How to Hire Heroes
One of the greatest challenges in launching Greenfields Academy was finding the right staff to help lead our education revolution. Over the past couple of years, I’ve found that hiring the perfect hero to guide our students is more of an art than a science.
A fortuitous meeting brought me my first hire, Founding Guide Josh Johnson. Shortly after I had created the Greenfields website and posted the job description on Indeed.com, I was flooded with applications. As I culled through the resumes, I was reminded by our parent school, Acton Academy, that traditional school teachers may not be the right fit. In fact, not one had worked out for them in Austin. Instead, they advised me to look for someone with passion and who trusts in the power of children. With this fresh in my mind, I approached my interviews with a bit of caution. However, my interview with Josh was quite different. After some quick pleasantries, Josh proceeded to pitch me on what Greenfields is and how it can change the world. I was so impressed that I hired him on the spot. This risk paid off as, over time, Josh evolved to serve as curriculum designer, outreach coordinator, admissions officer, builder, janitor and anything else we’ve needed. That willingness to perform any task necessary is fueled by his unwavering belief in what we’re doing. I’ll never forget the meeting at which some parents shared stories of how Greenfields had changed their children’s lives and Josh was moved to tears. Changing lives is powerful stuff.
A few months later, when we started conducting info sessions across the city, a woman by the name of Courtney McGarry kept showing up and helping run the events. When I told her that I appreciated the help, but we didn’t have any jobs available, she said, “I don’t care. My calling is to be a part of Greenfields and to help change the world! You can’t get rid of me.” She was true to her word and kept showing up to help. Thankfully, I brought her on as our full-time Director at the beginning of our first school year, and it quickly became apparent that we couldn’t survive without her. In addition to her passion for what we we’re doing, her knowledge, organizational skills and project-based learning skills were a perfect compliment to the rest of the staff.
We now follow a more traditional approach to finding Guide candidates. Through local and national job sites, career fairs, and good old-fashioned word of mouth, we seek educators, but not necessarily traditional classroom teachers. We seek people who have worked in situations where kids have choices and consent in what they do and what happens to them. We look for experience in roles like coach, mentor, counselor – all similar to what a guide does every day. We embrace educators who have worked in schools with a similar child-directed mindset – those with Montessori, Waldorf, or Reggio Emilia approaches. We’ve also found that applicants with international experience tend to have a perspective that suits our Guide profile really well.
So what characteristics make up the ideal Guide for Greenfields? What do our successful Guides have in common? In addition to initiative, maturity, and patience, the most important thing we screen for at every level in the interview process is mindset. In a recent podcast on Hiring for Student-Directed Learning, Betsy Arons, CEO of the Urban Schools Human Capital Academy, said:
Mindset is critical because when you are hiring, you can teach a lot to your staff about content, curriculum, methodology. You cannot teach a different approach or mindset. If someone comes in and doesn’t believe that all children should and can learn, if someone comes in and doesn’t believe in collaboration, that is a very hard characteristic to work with. They have to have openness to critique, so they cannot be defensive and constantly resist getting better and having continuous improvement.
The single most important mindset a guide must have is the belief that all children deserve our respect. We ask a variety of interview questions to ascertain their ability to build trust with and relate to children. I love hearing their stories of how they have respectfully handled outbursts or helped children navigate tricky peer issues. We steer clear of anyone talking about obedience or evidencing a real need for control.
Once respect for children is assured, the next most important mindset is that of a lifelong learner. We want guides who actively pursue knowledge as part of their hero’s journey. We seek candidates with a demonstrated ability to cope with and learn from failure. As Greenfields is a community of lifelong learners and we have high expectations for our students around giving and receiving constructive feedback, our guides need to be able to model this behavior.
Our most recent hire, Launcher Guide Rachael Hancz, found us at the Education Fair Consortium hosted by the University of Illinois Chicago this spring. Rachael was about to complete her Masters program in Elementary Education, and wanted a school where she would be given the autonomy and flexibility to bring the latest educational findings to meet the needs of her students. She was drawn to Greenfields Academy because she wanted to surround herself with educators who believe in facilitating learning, rather than directing instruction. Her resume met our criteria: a bit of classroom teaching experience and a lot of experience in other, more child-directed, environments. In addition to teaching 3rd grade at Latin, Rachael has directed youth plays, counseled children’s theatre camps, and coached an after-school multimedia club. Her personal elementary school experience included multi-age classrooms and homeschooling, both of which she relished. But most importantly, Rachael’s interview showed that she loves giving children agency over their learning and helping them grow socially and emotionally. We were thrilled to welcome her to the Greenfields family earlier this month.
Next spring we will start the process over again as we hire additional staff to help expand Greenfields Academy. With our diverse hiring history under our belts, we know we are up to the challenge of finding the right heroes to join us on our journeys.
Rob Huge, Founder