Why choosing staff who fit your school's culture is crucial

Square pegs in round holes never work, so when finding a new member of staff, it pays to make sure they will slot in. One headteacher tells us how being explicit about his school’s approach has helped him to appoint more wisely

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Why Staff That Fit Your Culture Are So Important

I am terrified of being the headteacher who just wants to keep staff happy – the type of leader who creates a fluffy world in his school where no one is challenged and on results day, no one excels.

But at the same time, I spend 10 hours or more a day in our school and I don’t want to be constantly cracking the whip, immersed in misery. I want to enjoy myself and I want my staff to do likewise.

It’s a delicate balance, but creating a culture where the yin of motivation meets the yang of enjoyment is paramount – and communicating this culture to potential employees is essential to recruiting the right staff.

Creating a culture

In my time as headteacher, I’ve tried to create a school with this balance at its core and I’m explicit about that when new staff come in. I want new starters to feel comfortable and relaxed but I’m not going to hand-hold; I need them to be up for a challenge. 

If you can create a happy, healthy, highly motivated team, you will have a good school where happiness prevails.

But creating a culture isn’t just about putting a statement on your website and forgetting about it. It must be something that you, your leadership team and the staff buy into; only then will it filter down to the rest of the school.

Communicating to candidates  

This year, we have reviewed our recruitment materials, having been told by a consultant that most people peruse vacancies by mobile phone. We made two videos: one where I talk to camera about our school, and the values and culture underpinning what we do here at Huntington. In it I emphasise three things: the impact of our evidence-based culture and our research school; the quality of training and the importance of accepting the professional obligation to improve your teaching; and the humanity of the place, where respect, honesty and kindness are the three values we live by.

In another video, recruits talk to camera about why they picked Huntington and what it has been like for them since they joined.

Video is a much more authentic, immediate way of engaging with potential candidates and communicating our culture.

Attracting well-suited applicants

By being explicit about our approach, we increasingly attract applications from teachers who align themselves professionally and personally with our school culture.

People make applications specifically referencing our cultural norms. When we invite people to interview, I am explicit, in that first meeting of the day, that if they do not subscribe to our values and if they are not prepared to get better at teaching, then Huntington is not the place for them. No one has, as yet, got their coat and left.

My first question on the final panel is, “What attracted you to this post at this particular school?” Being specific is key. This year we have made some potentially tremendous appointments. Only time will tell whether that turns out to be true.

Helping staff to develop

Just as important as being explicit about your school's culture is making sure that you hold true to your values in practice. Once staff are appointed, we have the systems in place that reflect our culture; systems which allow our new recruits to develop their teaching; access to what the evidence says has the best chance of helping students learn; time to work collaboratively with subject colleagues on pedagogy; and transparent, supportive, formal performance development processes.

But we are not soft. I am happy to have the hard word with new recruits if they turn out to not quite fit with our culture. On occasion, an individual will leave; the vast majority enjoy working in a school that doesn’t follow every new fad but instead invests in its teachers’ own learning.

I obsess about our school culture. I constantly ask myself education professor David Hargreaves’ question: “Is your rhetoric beyond your practice?” I would hate to discover that someone appointed to Huntington found the school different to the place we profess it to be.

Every aspect of our school should be aligned with its culture and since we have been even more explicit about what that culture embodies, we have attracted highly motivated teachers to Huntington.

John Tomsett is head of Huntington School in York and a member of the Headteachers’ Roundtable.

Are you struggling to find the perfect candidate? Speak to our smartMatch team who can help match staff with your requirements.  

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