Tick-lists cannot contain our teachers' top qualities

2nd November 2012 at 00:00
Let's think beyond CVs and interviews about what makes great practitioners

I recently engaged in a blog posted by Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven on the qualities of a good teacher.

He said teachers are: curious and open to new ideas; contributors: give without thought of return; collaborative; daring; unafraid to fail; and are expert, or at least want to become expert, by honing their craft and then mentoring the next generation of teachers.

I liked his list. I doubt if I would use the word "expert", but I am certain that the good teacher is a model learner, forever enhancing his or her knowledge and skills. Students recognise such teachers as models of that enthusiasm for learning which we want to encourage among them.

His list also reminded me of many years of interviewing teachers for posts and the qualities which I sought.

Good teachers are effective communicators. They understand their learners and articulate ideas in ways that will be meaningful. They communicate honestly and with integrity, avoiding jargon, cliche and fashionable language. That at least could become clear in an interview.

But good teachers are best defined by qualities less tangible than those on Mr Craven's list. They value and respect their learners and hold them in high regard. They show this in the small acts of courtesy, kindness and care. They know that these values and their underpinning, mutually respectful relationships, are as vital outcomes for their learners as any element of the formal curriculum.

But you can't measure these from an application form or a CV or assess them in an interview. They are not susceptible to an HR team's competence tick-list.

Towards the end of my career I became increasingly committed to bringing a range of staff and students into the job selection process. Staff and student perceptions can be enlightening. It is astonishing what a couple of young people can garner while giving an applicant for a job a tour of the school. How applicants address and communicate with the janitor and office staff, how they react to young people they meet in the corridor, how they describe themselves (as much as the content of the description) can all be far more telling pointers to who will best fit into a particular job and school than answers to pre-prepared questions.

A headteacher colleague recently said that the one factor which she controlled and which had a direct impact on the quality of her school was the quality of the teaching staff she employed. We need to think long and hard about the qualities for which we are looking and about how we identify these in the people who want to work with us.

Alex Wood, Former headteacher

Alex Wood works at the Scottish Centre for Studies in School Administration.

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