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Laura Steinbrink discusses how to include student voice in hiring to develop a connection between school leaders and students.

Including Student Voice in Hiring: Student Interview Panels and Involvement

Jul 27, 2018 2018-07-27

By Laura Steinbrink

Editor’s Note: Educator and blogger Laura Steinbrink explains how her district involved one school’s students in selecting their new principal. This article was originally posted on her blog, Rockin’ the Boat, on June 17, 2018. The partial lyrics she included as subtitles are from Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.”

“We Don’t Need No Education”
When I hear pushback to student creation, it often centers around the quality of the final product. In my mind, that is a bit misguided. Final product quality can tell us a bit about what a student learned in the process of creating something, but it often gives us an insufficient scope of what a student learns.

“We Don’t Need No Thought Control”
In my district, we recently underwent a search for a new high school principal. Our interview process starts with qualified candidates interviewing with the superintendent. If they pass that round, then they are scheduled to be interviewed by the hiring committee, which for our building included the high school/middle school counselor, the librarian, the principal’s secretary, three classroom teachers, and the superintendent.

The new wrinkle we added to the process this year was a student interview panel. Yes, you read that correctly.

“No Dark Sarcasm in the Classroom”
The first day we did this, there were two candidates for our high school/middle school principal position. Upon completion of the interviews with Candidate One, we tried something new. We turned her over to the students while we began interviewing Candidate Two.

“Teachers, Leave Them Kids Alone”
In a discussion between the counselor and the superintendent, they came up with the idea of giving our students a voice in this important decision. After all, students are the most important stakeholders in a school. They are the customers we are here to serve. Without students, schools have no value or purpose. Why not make them more student-driven?

Our student interview panel was born. Four students were chosen based on a variety of criteria, such as the willingness to stay after school for the interviews, spend a few hours hanging out, dress nicely, and be personable. Our four students committed to the process and our incredible journey began.

“Hey! Teachers! Leave Them Kids Alone”
The student committee took each candidate on a tour of our campus after their time with our interview committee was complete. While on the tour, the students were encouraged to ask questions that they had either prepared beforehand or anything they wanted to ask as the tour progressed.

While the hiring committee waited for the students to wrap up the tours, we discussed our opinions of the candidates. The students then joined us and gave us their impressions of both candidates. Their insights were eye-opening. Valid. Impressive.

“All in All, It’s Just Another Brick in the Wall”
The student committee took each candidate on a tour of our campus after their time with our interview committee was complete. While on the tour, the students were encouraged to ask questions that they had either prepared beforehand or anything they wanted to ask as the tour progressed.

Turns out, we could. All three candidates were assigned a separate day to job shadow our current principal. They attended meetings, interacted with students and staff, and got a taste for how we do business.

Our student body was overjoyed to have some input in this process. Some sought out the candidates to ask them questions. Some reacted strongly to the “vibe” they got from one candidate or another. The staff liked this strategy, as well. Several staff members took the opportunity to talk in length with the candidates.

Since so many people were involved, we created a Google Form and placed it on our website for students and staff to provide feedback.

“All in All, You’re Just Another Brick in the Wall”
It seems like a small thing, allowing students a few minutes during the school day to talk with a prospective principal. But it wasn't a small thing. It was huge.

The students have a better handle on how the hiring process works, and everyone has a vested interest in the new principal. In a district with a large turnover this year, culture is a primary focus for us. Allowing students to have skin in the game, so to speak, during the hiring of a new principal may be just what is needed to give our students and our principal a chance to get off on the right foot.

If you haven’t thought about giving students a voice in the hiring process for staff or administration, think again. You may very well be surprised at the outcome. We were.

Laura Steinbrink is a lead high school teacher who brings new technology and teaching ideas to her school and district. She presents technology integration at workshops locally and nationally. In addition to teaching, she is the assistant softball coach, the yearbook adviser, a member of many school committees, and the Communications Director and Webmaster for her district. She shares her knowledge and experience as an educator on her blog, Rockin’ the Boat. Follow her on Twitter @SteinbrinkLaura.

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