In a recent Education Week Blog, Madeline Will discusses recent research on the trend to hire teachers based on ‘cultural fit’. The research states that when schools hire for cultural fit there may be a tendency to ignore other priorities like race, training, and experience. The blog warned that hiring for cultural fit “could contribute to a lack of diversity across different industries, since people gravitate toward others with similar backgrounds. The teaching workforce is about 80 percent white.” However, as a former head of school of a high-performing charter school, I always hired for cultural fit for my school, and as an educational consultant to founding school leaders, I train my clients to do the same.
The key difference between the research referred to in the blog and my hiring practices is the role of school culture. The article referenced school culture as a result of an environment, while I believe that the environment should be a result of the school culture. The school culture should be deliberate and should align with the school’s mission and the school leader’s vision. As a former head of school, I created a culture of diversity, equity, access, and rigor. My faculty reflected those values. I hired teachers who were lifelong learners, skilled communicators and collaborators, and who represented the world and local community in which we live. Diversity of race, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, and religious preference (among others) were important to me in hiring. In addition, educational background, experience (professional and personal), paired with a demonstrated ability to connect with and relate to students through demonstration lessons. Following this belief, it is the responsibility of recruiters and hiring managers to understand the culture and needs of the campuses they support. Too often district personnel responsible for recruiting and hiring do not spend much, or even any, time within the schools they support. In order to match school needs to candidate assets, those in recruiting should be given the time and space to visit the schools and the school leaders which they support. Districts should consider training school leaders on vision setting, alignment, and messaging; and allow time for school leaders to communicate their vision, school culture, and hiring needs to recruiters.
In closing, while I agree with the possible pitfalls that can arise when hiring for cultural fit, I believe that the emphasis should be placed more on training school leaders to deliberately create school cultures that align with the mission and vision of the school and on hiring faculty and staff that represent the school community and the community at large.