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Let's talk about kids

Advice for seasoned practitioners

A while ago I was observing in a school which was appointing a senior member of staff. They were looking for someone who would go on, relatively quickly, to headship.

On paper, it wasn't easy. The application forms were well done - informative, insightful, not too jargon-ridden, specifically tailored to the post. (The latter is important. Many people apply for any job instead of addressing the one they're aiming for.) So, it was down to the interviews. At first it seemed it would be difficult. Each applicant - five men and women - gave a presentation and answered questions. They had all done their homework and were able to tailor what they were saying to the particular school. In response to questions, they came up with good ideas, based on past and current projects and achievements. Any one of them was a strong candidate for the job.

In the end, though, it was no contest because one of them stood out. It was the way she talked about her work that did it. Right from the start, she talked not about systems and strategies, but about children - her hopes for them, her belief in their capabilities. And as she did so, and started to remember particular groups and individuals - what she'd done with them, what worked and what didn't - her face lit up and she became animated.

Here, without any doubt, was someone who actually enjoyed the company of young people. Oh, she knew the job stuff all right - about the curriculum, the latest trends in self-evaluation, handling data, pupil assessment and so on. But, always, she came back to what these things mean to teachers and young people working and learning in classrooms. The panel was enormously impressed - and there's good evidence that they were on the right lines.

The Gallup Organisation, which recruits professionals, including teachers and principals for organisations and school boards in the United States, uses as a key indicator the way that people talk about their work. As one of their UK customers puts it: "They've found that successful people talk and think differently from average or low performers."

Afterwards, one of the interviewers put it more simply: "In the end you say to yourself, 'Which of these people would I be happy to see looking after my child?' There was only one answer, wasn't there?"

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