The selection and dismissal of employees are incredibly important elements of school management that need to be handled professionally, ethically, and humanely. When hiring employees, there are many factors to consider, and these may vary according to the position being filled. However, having a well-thought-out hiring process is critical to ensuring that the overall priorities of the institution are applied, the safety and well-being of students are considered, and the implicit bias we all have is addressed.
Creating a thorough process doesn’t ensure that every employee will excel. But it will reduce your risk of hiring someone who should not be hired. As an example, there have been instances (mostly in the past) where schools fire an employee who has been accused of sexual misconduct and then actually help them get a job at a different school. This practice is called “passing the trash”. Therefore, as with the hiring process, having a plan for how to handle departing employees and their future job searches is essential. It is complicated and a bit of a balancing act, since there can be legal limitations on what you, as an institution, can and can’t do. Regardless, there is too much risk to your school if you take this process lightly. It is incumbent upon your school to have well-established policies around hiring, reference checking, and firing. These policies should be run by your legal counsel, and Learning Courage can also support you in this process so you protect the school and future students.
School employees usually move into, out of, and between many different institutions throughout their careers. The turnover of employees at schools occurs for a multitude of reasons. Because employees are coming to schools from a variety of places, your school has to be ready to engage in a thorough review of a prospective employee's previous experiences. The hiring process and structure at your school should be committee-based, centered around your institutional values (including implicit bias training for all committee members), and consistent among applicants e.g., using the same interview questions and on-campus (or virtual) visits, thorough reference checking, and comprehensive offers.
Best practices include having an established committee structure in place for hiring. The committee composition can vary depending on the kinds of positions but usually includes representation from leadership (i.e.: Dept. Chair, Assistant Head, etc.), member(s) from a department, DEI director, and Human Resources staff member. Ideally, committees have five or so members that also represent diversity in identity and perspective. Often committees are too large, and that can become unwieldy for scheduling and decision making. A committee chair is appointed to manage the process.
Before hiring season, it is important that those in charge of the hiring process review what the institutional values are that underpin all searches related to safety, professionalism, experience, diversity, equity, inclusion, and ethics. Often, in addition to other qualifications, schools are looking for a “culture fit”. It is very important to define what “culture fit” means as it is important but can be nebulous and lead to perpetuations of implicit bias.
It is critical that hiring committees receive training on implicit bias. We all carry with us bias and blind spots from many areas in our lives. To be as inclusive and thoughtful as possible, it’s essential to understand more about implicit bias and how to create practices that mitigate it. Included in this training should be information on how to read resumes, and conduct both interviews and reference checks.
Scripts for Interviews:
In order to be consistent in the search process, eliminate bias, and provide similar information for comparison, it is important to create scripts for phone interviews and in-person/virtual interviews. This will help you cover all of the topics deemed important, avoid unnecessary redundancy, and provide a more consistent experience for candidates. Remember they are interviewing you as you are interviewing them. You should include questions about their interactions with students and colleagues. Often using scenarios is helpful to get at attitudes, behaviors, and mindset. The questions you ask communicate the topics you think are important and therefore reinforces your focus on, along with other things, student safety, boundaries, and professionalism.
Candidate visits are choreographed so that you can get the information you need about the candidates, and the candidates can get the information they need to determine if they want to join your school. Consider with whom the candidates meet, where they will meet and go on their visit, who will take them from place to place, and what the day/visit feels like from a candidate perspective and from a school perspective. Be sure there is some way to get feedback from all those involved in the visit. You may consider using a survey to capture the same information from those with whom the candidate spends time. It is always interesting to get information from people who may have interacted more informally with the candidate as well (those at reception or taking the candidate on a tour, etc.).
Reference checking must be done carefully and consistently; the same process should be used for all hires. This includes using both state and federal databases, asking the same questions of references and saving notes from this process in all personnel files. In addition, should a potential employee not list an upper-level administrator on a reference list, the hiring manager should still check in with those in leadership at previous places of employment to check in on the potential employee’s reputation and conduct. Similarly, you should determine what you will do if people at your school know others who have interacted with the candidate. Will you reach out to those people? Who will do that? What role does their feedback play in the decision-making process?
One way to engage in transparent background checks is through the use of a third-party company or organization that does not have direct ties to your school. Each state has its own unique laws regarding the background check process with which your school needs to comply.
Your hiring process should outline who makes the offers to candidates and what negotiating power those people have. Some schools have only Human Resources or the Head of School make offers. Others allow department heads to make offers. It is important to sort this out institutionally in order to ensure equity and consistency. Avoid making “deals” in the hiring process because they can lead to challenges down the road. Also, it is important to determine who and how you will contact those who don’t get the position and what you will say. Knowing the legal and ethical parameters regarding what you can and can’t say to candidates will help you make good decisions.
There is much that is important in the onboarding process for employees as it relates to sexual misconduct and abuse, and we cover a lot of it in the “Employee Handbook” section of the website.
Employee dismissals are challenging at schools no matter what the cause. Most schools have supervision and evaluation processes that outline expectations for employees and what happens if they don’t meet those expectations. Your employee handbook should outline what happens if someone is dismissed/fired from your school. This dismissal plan needs to be structured for many reasons, but one main reason is for your school to be prepared for the aftermath of dismissing an employee regarding sexual misconduct and abuse. Consider if your school will give letters of reference to dismissed employees for any reason, and what your school’s obligation is as the last place of employment for the dismissed employee. It is always wise for schools to consult legal counsel regarding what you can say regarding a dismissal. It is very important, however, if someone has been dismissed for sexual misconduct or abuse that you don’t write letters of recommendation supporting that candidate to another school. Additionally, our recommendation is that if the dismissed employee requests a reference from your school, they must also give you permission to disclose why they were dismissed.
Learning Courage membership gives your school timely, relevant and vital information about how to reduce sexual misconduct and respond appropriately to incidents when they do occur.