Hiring Tech-Savvy Teachers

Those who have read my blog for a while, know how vexed I get about educations willingness to beg for funding to do its job — to the point that begging has become a part of the institution. So you can imagine that I didn’t start this month’s issue of Interactive Educator with enthusiasm, when its feature article was Need Funding? Grant Providers and Winners Share Tips for Getting Approved. It’s a shame, because it probably colored my reading of an interesting and valuable article by Don Lipper and Elizabeth Sagehorn, called How to Hire Tech-Savvy Teachers.

On first scanning, I was not impressed by the article, especially it’s list of “Dos” and “Don’ts“. Reading the article more thoroughly revealed a prevailing theme that the teaching part is of greater issue than the technology part when considering new hires. Can they Integrate Technology. Even Will Richardson is quoted saying, “From a hiring perspective, if you hire learners who can teach, the technology will take care of itself.” I disagree that the technology will take care of itself. But Will continues with the most important thing I found in the article. He says,

If you hire teachers who aren’t really lifelong, continual learners, then you’ll have problems, not just with technology.

Bingo! You know, it’s not about the technology. It’s about the information. If a prospective teacher can demonstrate to me that he or she is a continual learner, and that he is using technology to learn, then I’m interested. Otherwise, I see a relic of times that are long past and a danger to the students in my school.

I talk often about contemporary literacy, where reading expands into the ability to find the truth in the information you encounter, and math expands into the ability to employ information to accomplish goals, and writing expands into skills for expressing ideas compellingly, and all of the ethical issues that accompany an information driven world. Increasingly, I see these new notions of literacy as learning literacies, the skills necessary to learn what you need to know in order to do what you need to do. This is what I would look for more than teachers who know how to integrate technology — I want teachers who are learning literate. THEN the technology takes care of itself.

All that said, the article did include some great questions for interviewers to use when looking for 21st century educators for your 21st century schools. Here are a few:

Note: Some of these are extrapolated from related statements.

  1. Tell me how you think the future you are preparing children for will be different.
  2. What web services do you use on your mobile phone?
  3. What is your favorite gadget and why?
  4. How often do others come to you for guidance in using technology?
  5. Describe the last new technology that you used and how you used it — and how you learned it.
  6. Describe the last thing you learned related to your work, that you didn’t learn in a classroom or from a book, and describe how you learned it.

Finally, I would make sure that the vacancy announcement would state that a teacher portfolio will be asked for.

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20 thoughts on “Hiring Tech-Savvy Teachers”

  1. Dave – I hate to be negative here, but we are having trouble getting people to apply to be teachers period … so the reality is, right now anyhow, that we have to take applicants that are “OK.” I get asked to sit on interview teams constantly – my district used to boast that it got 700 applications per year for teaching positions – now it is less than 200 … and it shows. I can also tell you that at my school this year we are making numerous tech purchases … so when we hired this summer we were looking for “tech savviness” – there wasn’t any. WE got answers like … when I student taught I took kids to the computer lab to do Reader Rabbit.” Not inspiring. Sorry.

  2. I agree with the first comment. I kept hearing for years how “those new teachers” were going to come in loaded with technology expertise that they could apply to instruction but it just really hasn’t materialized (with some exceptions of course) unless you want to consider creating PowerPoints, using Word and sending email as technology expertise. In defense of those same teachers, what are our teacher prep programs doing to alleviate this? Perhaps your great questions should be sent out to all those programs that are preparing tomorrow’s teachers with a note telling them that these are the kinds of questions that are going to be asked in interviews and these are the kinds of questions for which students should have received enough background knowledge and experience in order to be fully prepared for the 21st century classroom. These same questions ought to go out to those master’s degree programs in Instructional Technology. Some of the current candidates for such a degree don’t even know what a blog is.

    In addition to your questions, how about some related specifically to pedagogy. For instance, how can technology be used to empower student learning? How does your teaching reflect the needs of your learners? Describe the elements of your personal learning network. In what ways could you demonstrate your continual learning to your students?

    Yeah, I know we’re probably not ready for these kinds of questions yet but shouldn’t we be?

  3. B & Diane,

    I’m sensitive to these problems. In my state, the teacher shortage is so dire that the consequences will be nothing less than disasterous, if things do not change dramatically, very quickly.

    Yet, managing the learning environments and learning experiences that are relevant to today’s children and their future will not happen unless we forcefully expect it to happen.

    The time for change is NOW!

    — dave —

  4. I agree totally that teachers need to come to the game as lifelong learners. In this context, technology will take care of itself because good “teacher learners” inherently recognize the opportunity the tool provides, and figure out how to incorporate it (regardless of their personal technology proficiency). This became very clear to me recently at a regional tech integrators meeting – a teacher was presenting on her use of a new technology in the classroom. In her opening comments, before she addressed the technology, it was instantly abundantly clear based on how she descibed planning for her lessons that she is an excellent teacher. All of her learning activities are student centered and rich (regardless of the incorporation of technology – she is a veteran teacher). She was simply capitalizing on the opportunity this new technology tool provided. Good teaching (teacher learner) has not changed – just the tools to get the job done.

    As far as questions to ask – how about:
    How would you teach ___insert topic/subject here___ in a one-room school house that does not have electricity? Now, how would you teach the same topic/subject in a 1-to-1 computing classroom?

    Those are drastic opposites, but the student learners in both situations deserve and need the same information/knowledge, and the teacher learner is the one to do all he/she can to provide it. Note – I’m not trying to bring equity issues into play – just trying to illustrate the responsibility of the teacher.

  5. I agree with the statement about the teacher prep programs needed revamped. We cannot expect professors who have taught for years and years to be able to provide pre-professionals with the tools they need to change the way teaching is done in our K-12 and beyond, educational institutions. As long as the method of teaching basically stays the same (teacher in front, students sitting and listening) then the technology won’t make one bit of difference.

    That is why I think that the educational insitutions are now, for the first time ever, going to be forced to change because of technology. When kids come into classrooms and know more about technology than the teachers, there are issues. And the issues are related to teaching methods…not technology.

    We need insights into concept of teaching pre-professionals how to faciliate learning and if technology is involved, fine, if not fine as well…but what must come first is the ability to faciliate learning and not just “preach” from the front of the classroom…and that is learned from years and years of being in classrooms where that very behavior is modeled.

  6. David,

    Some straight talk and precise language is needed. Twee aphorisms, like digital natives/immigrants, “sage on the stage..,” n-gen, clickerati, digerati, millenials, etc… obscure the fact that teachers must be able to perceptive and flexible enough to respond to the particular characteristics of ANY student and create the conditions in which they may progress.

    (See Tech Insurgents for more on this issue)

    Having said that, Will is correct. I can pick teachers who taught in open education environments in the 1970s out of a lineup, regardless of their current pedagogical style. Even if their students are in rows, these teachers seem much more receptive to the intentions of students than their counterparts. Countless veterans with a history of progressive education knowledge and experience see something like Logo (LogoWriter, MicroWorlds, programmable LEGO) for the first time and say, “I get it.”

    Two weeks later, great stuff is happening with computers in their classrooms.


    I disagree with you when you say, “It’s not about the technology. It’s about the information.” First of all, I think most of us believe that the technology allows kids to learn old things with greater efficacy, comprehension or stickiness and to learn new things in new ways that were impossible just a few years ago.

    Second of all, it is NOT about the information! Information is not knowledge. It is not experience. It is neither content knowledge, understanding of how people learn or pedagogical expertise. It is just information.

    Just my two cents…

    Gary Stager

  7. PS: Why not ask for the skills we wish to hire?

    The first school to have laptops for every kid (1989), Melbourne Australia’s Methodist Ladies’ College, used to specify in job postings that teachers had to teach in laptop environments and be proficient users of LogoWriter. That sent a ripple through the teacher education institutions.

    I suspect that most school districts have no idea what a technologically fluent teacher looks like.

  8. Dave said it in his opening comments “You know, it’s not about the technology. It’s about the information. If a prospective teacher can demonstrate to me that he or she is a continual learner, and that he is using technology to learn, then I’m interested.”

    If you can find a way to engage the students in the learning process, they will learn. It will not necessarily be pretty and may even be very messy at times, but that is how learning occurs. Technology is attractive, especially to those young people who are growing up with it, and may be used to assist in that engagement process. All too often, younsters are not getting the opportunity to experience participatory, engaged learning, but are bombarded with worksheets and other activities designed to help them “learn” a prescribed set of thoughts and ideas.

    I certainly hope that the days of the teacher as the “knows it all” instructor who just spouts what he/she knows and expects students to absorb it will soon be gone. I also hope that those inane textbooks that are too frequently being used as a crutch for the instructors who are afraid to involve students in real learning activities will also disappear. I know we don’t have enough teachers; maybe we should think about why that’s the case. I doubt that it is all because of poor salaries and fear of dangers from the outside world.

  9. Great comments so far!
    I really like 5 of the 6 questions in the post. In fact, they should be asked of up and coming administrators too! I was just interviewed for a VP position in my district and can honestly say that the questions you pose would be suitable at that level too, (and more appropriate than the ones I was asked*). That is to say, all but #2… I don’t know what they pay teachers in the US, but I don’t have the time or money to play with my phone. Most of the other questions relate well to the candidate as a lifelong learner.

    The thing I would like to add is that tech-savvy is relative. A distinction needs to be made here. First of all, I can never keep up… I come from the Batman era, adding items to my utility belt while students today are the Borg from Star Trek, assimilating technology into their lives. Secondly, I don’t have to keep up, just keep open. I can’t remember if it was on a podcast or at a presentation I went to, but the speaker said, “I can handle ignorance, but I can’t handle fear.” Maybe ‘Future Savvy’ may be the thing you are really looking for. If a teacher is forward thinking and aware of what students will need in the future, they will use technology to get students where they need to go.

    *A little side note: I added a link for a digital resume supplement to my resume, I also mentioned it in my interview to a panel of 4, but it has not been looked at as of yet. I don’t think it will be.

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