What are Your School’s REAL Core Values?


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You're listening to the School Leadership Reimagined Podcast, episode number ​ten.

Welcome to the School Leadership Reimagined podcast...

where we rethink what's possible to transform your school. If you're tired of settling for small wins and incremental improvement, then stay tuned to discover powerful and practical strategies for getting every teacher in your school moving towards excellence. Now, here's your host, Robyn Jackson. ​

Hello there, welcome back to another episode of the School Leadership Reimagined podcast. I’m your host, Robyn Jackson and today, we’re talking about the Four Battle-Tested Interview Questions to Help you Find and Hire Master Teachers.

I’ve been getting asked this question a lot lately -- How do you attract and hire the best teachers?

Something I say to people all the time is that people Hire for Skill, but Fire for Will. What I mean by that is when we are recruiting and interviewing teachers, we typically pay a LOT of attention to their qualifications and certifications and experience, and almost NO attention to their attitude and their values. And yet, once they are on the job, the thing that drives us the craziest is typically not their skill level. What drives us crazy and makes us want to get rid of teachers is their attitude or their WIll.

So it baffles me the way that we typically conduct job interviews. We spend a ton of time asking these bland, generic questions like What is your teaching philosophy, or how do you incorporate technology into your lessons, when frankly, the answers to those questions tell us very little about whether the teacher is going to be good to our kids and a joy to work with.

So, in this episode, I am going to share with you the 4 Interview Questions I always ask, and I’m going to break down why I ask these questions and what they reveal about a teacher. Once you master these 4 questions, you’ll be able to tease out who the potential master teachers are and who is the right fit for your organization. And, you’ll be able to weed out those who are NOT a good fit, before they come into your school and destroy your culture.

I also have a great freebie for you today. It’s a list of 20 interview questions you can use in your next teacher interview. These 20 questions are variations on the 4 Key questions that you can adjust to your school and your style of interviewing. You can get today’s freebie by going to SchoolLeadershipReimagined.Com/episode10

Now before we jump into these 4 questions, I want you to know that today’s episode is sponsored by my book Never Underestimate Your Teachers. If you really want to get every teacher in your building moving consistently towards mastery, then you need this book. It shows you how to develop a teacher’s skill and their will so that you can help every teacher (even the very difficult ones) become a master teacher. You can find the book and other great will/skill resources by visiting mindstepsinc.com/lead. Okay, let's dive in.

Question #1: Experience Questions

The first type of question I always ask is the Experience Question. Experience Questions are not about having the candidate list their past jobs or duties. This type of question is so much more than that.

There’s a really important reason that I ask Experience questions. One of my mentors Annie Hyman Pratt says “Humans can accurately share what they did and how they behaved in the PAST. But humans are terrible at predicting what they’d do or how they’d behave in a FUTURE situation.”    What that means is that you’re going to get much more accurate and revealing answers from job candidates by asking them to tell you about a real situation that happened in the past than you will by asking them what they would do in the future when they are in your school.

I can tell you from experience that people will tell you a LOT about whether they are going to be a good fit for your school with this kind of question. In fact, I believe that if you listen carefully to people’s answers to this question, they will actually tell you why you will want to fire them.

Let me give you an example. In one of my last job interviews, I was interviewing someone to be an office manager here at Mindsteps. Anyway, I asked her, “Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with your supervisor. What happened and how did you resolve it?”

Well she told me about how at her last job, she wanted to change her hours and that created a conflict. She said that at first she tried to negotiate with her supervisor but he was being unreasonable so ultimately she decided she would part ways with that employer.

Well, at the time that didn’t raise any red flags. But it should have.

I ended up hiring her and after she had worked for us for 2 weeks, she came to me and made a request. Guess what the request was for?

She wanted to change her hours.

Guess what happened when I told her that she couldn’t change her hours?

Well first, she tried to change them anyway on her own. I can’t make this stuff up. She sent me an email and basically said, effective immediately these are my new hours.

I met with her and told her that she was welcome to work those specific hours, she just couldn’t do them here at Mindsteps.

Needless to say, she no longer works here.

But do you see what I mean? If I had been listening carefully, I would have caught that and realized that she wasn’t going to be a good fit.

Now, I listen VERY carefully to the answers to the experience questions because those answers will tell me whether or not someone will be a good fit for the school or organization AND it will tell me exactly where I will have challenges with a person down the road.

So here are a couple of examples of Experience Questions you could ask:

Tell me about a time when you worked with a difficult student. What was the situation, how did you resolve it, and what did you learn?

Tell me about a time when you received negative feedback from a supervisor. What was the feedback, how did you respond, and what did you learn from the experience?

Tell me about a time when you had to meet the need of multiple learners at multiple levels in the same classroom. What strategy did you use, how did it work out, and what would you do differently next time?

Don’t forget, I have a list of potential questions that you can download in today’s freebie but you get the idea. The basic framework for experience questions is Tell me about a time when you (insert relevant experience area), what did you do and what did you learn.

The reason that this question is structured this way is so that you can hear from the person you are interviewing about a real life experience and you can see how they learn from their past experiences. You can see how reflective they are and because they are sharing actual experiences, you get keen insight into who they are, how they handle situations, and how they will fit, or not fit into your school culture.

Question #2: Core Values Questions 

Okay, so the second type of question I always ask is the Core Values question. If you remember from last time in episode 9, I talked about how you could use your core values to screen potential candidates. If you missed that episode, I’ll link to it in today’s show notes but basically, in that episode, I said that your real core values are your Non-Negotiables. Those are the lines over which you will not cross.

So if you have a set of core values as an organization, if there are certain things that are non-negotiables, then you need to make sure that the person you are interviewing shares similar core values BEFORE you hire them. If you wait until after they are working in your school and then discover that they are constantly violating your non-negotiables it’s too late.

That means that the core values question is really about sussing out the job candidate’s core values and seeing if they align with your organizational core values.

Lemme tell you why that’s so important.

Remember I said earlier that people hire for skill and fire for will? Well, if the person you are interviewing does not share your core values, I guarantee that at some point, you are going to be facing a serious will problem.


Because if they do not believe in the core values of your school, if indeed they have a different set of core values, then at some point, you are going to ask them to do something that aligns with your core values but violates theirs. When that happens, you will have a will problem.

The challenge with core values questions is that you can’t just come right out and ask them, hey here are out core values, do you agree with them?

Instead of telling them your core values, you need to find out what are THEIR core values. Then you can determine if there is a real fit or alignment.

So a basic core values question sounds something like this:

What is one of your core values and how do you live out that core value in your classroom?

But if you really want to get ninja, instead of just asking about their core values in a general way, you can get really granular.

Let me give you an example to show you what I mean. At Mindsteps, one of our core values is that we are always learning. So, when I am interviewing people to work at mindsteps, one of the questions I ask is:

Tell me about the last book you read?

The reason I ask that question is that if they can’t tell me about the last book they read, or if they give me a really cursory summary about the book, it’s a sign that that is not a person who is always learning.

Another one I ask is what podcasts do you listen to regularly?

Again, if they are not listening to podcasts and they are not reading, it’s a sign that this is not a person who is going to share our core values and always learn.

I’m telling all my secrets today aren’t I?

Now I hear some of you out there protesting that people can learn without reading books and listening to podcasts and you’re right. But that’s how we learn here at Mindsteps and I am looking for someone who is going to be a good cultural fit and share OUR core values so the question is intentionally specific to the way that we do things around here. A person who reads and listens to podcasts is a good fit. A person who learns in other ways probably is not.

Now I know that sounds mean but trust me, it isn’t. You have the right in an interview to look for someone who is going to fit in your organization. You have a right to be picky.  Not only do you have a right, you have a responsibility to be picky because if you aren’t, if you let the wrong person into your organization, it can not only mean that you have hired someone who isn’t a fit and isn’t happy and doing their best, it can be a bigger headache for you and more important, the wrong person can threaten your entire culture. So be picky. Find someone who shares your core values.

A few core values questions might be:

What was the last thing you did for your own professional development that was not required by your school or district?

Question #3: Teaching Scenarios

The third type of question I like to ask is the scenario question.

Usually during a job interview with teachers we ask them questions like how do you normally handle differentiation or what does rigor mean to you or whatever how do you help students take ownership over their own learning or whatever. Those questions are easy to prepare for and easy to fake.

Instead, i like to ask them specific scenario questions. Scenario questions are when you give teachers a situation and then ask them how they would respond.

I find that when teachers have to respond to a specific scenario rather than a generic question about their teaching philosophy, their real teaching philosophy surfaces. What I’m looking for in their answers is to understand their teaching philosophy yes, but I also want to see how the APPLY their philosophy to their actual teaching.

You see, someone can say, “I believe all children can learn” or “I believe that every child should have access to rigorous instruction” or “I believe in student ownership” but there are always a whole bunch of buts and ifs behind those statement.

So, I use this question to tease out what the ifs and buts are.

Here’s how this question works. I give them a scenario that is typical for our school and then I ask them to tell me how they would handle that scenario:

For instance, I might ask:

“Suppose you have a student who wants to take an honors course next year but he is currently earning a solid C in your class. Would you recommend him for honors? Please also explain your reasoning behind your decision.”

The teacher’s answer to this question would tell me whether or not she believes all students should have access to honors or not.

Or here’s another one:

Suppose you had a student in your classroom who was reading 2 grade levels below grade level. What would you do to get that student at grade level by the end of the year?

Or here’s another version of that question that combines the scenario question with the experience question.

Have you ever had a student in your classroom who was at least 2 levels below grade level in reading? What did you do to support that student and get him or her on grade level? What were your results?

Either way, the teacher’s answer would tell you whether the teacher was willing to take responsibility for the students in his classroom and give you insight on how he would support students.

See how that works?

So think of some typical scenarios that happen on a daily basis at your school. Then ask your potential candidates how they would handle that scenario and then listen carefully. Remember, a lot of times it’s not what they say, it’s what they don’t say that’s just as important.

It’s 3:00 pm on a Friday and as you are heading home for the weekend, a parent shows up at the main office and demands to speak with you immediately. His son told him that you failed him on his last test and he angrily demands to know why. How do you handle this parent?

Question #4: Decision-Making Questions

Okay, the fourth type of question I always ask in interview is the decision-making question.

This one is is a little ninja. You see, before I hire someone I want to understand how they make decisions.


Because I can’t be in their classrooms looking over their shoulders 24 hours per day 7 days per week. I want to know that I can trust their decisions even when I am not looking.

Plus, school is unpredictable. Crazy stuff happens all the time. I need to know that I can trust the person I am hiring to make good decisions in moments of crisis or craziness.

Some of the biggest headaches I ever had as an administrator were times when teachers made really unfortunate decisions in moments of crisis and craziness.

So I want a good decision-maker on my staff.

The decision question feels a lot like a scenario question but it has 2 big differences:

  1. Scenario questions are about teaching decisions that happen in the classroom. Decision questions are about what happens in the margins, outside of the lesson, in the hallways, in the lunch room and on the playground.
  2. Scenario questions usually have a twist of some type.

Okay, so the first part is that you need to think of typical scenarios that happen in the margins of the day -- parent issues, playground issues, lunch room issues, bus issues, those type of things. Try to think of scenarios that are typical for your school because again, you’re looking for a cultural fit.

Second, you need a twist.

The twist is what tells you who a person really is. Remember you are looking for a person’s decision making in a tough situation. All tough situations have a twist and that twist is what makes people make really bad decisions. So when you include the twist, you can see how people can handle tough decisions.

Let me give you an example to show you what I mean. Here’s a question that seems pretty innocent:

Suppose you give a quiz and the entire class fails the quiz. What do you do?

But here’s the twist. The teacher I’m looking for might answer the question and share her recovery plan, but she would also say, “Frankly this is a hard one for me because I believe that if I have prepared my class properly, this should never happen.”

See that? That’s who I am looking for. I am looking for someone who recognizes that if every child fails a quiz, something is seriously wrong. I WANT the candidate to take issue with the question because that scenario should never happen to begin with.

Here’s another one:

A student sends you a text that you find a little inappropriate and makes you uncomfortable. How do you handle it?

Again, and this is just me but I’m looking for someone who says, “I don’t believe in giving high school students my personal cell number.”

See how the twist works?

Now if you are not comfortable with creating a twist, you don’t have to. Remember I said that was a ninja tactic. You can still use this question even if you don’t want to use the twist. Just make sure to focus on scenarios that occur outside of the classroom.

For instance, you can ask:

Suppose you refer a student to the office for cussing you out in class. The student returns from suspension 3 days later. How do you handle the student once he returns to your class?

Suppose you have two students who get into a fight at recess. You weren’t there for the beginning of the fight so you are unsure what happened. How would you investigate and get to the truth and then what consequences would you recommend for students? How do you deal with the other students who witnessed the fight?

See how those work?

The idea is to think of common situations at your school and use them to construct questions that ask your potential job candidate to think through the situation and decide how they would act.

Now a word of warning here. As I said in the beginning, people are a lot better at telling you what they did than they are at telling you what they would do. So their answers to these questions are not going to be as accurate as their answers to the experience questions.

But, scenario and decision-making questions are important because they give you a glimpse into how your potential candidate thinks.

You want to know how they think and can they think on their feet. Often when answering this question, they will actually reference a time when the scenario actually happened to them and share their experience for how they handled it. That can be VERY insightful.

Other times they will give you an answer so off the wall that it will raise a red flag. That’s also good.

The idea here is to listen beyond their answers and look for clues to how they make decisions. That way, you can find someone who is not only good in the classroom, but will be an asset to your culture in the halls, on the playground, when working with parents, and in the community.

So before we go...

I want to remind you about today's freebie and that's a list of 20 questions that you can use or adapt for your next teacher interview. All these questions are variations on the four main questions that I talked about in today's episode so that you can get an idea how you can take those four types of questions and use them, adjust them so that they work for you, for your school in your next interview, and they were going to help you interview like a builder so you can download the freebie at schoolleadershipreimagined.com slash episode 10.  And then once you've taken a look, if you have any suggestions for other questions or if you have questions about my questions, just hit me up on linkedin sending your questions. I'll be happy to answer them. Now.

Speaking of linkedin, that's where I'm hanging out these days. So if you are on linkedin and we're not connected yet, then you need to stop whatever you're doing right now. Let's go ahead. Let's get connected on linkedin so that we can stay connected and continue the conversation after the podcast is over. Now,

​One more thing...

If you're listening to this episode close to when it originally aired, then I want to invite you to join us for a really fun challenge that we're doing right now. It's the jumpstart your education consulting business challenge and it's a five day challenge and in just five days you will complete your own roadmap to building your own education consulting business.

We've got really practical live training on the five areas that you need to have in place in order to start your education consulting business and their prizes. We have this private community where we're all getting in and we're supporting each other. It's really amazing.

Now the challenge is happening right now. When this episode airs, we're going to be about midway through the challenge, but I'm going to keep the challenge open for an additional week for people who are just finding out about the challenge or to give people who are in the challenge and opportunity to play catch up and that I mentioned it's all free because that's important to this kind of training you can't get for free and yet I'm offering it for you for free for the next two weeks. So make sure that you joined the challenge.

Now the challenge has already started. It started May 13th, 2018 and the intense live training is going to go through may 17 and if you miss some of it, don't worry, you can catch up because all those training videos have been archived inside of the challenge so you have still have a chance to do it, but you're going to need to hurry because the challenge ends on ​May 2​5, 2018 ​Now if you'd like to join the challenge​, just go to school leadership reimagined.com/episode 10, and I'll put the link to join the challenge and the link section of the show notes.

Okay, so this week we talked about how to use for battle tested interview questions to find the best teachers for your school, but I've got a question for you. What about the teachers who are currently in your school where it's, oh great. What do you do about them? How do you work with a struggling teacher and help that teacher get better? Well,

​​Next time...

I'm going to show you one of the most powerful things that you can do to help a struggling teacher turn things around and it all has to do with learning how to share difficult feedback with a struggling teacher like a builder. So that's coming up next time here on school leadership reimagined. Bye for now.

Thank you for listening to the ​School Leadership Reimagined podcast for show notes and free downloads visit​ ​https://schoolleadershipreimagined.com/

​School Leadership Reimagined is brought to you by Mindsteps Inc, where we build a master teachers.