First impressions matter. They count for a lot with the candidate being interviewed of course – but also for how the candidate perceives the school where they are being interviewed for a job.
As such it’s important that you take in everything around you when you attend an interview as it could be the small details that help you build a picture of what the school, its culture, and work ethic may really be like.
Here are some subtle signs to be aware of and pick up on during the interview process and interview itself.
1. Clear communication – or communication breakdown?
It’s useful to reflect on the communication prior to the interview. Information and instructions should be clear, concise and communicated in a timely manner.
If a school is requiring you to deliver a lesson or a presentation, either in person or online, it’s important the requirements are explained explicitly and thoroughly so expectations are clear.
Being told the day before the title of a lesson you need to plan and deliver might demonstrate your ability to work under pressure but it also shows that the school is comfortable putting staff under pressure when this could be avoided.
Similarly, asking candidates on a Friday afternoon to prepare a presentation that will be delivered first thing Monday morning can demonstrate that work and home life balance isn’t being considered and it’s a sure way to ruin someone’s weekend plans.
For online interviews, a Zoom link can be sent in advance so the candidates aren’t anxiously waiting and panicking about connecting prior to the interview – if it’s not, this is worth noting.
Furthermore, whether online or in-person, if there is a sense of urgency, pressure and lack of organisation during the interview process then it can provide an insight as to how the school is managed and led on a day-to-day basis.
In contrast, if plenty of time and support is provided for candidates during the process, which is already high stakes in itself, then that demonstrates emotional intelligence and empathy that all schools should have.
2. Monitor the learning environment
If the interview is taking place in person, as opposed to online, try to take in as much as you can about the school environment.
Are the displays asking students what their learning styles are or promoting thinking hats? If so, perhaps it isn’t the evidence-informed school the advert claimed it was. Or are the displays 'Pinterest perfect' but don’t actually showcase student work?
Meanwhile, the school environment – from the reception, corridors and classrooms - are opportunities for the school to celebrate their students, achievements and promote their values.
Not all schools have state-of-the-art technology and facilities but a school should be clean, graffiti-free and just as a candidate dresses to impress at interview a school should take pride in their appearance too.
3. Teacher morale
If you get a chance to sit in the staffroom take that opportunity. A busy staffroom is often a good sign illustrating staff socialise, take time to pause during the day for a cup of tea and eat their lunch.
An empty staffroom can indicate staff are working non-stop through their lunch up against it and perhaps never venture outside of their classroom or department office.
The staffroom can also be a hub for professional learning too. Is there a professional development board in the staffroom with information providing opportunities for professional development? Can you see any educational books or magazines?
And, without eavesdropping, can you get a sense of what staff are talking about? The staffroom can and should be a safe place for teachers to talk, support one another and even vent their frustrations.
As such, a teacher is having a moan about that Year 9 class to their colleagues doesn’t mean the school is a horrific place to work but perhaps a place where staff are open and honest with one another – you’ll have to use your judgement but your gut reaction is often a good judge.
4. Student conduct
The way students behave and interact in-between lessons can tell an external visitor a lot about the school culture, behaviour and leadership. Observing students that are smiling, polite and holding doors open really is priceless.
Students swearing, shouting loudly in corridors and poor behaviour being unchallenged and even considered the norm is a sign not to be ignored.
5. Watch out for safeguarding
There is nothing more important than safeguarding – as such on arrival at reception you should receive a lanyard or visitor badge and be asked to sign in. If this isn’t happening and you wander into the school building without being spoken to that might be a worrying sign.
It might be slightly annoying filling in paperwork or showing identification on arrival but it shows the school has got their priorities sorted and it is a safe environment for all.
All in all, it’s important just to keep your senses alert – after all, if you accept a job offer you are committing yourself to a place for potentially many years, so it’s worth trying to make sure it’s going to be a good fit.
Kate Jones is head of history at The British School Al Khubairat, Abu Dhabi, and author of Love To Teach, Retrieval Practice and Retrieval Practice 2. You can follow Kate on Twitter @KateJones_teach