Hiring in Education

Over the past two weeks I have been engaged in the process of application to a position at a Faculty of Education at one of our Ontario universities. It has been a very different experience than any other educational job application I’ve had, and has given me a great deal to think about.


Image of Terry Whitmell June 2021

The process began with what was called the “long short list” interview, which was 30 minutes long and conducted in a very traditional manner: five questions presented verbally, with a “hand wave” when I was nearing the end of the allotted time. I was invited to pose any questions I might have at the end.

When I made the “short list”, the process was very different. For our second interview I was asked for a 20-minute presentation to share my approach to a concept from one of the courses. This presentation was open to all faculty, and there were two attendees who weren’t on the committee who viewed my Zoom presentation, and could participate in the 10-minute Q&A that followed. Immediately after this session was an additional 30-minute interview, much like the first. And after a break I met with the Dean for a 20-minute conversation, which was unstructured and quite enjoyable.

I had provided the names of five references, of which three would be contacted. And then, based upon my CV, two interviews, and the references, I was told that a decision would be reached.


Ten days after the second interview I received an email indicating that I had not been successful, and sharing that “The APC was very impressed with your leadership background and your teaching skills. A key differentiator was that the candidate who was offered the position has worked in multiple university contexts in full-time roles and has a significant record of scholarship in curriculum studies.”

It is obvious that I cannot remedy my lack of full-time university teaching experience; I have been a K-12 teacher, leader and administrator since 1983, with only maternity leaves and my Ph.D. research as gaps in service. As a late-in-life academic (Masters in 2007, Ph.D. in 2020), my record of scholarship is sparse. And, as my colleagues will know, running a school leaves very little time for scholarship!

This area of scholarship is certainly one that I can augment, and so my goals this summer will be to look for opportunities to write. I have been told that I should be able to turn my dissertation into two or three articles, so I will look for some assistance to help me clarify how this might work. I am also going to look for colleagues to collaborate with, hopefully within their research at their institutions. And I will continue to speak at conferences, meet with teams, and support teachers directly where possible.

Making K-12 Interviews Better

One key learning for me from this process is the value of the second interview’s “presentation” component. By having to examine the curriculum, design an approach, and share my “lesson plan” with the committee, I was able to solidify my understanding of the course, and begin to prepare a framework that would have been very useful, had I been successful.

Perhaps, instead of reinstating Reg 274, we could work on a process for candidates to our teaching positions that includes “real teaching”? The presentation process was much closer to the real experience of teaching than is a traditional interview. And since I was given clear criteria, I embedded within my presentation what would have been the answers to many questions that would have been asked in the interview. Since I had time to prepare, as I would as a classroom teacher, I shared who I was and what I could do in a clearer, more effective and efficient manner.

I’m also wondering about the disconnect between the world of universities, and the reality of K-12 education. While “curriculum studies” is valuable work, I am not convinced that studying curriculum is better than delivering it. And I certainly do not believe that years of study are better than decades of supporting teachers as they work with the curriculum to plan, instruct, assess and evaluate. And the “action research” that every teacher undertakes each day in their classroom is in some cases more relevant than the research conducted by external parties. Perhaps this should become part of our criteria, so that we better prepare our young teachers to consider a move to higher education later in their careers.

I am not going to be able to change academia. But perhaps I can work with my K-12 colleagues to enhance our selection process, and do our best job to match teacher candidates to our teaching positions. The next time I am part of a hiring team, I will look to incorporate an aspect of the process from higher education, and “see our teachers in action”.

Our students will win, our schools will win, and our teachers will win.

What Worked this Year in @Home Learning?

Teams meeting image with Author highlighted

The 2020-21 school year has been a year of growth for me, and for the teachers I lead. In the fall I had the privilege to work with 150 Math/Science/Tech teachers, as part of a huge Online Secondary School. And then in February I joined a smaller K-12 Virtual School, with students engaging both synchronously and asynchronously.

Last week our K-8 teachers gathered, and compared notes for the year. And here’s what they told us worked for them:


Our teachers made use of a range of technologies to connect to families, and maintain student/teacher/parent communication. Our teachers provided weekly communication schedules, built community through circles, and encouraged their families to share images and videos of their children’s learning.


With a minimum of five hours a day in front of a computer, our teachers became experts in chair yoga, and implemented multiple monitors and drawing tablets into their toolkit.


Particularly in our primary grades, our teachers became event planners: Dinosaur Tea Party, Snow Castle Challenge, Jump Rope for Heart and Tinker Tuesdays were all planned and scheduled this year.


Rather than isolating during COVID, our families and teachers forged deeper connections and achieved greater academic gains than they had in in-person classes. The use of large-group, small-group, and 1:1 interaction resulted more focused learning within a supportive and friendly learning environment. Our teachers found they had more time to work 1:1 with students, and appreciated the ability to develop language skills without the interference of masks. Their lesson planning became more creative, and was presented in a structured format that allowed for improved support from EAs, other teachers, and family members. Students with special education needs were more easily integrated into the activities of the class, and were able to safely learn.

Educator “Moves”

As a result of the change in environment, our teachers had to increase their creativity and flexibility, and they found that it paid off in huge improvements for their students. They used humour with their students, and teamwork with their parents. Because they were limited in the classroom materials available to their students in their homes, they differentiated tasks and were “wowed” by the results.

Teaching Strategies that Worked

  • One-on-one meetings and instruction
  • Running Records
  • Predictable routines
  • Socializing and Sharing at the start of each day
  • Weekly checklists
  • Real-time assessment and feedback
  • Playtime structured to allow students to play together
  • Reader’s Theatre
  • Asynchronous sessions, with “expect a teacher call”
  • Interactive Games
  • Whiteboards

Technology Tools

  • Boom cards
  • Chrome Music Lab
  • Raz Kids
  • Book Creator
  • Secret Stories Better Alphabet Song
  • Flyleaf
  • Virtual Field Trips – Toronto Zoo, Art Gallery of Ontario, etc.
  • Use of “spotlight” in Teams to focus on students when they speak
  • Office 365 tools
  • Screen shots
  • Mote – to record audio on slides
  • Cool Chrome extensions
  • Guest Speakers
  • PE with JOe the Body Coach
  • Apps: Teach your Monster to Read, Lalio, Kodables
  • Robotics Canada
  • Pearson Bookshelf
  • Use of Breakout Groups
  • Dictate and Immersive Reader
  • Edsby poll to take attendance
  • Math Antics – YouTube
  • OneNote
  • Use of Learning Management System – especially useful for split grades
  • Awards in the Learning Management System
  • Sharing of Learning Management System “shells”
  • Pre-recorded “How To” videos


The impact of teacher learning this year will only be able to be measured once they return to their physical classrooms in the fall. There is little from the lists above that cannot become part of our teachers’ toolkits as they move forward, so I am anticipating even more positive results for the 2021-22 school year.

My prediction that parents might now wish to opt for continued remote learning for their children was absolutely wrong. Our experiences this year have shown parents that they need teachers in classrooms even more than they need teachers online. Our successes this year were as a result of extraordinary efforts on the part of our teachers combined with intensive support from families at home. As parents and caregivers return to their in-person work, they do so with a greater appreciation for the work of our educators, and a strong value for the in-person interaction that our classrooms provide.

Remote learning will now be added to our collection of supports for students, but I believe it will not become the preferred mode of learning for most of our kids. A safe, supportive classroom, with access to technology tools to allow for access to resources, thinking tools, and media to share learning, is the best option for our students as we move forward.

What will we bring back to in-person learning?

This week our Ontario elementary teachers are concluding weeks of reflection as they gather assessment data and craft report card comments. And as they do so, I’m certain that they are reflecting on all that they have learned as they tackled remote learning. What will they be keeping, to use in their “in-person” classroom in the fall?

Today I’m going to “guess”, since I’m their Principal, and have only an outside view of their classrooms. Next week our teachers are meeting to share, and I’ll write again, to report what they shared and to evaluate and revise this list.

Here’s what I think that our teachers will be looking to implement for September 2021:

Learning Management System

Our teachers make use of two Learning Management Systems: Edsby and D2L.  They have a choice, since neither provides all the content organization, parent communication, assessment tracking, and mark reporting functions in one single tool. But what they both do very well is keep content organized and students on track. I believe that our teachers will continue the use of these tools, and will be better able to support students beyond the classroom.

Student-to-Student Digital Collaboration Tools

Since our kids haven’t been able to work together in person, our teachers have developed a range of collaboration tools in order to facilitate connection between students. The chats that begin in class often continue after the Teams meeting ends. The collaborative slide stack is added to and referred to by students at any time after the class session. And shared documents remain as working documents, with no need for additional notes to be taken.

Increased Differentiation

Our students have come to this year’s learning from many different circumstances, which has resulted in very uneven progress. Our teachers have had to scaffold and support more than ever, and they’ve become experts at quickly meeting students where they are and helping them move forward.  When September begins our teachers will meet students whose learning might have been interrupted by technological challenges, whose families were unable to support their work online while working full-time themselves, along with those who have thrived online with strong family support.

Transparency and Structure

Classes online require clearly communicated agendas, with chunking of time to allow for students to manage 225 minutes in front of a computer. The benefits of this clear structure have been seen in the excellent work submitted by some students, and in their positive outlook, even on a sunny day in June! Scheduling has been necessary in order to ensure that teachers and students arrive in the same space online at the same time. And class materials have had to provided in a format the allow even our JK kiddos to access them. Bringing this organization back to the classroom will be supportive of all our learners.

Greater Professional Networking

With our teachers having to connect via email, phone and Teams this year, they have developed strong networks of support that will live beyond COVID. They have reaped the rewards to working collaboratively, and will continue to work together in support of improved teaching practice.

We meet as a team next week, where our educators will share what has been working for them. I will listen, and compare their list to mine.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog!