the mission of the school. Students pictured are still students, and staff pictured still work at the school. A school with special programs or world languages represent those features prominently and logically.

3. There is a calendar. Or more than one calendar.

The more calendars, the better. The more information on each calendar, the better. Some options:

  • A one-year calendar on one PDF page gets printed and put on the fridge
  • A WordPress calendar allows users to navigate and search
  • A Google or iCal option permits parents and students to subscribe and integrate calendars seamlessly
  • Sample daily and weekly calendars demonstrate the daily lives of students

4. There is a Portrait of a Graduate or Profile of a Graduate

A Portrait of a Graduate indicates some alignment between board and employees, between employees and parents. It helps everyone operationalize the mission in every decision.

5. Chain of command is articulated clearly

Perhaps the most bedeviling operational issue in independent schools is the desire of parents to call the Head of School directly. A single web page on your school’s web page can and should tell parents whom to call in which circumstances. The list further helps to clarify job descriptions in cases where weak leadership has made delineation of job responsibilities difficult to understand.

If a Head does nothing other than fix the chain of command, his or her chances of success in the real job of leading a school improve dramatically.

6. Parent, student, and employee handbook are posted and include grievance procedures

In the darkest moments of a school’s operations, it is unclear to aggrieved community members what to do and whether it’s safe to do what they need to do. Documented procedures help to create positive employee morale by creating clarity and safety.

Handbooks also outline the academic and ethical standards to which everyone will be held, creating a generalized sentiment of fairness in operations, further improving morale.

How many of these points does your school’s website cover? Do you have any you would add? Please let us know.

A Proposal: The 5Ps Model of Change Management for Schools

The many models of change management don’t seem to work in N-12 schools, which tend to be higher in emotion than corporate environments, more resistant to change than most corporate environments, and more diverse in stakeholder identities and opinions than most corporate environments.

As a result, change is often made chaotically, scaring tuition-paying parents, leaving faculty confused, and usually not sticking or attracting adequate interest.

Based on my own experience as a consultant to schools and in the for-profit sector, I would like to propose the The 5Ps Model of Change Management for Schools. The 5Ps are:

  1. Pulse
  2. Pilots
  3. Paths
  4. Parlor Meetings
  5. Persistence

For example, discuss how to change the math curriculum substantially at a secondary school. The head of school or division head has a vision and wants to “bring people along” on the path to a more modernized math program. Here’s how I propose she would go about doing it.

P1: Pulse

The first step is to understand stakeholder opinion on a particular issue. How you do that depends on the school. You might conduct a large-scale marketing survey asking parents about customer satisfaction with the math program. You might ask students to comment on their comfort with math and compare that comfort with their standardized-test scores. And on and on. If you work in a particular cultural community, you engage stakeholders on their turf and on their terms to hear their opinions before piloting any new programs. There are endless ways to get the “pulse” of a school’s stakeholders.

P2: Pilots

Once you have an understanding about what’s working and what isn’t working in your specific situation, you can plan and conduct a very limited pilot program. You announce the findings of P1 and ask parents and/or students to opt into the pilot program, which you openly label as an experiment with a finite duration and scope. Once the pilot has ended, you report back to the community about its results. If they are promising, you continue to P3.

P3: Paths

If your pilot math class was successful, you then offer it as a path or option or choice for a larger group in year two or semester two, leaving the original math program in place alongside it. At the end of this “paths” period, you report back to the community about its results. If they are promising, you continue to P4.

P4: Parlor Meetings

Once the pilot and path programs have demonstrated success, you begin the process of engaging stakeholders in a wholesale move to the new program. You begin with an inquisitive approach, asking parents what they’ve heard and whether they’re interested. If there is large-scale skepticism despite your reporting during this period, you have more persuasion work ahead of you. If the new program is as successful as you believe it is, the word on the street should be positive. This stage is called “parlor meetings” because these meetings should take place in person in small groups for maximum effect.

P5: Persistence

In the last step of the process, you move to make the change persistent and widespread, relinquishing the “old way” fully in favor of the “new way” entirely. As with every step before, you should take care to communicate your reasoning and the history of these 5Ps with stakeholder groups in a reassuring fashion.

I hope you find this 5Ps approach helpful as you go about making change in a N-12 school environment. I would welcome any input you have about how you make change successfully and consistently in schools.

Feedback is a gift

A surprising number of people think they are good at accepting feedback but aren’t. And most people think they want the feedback but don’t.

A significant part of my job involves collecting information from large groups of people and sharing that information in the form of feedback with the relevant people. 

If you are offered feedback, someone or many someones cares enough about you and your future to try to change your trajectory.

If you are offered feedback, the person giving it to you has access to information to which you may not have access. People may be more honest with an intermediary than they are with you directly, especially if you have a reputation for not taking feedback well.

If you are offered feedback and politely explain to the giver why they’re wrong, three things will happen. First, you will miss the change to internalize and learn from valuable feedback. Second, the giver will — I promise — think less of you. Third, you’ll develop the reputation as someone to whom people should not waste time and political capital giving feedback.

If you are offered feedback, there’s really only one thing you need to say: “Thank you so much for caring enough about me to risk giving me feedback that may not be well received. I respect your opinion, I’ll think about it, and I welcome any more suggestions you have.” If appropriate, you can also talk about actions that need to be taken.

It’s not easy to accept and consider feedback seriously, but if you do it well, it could change the trajectory of your career for the better.

Sample Request for Proposals Document (RFP)

If you are putting together a search process for a Head of School search or Superintendent of Schools search, Tradition recommends that you create and distribute a Request for Proposals (RFP). It should contain the following:

  1. Introduction
    • Title of RFP
    • Introduction to the Organization and its Strategic Plan Goals
    • Introduction to the Context of the Search: When is your current leader leaving, how long has he or she been there, etc?
    • Scope of Work: What do you want the search consultant to do, and what do you anticipate doing yourself:
    • Anticipated Schedule of Events from RFP release date to hire date
    • Submission Guidelines: Do you want submissions by email, web upload, or snail mail? Provide deadline date and submission guidelines.
    • Evaluation Criteria or Algorithm
    • Legal requirements of your process including a statement such as, “This solicitation shall not be construed in any manner to be an obligation by the Organization to enter into an agreement with any contractor. The Organization’s board reserves the right to reject any or all responses.”
  1. Questions
    • Name, email address, telephone number, physical address, and website for the search firm’s primary contact
    • Firm’s mission statement or philosophy, if any
    • Affirmation of firm’s ability to support each line identified in the Scope of Work. You can offer: A summary statement of “Our proposal will support all of the items identified in the Scope of Work” is acceptable.
    • Administrative tasks that will be assigned to the hiring organization
    • Any recommendations for modifications to the Scope of Work or Anticipated Schedule of Events
    • Identify similar searches completed in the last two years with organizations of comparable size, in the same region, with the same type of demographic, etc
    • Names, locations, and resumes for the consultant(s) to be assigned to the search
    • Identify other staff the firm will use to complete the search
    • Describe the expected number of qualified candidates your firm would be able to bring forward as semi-finalists
    • Fixed costs of the search
    • Variable costs of the search, estimated
    • What the consultant views as specific challenges of this search
    • What the consultant views as specific assets of the organization in this search
    • The extent to which a search consultant will customize the process to the needs of this organization
    • References, typically at least three, with email address and telephone number of references and the date and context of the association with that reference

The content of this sample RFP was curated from a variety of sources including the Bellevue (Washington) School District Superintendent Search RFP, the Mercer Island (Washington) School District Superintendent Search RFP, the Bridges Middle School Head of School Search RFP, and the Indeed.com guide to writing an RFP.

If we can help you with the RFP-writing process or if you have an RFP and are looking for a consultant, please use the Tradition Search Partners contact page. We will reply within 24 hours. Thank you and best wishes with your search process.

The Best Tech Tools for Executive Search

Executive search is a remarkably old-school industry, no pun intended. If your school or your search firm uses more advanced technology, you are at a great advantage relative to simple candidate databases of old-school firms.

  1. Basic: An Applicant Tracking System like JazzHR will keep applications organized, ensure that candidates receive timely updates, keep notes confidential, keep your email account clear, and minimize stress on your board members and professionals. If someone suggests receiving applications by email, insist on an Applicant Tracking System.

2. Moderate: Email systems like YetAnotherMailMerge and its equivalents allow you to send personalized emails that skip the Promotions/Spam folders of candidates, integrate with Google Drive, and allow you to see which people click on links to follow up.

3. Moderate: Fiverr allows you to hire gig workers to make your process professional and efficient. You can find graphic designers, data analysts, marketing experts, legal consultants, and more.

3. Advanced: Natural Language Processing / Machine Learning Tools like Textio will help you write job descriptions that really work at attracting a high number of highly qualified and diverse candidates. There is an optimal length to attract people and optimal wording to use, as well. So, gone are the days of writing boring, 20-page PDF brochures that attract no candidates to the position.

Have more tech tools to recommend? We’d love to hear them, so please reach out.

Board Governance Practices that Make Educational Leadership Searches Easier

There are some governance practices that make leadership searches easier on schools and districts, and we owe it to our clients to tell you about them even though we should never tell you how to run your schools.

Here are our three favorite pieces of advice for boards in their support of leadership searches:

1. Stay out of school operations even when “we have to do it.”

Despite everyone’s good intentions, when board members get involved in the day-to-day operations of a school or district, it has the immediately corrosive effect of undermining the authority of the professional hired by the board to run the organization.

Once the authority structure has been undermined and the chain of command has been short-circuited, employee morale falls because their input gets overridden. When students experience low teacher morale, it gets back to the parents, who then complain… to the board.

As faculty and parents interview leader candidates, word gets out that “the board is very involved.” Details come out, and qualified candidates get nervous. Would you want your authority to be undermined, your reputation to be on the line where you don’t have control, and your people’s morale to be low?

Staying out of school operations demonstrates to your community and to candidates that your board can work collaboratively within the requirements of almost every accreditation agency, that you follow the recommendations of almost every board-governance advisory firm, and that you will respect their authority once they’re hired.

2. Establish and advertise an open process for participation on the board.

It’s pretty common for parents and teachers, particularly in private schools, to feel that board members are distant and that trust has not been established with them.

Public school boards are usually democratically elected, but private-school boards are not usually elected by open vote. Even without an open vote, there are processes that make parents, teachers, and candidates feel more connect to and positive about the board’s composition:

• Send an email once a year calling for nominations for the board. Link the email to your board’s web page, which should contain information about the board-nomination process and a form to express interest in board participation. The form should include an opportunity to express alignment with the mission of the school, commitment to the school, and skill set relevant to your board’s needs.

• Reply to each nomination with a request to meet, interviewing potential nominees about their mission alignment, commitment to the school, and skill set relevant to your board’s needs.

• For the nominees whose mission alignment, commitment, and skill sets are relevant to the board’s needs, assign them to a standing board committee as a non-board member of that committee. They should serve a one-to-two-year term as a non-board member of that committee.

• For committee members whose committee service demonstrate their ability to work collaboratively, to be responsive, to add value, to maintain the mission and vision of the school, and to honor the boundaries of volunteer service, they may be nominated after their committee term to be elected to the board.

• Ideally, board members serve finite terms (typically two-to-three years per term) and a finite number of terms (typically six total years) prior to rolling off the board for a term. Term lengths and limits allow fresh thinking to join the board while retaining organizational memory and culture, as well.

3. Achieve consensus on the hire.

At the end of the search, you should vote unanimously on your hire for Head of School or Superintendent. Knowledgeable leaders will not want to work for a split board. And you want a knowledgeable, rather than naïve, educational leader. So find a way to achieve unanimity.

If you can work together to these three governance goals, you will have a much easier time hiring — and, ultimately, retaining — expert school leaders.

“I want to ask candidates what their 30, 60, and 90-day plans for our school/district is.”

One of the most common requests we get when doing our initial meetings with stakeholders at a school or district is, “I want to ask candidates what their 30, 60, and 90-day plans for our school/district is.”

The bad news for the hiring organization is that you’re unlikely to get a satisfying answer to this question. The good news is that there are some other questions you might ask in order to get some of the information you seek.

Why you won’t get a satisfying answer

There’s an urban legend about a CEO who takes job applicants out to dinner. If they salt their food before tasting it, the CEO won’t hire them. The legend doesn’t seem to be true, but the story remains a valuable lesson—

In the education world, new administrators are expected to spend up to a year on a listening tour before making any significant changes in people or programs. Making decisions about an organization you lead without learning first about the organization is seen as a type of immaturity, rashness to action, intellectual weakness, mistreatment of employees, and potentially a waste of money and time.

If a leadership candidate were to say, for example, “My 30-day plan is to fire the special education team and replace them with more-qualified people who have a better track record,” teachers and administrators would react poorly to that direct reply, even if the special education team is a known problem within the community, an issue that had been surfaced to the candidate through the interview process.

What you can do instead

The good news is there are questions you can ask that won’t

1: Ask about what the candidate did in the first 30, 60, and 90 days in their previous role in educational leadership

Asking about what the candidate did in the first 30, 60, and 90 days of their last job will give you some insights into how they will approach your first 30, 60, and 90 days. It might also tell you, depending on how they answer, about what if anything they learned from approaches that didn’t work out.

Behavioral interviewing focused on specific past behaviors has been shown to be the best predictor of job performance when compared with other types of interviewing techniques and the approach least likely to produce a biased hire, too.

2: Ask the candidate what opportunities they see based on the information they’ve already reviewed about your organization

Perhaps you’re trying to find out whether the candidate did their homework about your school or district. Did they read your 990 tax return forms or watch recorded videos of board meetings? Do they have any insight into what they’ve read? In that case, ask what opportunities they see based on the information they’ve already reviewed as well as the interviews and meetings they have had. It’s okay if they’re shy about commenting, but they may be able to comment more narrowly about reviewed documents and experiences than projecting into the future.

3: Ask about startup when you check references

Reference checking is often not done particularly carefully. If you are curious about a candidate’s approach to startup, ask references. They may not remember the details, but they’ll remember any major mis-steps that were made.

Behavioral Interviewing for Educational Leaders

1. Conduct behavioral interviews to hire better

INEXPERIENCED interviewers tend accidentally to hire people who look like them or act like them in some way. Some traps you might fall into: you find yourself focused on a candidate’s specific title (“She has been a Head of School before”), you ask hypothetical or philosophical questions quite a lot (“How do you think this should be done?”), or you allow candidates to reply in vague terms with little evidence basis against which to evaluate their results. 

GOOD interviewers come prepared with “behavioral” interview questions that focus on past behaviors that a candidate has demonstrated in competencies required by the job description for which the candidate is being recruited. 

Example: If you’re hiring an early childhood director, you would ask about times that each candidate had demonstrated the five main responsibilities of an early childhood director, for example. The way to reframe the questions above might be, “Tell me about the educational philosophy you implemented at your current school, how are you currently evaluating and mentoring teachers, and how did you fire the last person you fired?”

GREAT interviewers come with those questions as well as a predetermined list of “good” and “bad” answers to each category of questions. For this reason, behavioral interviews are the favored interviews of companies like Google, which have mastered the use of data.

Example: “At our school, good answers to teamwork questions reflect what we believe about teamwork. We believe in consensus, we believe in quick decision making, we believe in transparency above politeness, and we believe in predictable communication.” 

2. Prepare for your next interview — quickly and easily

Now that you get the basic idea, prepare accordingly.

Step 1. Consider your particular interests. This part is easy for most people. Consider specific experiences you’ve had with the school in the last two to three years. Consider how the experience was handled and how you would have wanted it handled. For example, perhaps you had a great experience where a great outgoing educational leader handled a sensitive issue with particular finesse. If you are running an interview cycle, make sure that each person involved in interviewing is covering a different area (ideally two per area) so you don’t duplicate effort excessively and so that your coverage is comprehensive.

Step 2. Consider the job description. Read the job description online. Typically a job description lists three to five main responsibilities as well as three to five qualifications or character traits the school is seeking in this role. Consider where your experiences intersect best with the job description. Perhaps some of the experiences you considered in Step 1 are not relevant to the particular position for which you’re hiring right now. Maybe it’s an Admissions Director problem and not a Middle School Principal problem. In that case, keep it in reserve for a future search.

Step 3. Consider the six basic types of behavioral questions. Categories of behavioral questions tend to fall into the acronym IMPACT:

  • I — Individual contribution or achievement
  • M — Management of others
  • P — Persuasion or influence of others
  • A — Analysis and use of data
  • C — Challenge, pressure, or failure
  • T — Teamwork

You want a mix of these types of questions to ensure you’re hiring someone with each of these skills to the best extent possible. For example, “Tell me about a time when you worked with a challenging person” or “Tell me about a time when you failed” or “Tell me about a time when you used data to change the direction of an organization.”

Step 4. Arrive at the meeting with three or more behavioral questions. The best behavioral questions start with: “Tell me about a time when” and end in the scenario you outlined above. For example, “Tell me about a time when you had to support a teacher in a difficult situation with a middle-school parent.”

Step 5. Ideally, write down your “good” and “bad” answer components before you arrive. In order to avoid hiring someone because they’re like you, pre-judge the qualities you consider good or bad before you meet the candidate. For example, “In order to evaluate an early childhood director’s relationship with parents, I’d want to see him indicate that he communicates regularly via multiple media, that he visits classrooms at least once per month each, and that he stands in carpool line every day. Bad responses would include that she waits for parents to contact her or that she waits in her office for people to arrive.”

Step 6. Process your thoughts and submit your written feedback to the search committee. The best behavioral interviews provide the best written feedback. For example, “I was concerned about how Jonathan said he had dealt with a fundraising matter. When he said he had conflicted with a major donor, he seemed to lack communication skills as they pertain to major supporters. I’d want to see him given coaching during his first year as our development director.” 

Thank you! We hope you will find this guide useful. If you have questions, please contact us as soon as possible at the information just below. We really wish you good luck in your search and hope to be of service as we are able. Please reach out any time.

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