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Diplomacy in Action

Chapter 10: Recruiting Educators for an Inclusive School


By William Powell

The most important resource in any school is the teaching staff and this is even more the case when the school is striving to meet the needs of a diverse population that includes exceptional children. As stated earlier, good teaching practice, securely grounded in current learning theory, is the heart and soul of the inclusive classroom. Without it, no amount of auxiliary programs or ancillary services will make much difference. Accordingly, the focus of this section will be on how to identify those prospective teachers who combine inclusive educational values, superb pedagogical craftsmanship, healthy self-confidence and mature interpersonal skills.

It goes without saying that schools that can afford a special education teacher should consider doing so in order to have the advantage of a resident "expert" on staff. However, smaller schools without the resources to afford specialist personnel can also serve exceptional children by deliberately staffing classrooms with teachers who have background training and experience in special education.

Prospective classroom teachers who have experience and/or qualification with exceptional children provide added value as long as they are flexible and reflective in their approach. It is not unusual to find special educators (LD/ESL/Highly Capable) who have previously worked in a pull-out model wanting the experience of having "their own class." Given their expertise and experience with collaboration, these transfers to the regular classroom can represent tremendous advantage, especially for smaller international schools who cannot afford specialist staff.

For international schools, often located in remote areas of the world, the recruitment of an outstanding teaching staff is often easier said than done. However, there are some recruiting strategies that really do produce desired results.

Several years ago, a British administrative colleague of ours stated that before he worked in an international school, he had never heard of a school having a philosophy. Now, he couldn't imagine a quality school without one.

The school philosophy can be the single most important document in the recruitment of an outstanding teaching staff. It makes explicit the values and practices, the traditions and shared attitudes of the school community. A carefully crafted school philosophy will include statements about:

• Why we educate children;

• What we hope that education will achieve;

• What that education will include;

• How that education will be planned structured, and measured;

• Who will be invited to participate in that education; and

• What we will strive for in our relationships.

More than all the beautiful photographs and glossy travel agency posters, a well-thought out school philosophy will attract the kind of teachers that inclusive schools are searching for.

An inclusive school philosophy contains assumptions about children, about teachers, and about learning.

In order to find what one is looking for, the recruiter needs to have a reasonably good idea of what he or she is seeking. Recruiting outstanding inclusive teachers is no different. One needs a large brush stroke portrait of the inclusive teacher. In this area, we have found the work of Costa and Garmston (1994) particularly useful. In the development of "Cognitive Coaching," Costa and Garmston identify five states of mind which constitute the attributes of vital, effective members of a learning organization. They also perceive these states of mind, when taken together, as "a force directing one towards increasingly authentic, congruent, ethical behavior, the touchstones of integrity (p. 130)." As such, these attributes are most useful in constructing our profile of an inclusive educator. The five states of mind are:

• Efficacy

• Flexibility

• Craftsmanship

• Consciousness

• Interdependence

Efficacious teachers believe that they can make a difference in and out of the classroom. They believe that they can effect change. They are optimistic and self-correcting. They accept responsibility with a proverbial "can do" attitude. Efficacious people have an internal locus of control and show initiative in controlling their environment. They are able to control impulsivity, gather data and are cognitively active. They also show signs of humor. According to Costa and Garmston (1994), when compared with individuals who have an external locus of control, they are less anxious, less hostile, less aggressive, more trustful, less suspicious of others . . . (p. 134)."

Research has shown direct correlations between both individual efficacy and teacher effectiveness and "organizational efficacy" and school success. Teacher efficacy has been shown to have a profound effect upon improved student learning particularly in the area of basic skill mastery (Rosenholtz, 1989) and has been identified as a vital factor in the successful implementation of educational change (Fullan, 1982). The Rand Corporation found that teacher efficacy was the single most consistent variable related to school success (Berman & McLaughlin, 1977).

The more self-confident teachers feel about their subject area and their pedagogical expertise, the greater energy, creativity and passion those teachers will bring to the classroom, resulting in a corresponding increase in student engagement and meaningful learning. Unfortunately, the opposite has also been shown to be the case. The more insecurity teachers carry to the classroom, the less effectiveness they have, the less students learn. The students who will always be at the greatest risk of teacher ineffectiveness are those who learn differently.

Efficacious teachers see problems as opportunities. When we first arrived in Tanzania, in the early 1980's, the government followed a policy of radical socialism and food and consumer goods were scarce. Rationing was in effect for even basic commodities such as rice, flour and cooking oil. A colleague of ours came to the conclusion that: "If we can't buy sugar and soap in the shops, we teachers need to open our own store." Charlye's logic was that we were more likely to procure basic staples if we bought in bulk directly from the wholesaler. Charlye was an efficacious individual who, recognizing a need, had the confidence in himself to bring change to a situation. It was not long afterwards that a teachers' cooperative shop (it was referred to as G.R.A.B. - Group Resource Acquisition Bureau) opened at the school where members were able to obtain basic commodities on a regular basis.

Flexibility of mind is crucial for the truly inclusive teacher and may be one of the highest states of intelligent pedagogical behavior. Flexibility requires a person to step beyond and outside of him or herself. It requires the individual to view a situation from a multitude of different perspectives. Flexibility of mind can be thought of as choreographed movement in cerebral space, the cognitive dance that effective teachers enter into with their students.

Flexible people are able to perceive a situation from another person's point of view. They are cognitively empathetic. Flexible teachers are consciously aware of their own learning styles and learning differences and know the learning peculiarities of their students. They are able to shift their attention from part to whole, from detail to large picture. They understand and appreciate the forest while rarely losing sight of the trees. Flexible teachers are able to predict conflicts and misunderstandings before they happen. They move gracefully, like the skilled dancer, away from the mental routines of the habituated self into the rich adventures of new perspectives.

Little is written on the critical importance of intuition in teaching. This may be because the masterfully intuitive take their ability for granted, and those who lack intuition, mistrust it in others. Flexibility of thinking allows the teacher to develop trust in her intuition. It allows her to tolerate confusion and contradiction and to avoid premature closure and impulsive problem solving. Flexibility in thinking nurtures confidence in the creative unconscious processes.

"The flexible teacher can deal with a variety of learning styles. She can handle visual, kinesthetic and auditory learning. She can coordinate a variety of activities going on simultaneously and is as attuned to the Vietnamese as the Spanish speaking student (p. 136, Costa & Garmston, 1994)."

In the wake of El Nino's visit to Africa in 1997, there was severe drought in the south of Tanzania. A geographer colleague in the Social Studies department wanted 10th grade students to develop a meaningful personal project that would bring home to them what it meant for people to live at the mercy of unpredictable weather patterns. Together with his students, he planned a pilot, small scale perma-culture farm project in a leprosy village some six hours south of Dar es Salaam. Students were involved at every stage of the project: in discussions with village elders, in clearing land, planting drought resistant crops and thinking of ingenious ways to defend the crops against bands of marauding wild bush pigs. This colleague had found a way to combine the curriculum with existing weather conditions and make the program personally meaningful to the students. He had been flexible in his thinking.

Flexibility of thought is closely related to active, lifelong learning. Flexible individuals are those who dance through a multitude of perspectives, enriched by each, comfortable with doubt and ambiguity, aware that the ignorance of the truly knowledgeable is actually increasing. Flexible teachers are researchers into their own practice. They challenge the habitual, question the known and stretch the cognitive frontiers of their students.

The pursuit of craft perfection is as old as our species and our myths are replete with stories that praise the skill and the wisdom of our master craftsmen. In ancient Greece, the master artificer was represented in the Icarus and Daedalus story. The lure and the danger of the pursuit of perfection are poignantly displayed in Icarus's fatal plunge into the Ionian Sea and in the ancient Persian custom, in which the master carpet maker would deliberately include one mistaken knot into an otherwise flawless creation. Whether in art, music, sports or business, the master craftsman in his or her pursuit of perfection continues to feature among our popular hero figures.

Curiously, craftsmanship is both an attribute and an energy source. The constant striving for improvement is certainly a quality of the master teacher, but it is more than a static characteristic. It is also a dynamic motivating force that compels the teacher towards greater refinement, greater specificity and greater precision.

The master teacher constructs clear visions and specific goals. She understands how these goals may be attained and carefully monitors her progress. The master teacher is not without her failures but these are perceived as precious opportunities for further growth.

One fourth grade teacher, already considered a master teacher, attended a series of workshops in which she learned new strategies for grouping students. "In the past I always let the students choose their own groups," she said towards the end of the workshop, "but I have a feeling that varying the groupings would be good for them." Although not confident how her efforts would turn out, she attempted the strategies for mixed grouping that she had learned at the workshop and then reflected on her efforts - what had worked, what hadn't worked, and what she needed to try the next time. Risking, reflecting and refining are the essence of craftsmanship.

When recruiting inclusive teachers, it is vital to remember that the most successful teachers may be those who are also the most dissatisfied with their own work. Appropriate self-criticism can be a valuable attribute.

As wood is to the master cabinetmaker, so language is to the master teacher. The role of precise language is critical in all classrooms, but particularly so in the inclusive classroom. The master teacher strives for clarity and precision when transforming complex concepts into teaching objectives. In craft reflection, these inclusive teachers strive for exactness in critical thought and that precision becomes a passion and a self-motivating joy.

Consciousness is the most superficially simple of Costa and Garmston's states of mind, but as we examine its critical role within the framework of inclusive teaching, its complexity becomes self-evident. Consciousness is the construction of meaningful knowledge about the world around us, our immediate environment, our workplace, our family. It is also the interior knowledge of ourself, our thoughts, feelings, hidden anxieties and fleeting impressions. In short, consciousness is deliberate attention to events that are both internal and external.

A mathematics teacher, coming from a strict, traditional and authoritarian society, began to be troubled by his relationships with students. He recognized that there was a distance in those relationships that he wished to overcome. He was puzzled that students sometimes misread him, taking him seriously when he was joking and thinking that he was joking when he was actually serious. He began to observe other teachers' relationships with students, sitting in on their classes and watching their interactions. At the beginning of the next year, he resolved to make developing positive relationships with his students one of his professional goals. He asked colleagues to help him reflect on his interactions so that he might learn how to modify his own behavior in order to develop more positive relationships with his students.

Consciousness is the path to self-knowledge and without it there can be no impulse control or self-direction. Self-consciously "conscious" people delight in the subtleties of complex interaction. They explore their own reactions, they monitor their values, thoughts and behaviors and they will articulate the internal criteria behind the decisions that are to be made. They are politically sensitive and are able to predict problems and misunderstandings.

"Teachers' ability to monitor and adjust in their classroom is based on their conscious capacities to read classroom cues and their own intentions and repertoire of strategies. Consciousness is the state of mind that explai9ns what the research on teacher behaviors calls 'with-it-ness' - a teacher's ability to be aware of and respond to a variety of cues happening in the classroom while keeping the students and themselves on task (p. 139, Costa & Garmston, 1994)."

Reflective consciousness is vitally important in teaching and also to those whose positions within a school regularly involve them in difficult interaction (e.g. guidance counselors, principals, etc.). One way to gain a window into the reflective consciousness of a prospective teacher is to end a formal interview five or ten minutes before the appointed time, announce that the interview is over, and suggest that we might take a few minutes to reflect upon how the interview itself has gone.

Teaching has been called the "second most private profession" and schools have been facetiously referred to as organizations in which "highly educated professionals are linked by a common parking lot." The traditional isolation of teachers has contributed significantly to a lack of individual efficacy, low staff morale, widespread teacher burnout, and resistance of schools to positive change.

The classroom can be the most artificial invention in education. In its worst manifestations, the classroom sets the physical boundaries in which learning can take place; it is organized to control and inhibit individuality, and it can foster fierce territoriality (how often have we heard teachers express reluctance to visit the classrooms of their colleagues?).

Fortunately, what we now know about collaboration between teachers suggests a way forward, an opportunity to harness the immense energy that is released when dedicated and skilled craftsmen (and women) come together to creatively plan and teach. The foundation of this recently emerging collegiality is interdependence, the understanding that within an inclusive school it is natural that one should give and receive help.

"Enough spider webs can hold a lion."
Egyptian proverb

Interdependence is the profound understanding that human beings need each other. Please see the following sidebar entitled "A Field Trip to South Africa" which describes a time when a learning situation was punctuated by the giving and the receiving of help.

Inclusivity is a challenge and where it fails, it often does so because individuals have given up on it having tried to go it alone, having assumed a heroic but foolishly solitary responsibility for each and every child. It is not only children who belong in inclusive schools, teachers do so as well and that sense of belonging comes from a shared mission and collaboration with teaching colleagues.

Interdependence is a state of reciprocity in which people have common goals and work together for the furtherance of those goals. Interdependent people are idealistic, altruistic and optimistic. They are able to suspend the pursuit of their own ego gratification in order to focus their energy on the achievement of group goals. Interdependence is not a naturally occurring state but a series of sophisticated and complex learned behaviors. It is nothing less than an explicit statement about how we choose to perceive, value and interact with the rest of our species and in doing so, how we choose to define ourselves.

A Field Trip to South Africa

Everyone was troubled at the end of the second day, students and teachers alike, but probably the most distressed were Annelise and Stephanie, two white South African 12th Graders who had just walked out of the evening's class meeting.

The interdisciplinary field trip had been organized by three teachers and had involved almost 30 international school students. They would spend a week in the Johannesburg/Pretoria area, combining the study of History, Psychology and Biology. The trip was carefully planned and included visits to historical sites, research at the University of Pretoria, lectures, a tour of Soweto, meetings with political leaders, and even a first hand observation of a radical prostatectomy at Pretoria Urology Hospital.

The second day had been taken up mostly by a historical tour of Pretoria. The tour had focused exclusively on white South African history and had culminated at the Voertrekker Monument, in front of which is a large statue of a white woman standing with her two children. The white South African guide explained that the woman symbolized "the bringing of light to the dark continent." The international school students, many of whom were African, Asian or mixed race, listened in stony silence.

Before the class that evening, the three teachers met in closed session. They recognized that they had to address the racism that the students had encountered during the day. While nothing had been said so far, the teachers agreed that a number of the students showed signs of hurt, outrage and even anger at what they had experienced. The teachers planned how they would handle the class. It was agreed that the social studies teacher would introduce the topic by attempting to create an historical context for apartheid. The psychology teacher would then pose a series of critical thinking questions which related to what they had seen and heard (and what they had failed to see) and their perceptions of it. The Biology teacher was to monitor the emotional climate of the class, particularly the two white South African girls who were clearly proud of their country and pleased to show it off to their foreign classmates.

As was predicted by the teachers, many of the students were upset and hurt by the tour. Once the subject had been introduced, a number of the students spoke passionately of the one-sidedness and bias that the tour represented and the deep resentment that they felt.

Annelise and Stephanie were silent and withdrawn until just before the end of the class meeting, when both rose and walked out of the conference room. The Biology teacher waited a few minutes before following them to their hotel room to help them process the hurt and disappointment that they were feeling.

At the same time, the social studies and psychology teachers asked the remainder of the students why they thought Annelise and Stephanie had walked out. A discussion ensued which ended by several of the non-white students making a plan to deliberately try to include Annelise and Stephanie in the class's activities the following day.

Two weeks later, after the field trip had returned home to Dar es Salaam, Annelise confided to her Biology teacher that she had seen South Africa for the first time through non-white eyes and she had learned a lot about her country and about herself.

Interviewing for Inclusivity
Selecting outstanding teachers is a complex and lengthy process made even more difficult in recent years by the intense competition between "flagship" international schools for those teachers who are perceived to be "superstars". The obvious starting point is a careful review of the candidate's dossier which should include a letter of application, resume or cv, and confidential letters of reference. The outstanding teacher should make reference in her application letter to how she handles learning diversity in the classroom. The very best candidates will support broad philosophical statements with specific examples taken from past pedagogy.

Confidential letters of reference in the litigious United States pose a dilemma. In almost 20 years of recruiting hundreds of teachers, I can count the number of critical letters of reference I have read on my fingers. It thus becomes incumbent upon the recruiter not only to read between the lines (to determine what is not being stated) but also to take up probing telephone references in which hard, blunt questions are posed and answered (What are the candidate's weaknesses ? What would the parents of exceptional children say about this teacher? Would you re-hire this person with enthusiasm ? etc.)

There is no substitute for a face-to-face interview. Too much of what is "said" is spoken silently through body language. Researchers suggest that more than 65% of our communication may be conducted through non-verbal behaviors (Burgoon, Buller & Woodall, 1989). The face-to-face interview provides an opportunity to assess the candidate against a previously constructed profile.

The purpose of such an interview is for two people in a relatively short period of time to gather as much information about each other (and the school) as possible. As such, interview questions should provide the candidate with an opportunity to open a window into who she is - how her mind works, what her values are, her degree of subject area mastery, why she entered education and whether she actually likes working with children. Predictable questions usually generate predictable and rehearsed answers which tell the interviewer very little. Quality interview questions should gently surprise and provoke spontaneous thought.

While we have encountered very few "unfair" questions, the "trick question" (in which the interviewer attempts to deliberately mislead the candidate) generates little but mistrust and guardedness. The interviewer also needs to be aware that there may be questions that stray too far into the realm of the personal.

Questions should probe and challenge, and at the same time the interviewer's body language and tone of voice should reassure and establish a climate of trust. If the interview questions are sufficiently challenging, the interviewer will also need to be encouraging. The purpose of the interview is not to trick the candidate; on the contrary, the purpose is to create an atmosphere in which the candidate will do her very best. We have become particularly partial to questions that are based upon brief scenarios. This type of question demands on the spot thinking and judgment and provides an excellent window for coming to know who the candidate is and what he or she stands for. We have included several such scenarios in the sample interview question section at the end of this chapter.

As a general rule, if a prospective teacher has not demonstrated humor during the course of the interview, this would raise questions about hiring him or her. Humor is too crucial to an inclusive classroom to leave its existence to question or doubt.

We have come to believe that the most dynamic and effective teachers are themselves the most active and passionate lifelong learners and at interview we are looking for this
enthusiasm for personal learning and growth.

How do our six assumptions about inclusive schools help to frame an effective interview?

1. All children can, do and will learn (the focus is on learning).

  • Optimism
  • Efficacy
  • Value placed upon democracy
  • Sense of belonging and membership
  • Secure and trusting class climate
  • Flexibility
  • Teacher relationship with students: partnership
  • Fairness: how does it "work" in an inclusive classroom?
  • Thorough practical knowledge of learning theory

2. Effective teachers can teach most children (the focus is on teaching).

  • Self-confidence, efficacy
  • Internalized locus of control and self-motivation
  • Expertise in or previous experience with exceptional children
  • Flexibility of approach
  • Subject area mastery
  • Wide repertoire of creative, engaging teaching strategies
  • Passion/enthusiasm for learning
  • Teacher knows his/her own preferred learning styles and how they affect his/her teaching
  • Empathy
  • Reflectiveness and self-renewal
  • Consciousness of self and others

3. The teacher is the most important architect in the child's learning environment.

  • Secure, safe, yet challenging class climate
  • Flexibility of approach
  • Empathy
  • Understanding of and appreciation for the social and emotional aspects of cognition
  • Wide repertoire of creative and engaging teaching strategies

4. Diversity enriches.

  • Cultural sensitivity
  • Empathy that extends that across linguistic barriers
  • An openness and appreciation of differences
  • A tolerance of frustration
  • The ability to delay gratification
  • Self-confidence
  • Flexibility of perspectives

5. Strategies that define and comprise good teaching are applicable to all children and adults (the focus is on craftsmanship).

  • Mastery of subject/content area
  • Thorough knowledge of the variety of ways in which children learn
  • Knowledge of constructivism and brain based teaching
  • Creating relevance and connectedness
  • Flexibility
  • Awareness of multiple intelligences
  • Appreciation of different learning styles
  • Ability to identify and start with the large concepts

6. A professional partnership is exponentially more effective and satisfying than the sum
of its parts (the focus is on collaboration and teamwork).

  • Interpersonal skills and sense of collegiality
  • Interdependence
  • Flexibility
  • Consciousness of self and others
  • Idealism and optimism
  • Shared values and vision
  • Common goals
  • Tendency towards presuming positive intentions in others
  • Trust and mutual support
  • Self-confidence and humility

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