5 Teacher Recruitment Best Practices from Atlanta Public Schools

November 16th, 2017
Jon-Mark Sabel

It’s no secret that most American school districts face a severe talent shortage. From 2014 to 2016, the number of applications received for each teacher posting decreased by 20% - the largest decrease of any position type.

Traditionally, teacher recruitment is highly localized. Nearby colleges are expected create a healthy pipeline of newly-minted teachers for local school districts. Of course, when fewer teachers graduate from nearby colleges, the effects are particularly acute - and this is what we’re seeing today.

To run a successful and competitive teacher recruiting campaign, school districts are finding they need to adopt recruiting strategies mirroring those of the most successful corporations. One school district pioneering this more competitive, data-driven approach is Atlanta Public Schools. 

Who is Atlanta Public Schools?

With 51,000 students spread through 100+ schools, Atlanta Public Schools is a quintessential urban American school district. They hire over 500 teachers every year, and last year filled every single vacancy before the start of the school year (two years prior, they averaged 50-100). 

These are five teacher recruiting best practices they leverage to fill their talent pool with the best candidates, and start the school year off on the right footing. 

1) Reach Outside Traditional Talent Pools

As mentioned above, many school districts are still recruiting exclusively in their immediate area to fill teacher vacancies. The viability of these districts is inextricably tied to the success of nearby colleges’ teaching programs.

Atlanta Public Schools leverages OnDemand video interviewing to remove this limitation from their recruiting campaigns. OnDemand video interviews are asynchronous: candidates record themselves answering questions specific to that district, and chosen by each school’s principal. 

A video interview recorded this way gives principals significantly more insight into a teacher’s aptitude and teaching style than a traditional application. This means APS can realistically consider candidates for teacher roles from anywhere in the world, so long as they are willing to relocate. 

2) Evaluate “Soft” and “Hard” Skills with Skill Challenges

You don’t get second chances when hiring teachers. Once they’re hired, a teacher is usually contracted for the entire year. Excepting instances of gross misconduct, this means a bad hire stays with their class for the whole school year. While obviously not a great situation for students, a bad hire also negatively impacts other teachers, since students were not adequately taught and prepared for the next grade.

While OnDemand interviews are great at giving insight into “soft” skills like teaching style, they can also be used to evaluate a candidate’s “hard” skills, like math and writing, through skill challenges. 

Evaluating Soft Skills

Atlanta Public Schools’ “soft” interview questions revolve around topics like:

  • Instructional strategies. For example: “How do you teach the slow learner and the fast learner all in one room?”
  • The candidates’ belief system. For example: “Do you believe all students can be successful?”
  • Classroom management. These questions ask candidates to respond to different classroom scenarios, presented as a short video before the question (APS taps their high school video students to help film the scenarios). For example, a candidate might see a scenario where a teacher is having difficulty calming a rowdy classroom, and explain how they would handle the situation better.

Evaluating Hard Skills

When evaluating candidates hard skills, APS focuses on two question types:

  • Writing sample. Candidates are asked to provide a written sample of something they might be expected to write on the job (think: write a mock letter to a parent for a student who has been misbehaving). This happens within the video interview.
  • Case study. Candidates are given time to read a data-filled document or memo, then present their analysis of the data.

This winning combination of skill challenges gives APS’ recruiter (they only have one), evaluators, and principals the visibility they need to properly rate candidates from around the world - and fast-track the best teachers into the lowest performing schools.

3) Fast-Track the Best Teachers into Lower Performing Schools

Since Atlanta Public Schools can identify the best candidates in their hiring pipeline on an on-demand basis, they are in a great position to actively improve their lowest performing schools. 

By segmenting principals’ access to candidates based on school performance, principals of lower performing schools get the opportunity to hire the highest-rated teachers into their faculty. In other words, APS puts their highest quality candidates in front of the schools that need it the most.

4) Create a “Pool” of Candidates Outside the Traditional Hiring Season

Teacher hiring tends to get back loaded between February and April, when vacancies become more apparent. Unfortunately, since everyone is hiring teachers during this time, it can be difficult to build a reliable talent pipeline. 

Atlanta Public Schools tackled this problem in two different ways:

Screen Throughout the Year

Since APS’ OnDemand interviews can be completed and rated at any time, they create a database of interested candidates for Atlanta Public Schools to pull from. Candidates for teaching roles are rated on a scale of 0-5: when it’s time to hire, APS can jump to the front of the pack and get the best candidates (those with an average rating of 3.5+) in for final interviews while other school districts are still processing applications. 

Give the Best Candidates an “Open Contract”

If Atlanta Public Schools identifies a particularly stellar teacher, but does not have an open position available yet, they let them sign an “open contract”. Open contracts give candidates the opportunity to sign a contract knowing that their assignment will come later. While great for the candidate’s peace-of-mind, open contracts also help APS secure the best teachers for their district. 

5) Ensure Recruiting Tools Give You The Most Bang For Your Buck

While school districts like Atlanta Public Schools can learn a lot from their counterparts in the corporate world, there are three major differences between recruiting in academia and recruiting in the private sector. Namely:

  1. Fewer recruiting staff. School districts generally have much smaller TA departments. Atlanta Public Schools has only one designated recruiter. 
  2. Smaller budgets. As non-profit entities, public school districts have less budget to spend on talent acquisition tools.
  3. Beholden to taxpayers. Since taxpayers fund a school’s recruiting initiatives, districts need to show demonstrable ROI from each tool they use.

All in all, this means a school district’s recruiting tools need to work harder and smarter than those in the private sector. When evaluating a new hiring tool, school districts should ask themselves:

  • Will it increase the efficiency of our recruiting staff? In other words: does it empower one recruiter to do the work of 2, 3, or 5?
  • Will it increase the quality of our teachers? The experiences of your students are on the line, and you’ll need to prove the tool’s efficacy to taxpayers.
  • Does it help us expand beyond traditional school recruiting? In areas with substantial teacher shortages, this is critical. The tool should help you tap into a global market of teaching talent.
  • Can it be used outside of teacher recruiting? To get the best bang for your buck, the tool also needs to assist with hiring principals, security, HR, and other staff.

Properly equipped, school districts can gain a competitive advantage by fundamentally reimagining the way they hire teachers, drawing inspiration from the private sector to reach a global talent base on more flexible terms. 

In 2017, Atlanta Public Schools built a pipeline of the top 2% of teachers, filled 100% of their vacancies before the first day of school, and saved over $200k in travel costs. 

See Atlanta Public School's Case Study

Read their case study for more about how APS reimagined their recruiting.