The Fifth in a Series: Why Alternative Teacher Certification Programs and Research-Based Teacher Selection Together are Uniquely Designed to Meet the Needs of at-Risk Students

Why Alternative Teacher Certification Programs are Uniquely Designed to Meet the Needs of at-Risk Students
Belief-Based Screening: How to Find Uncompromising Quality In a Time of Teacher Shortage
by Vicky S. Dill, Ph.D. Delia Stafford-Johnson

What helps you get up in the morning? The idea that this very day you might get fabulously rich? Found or salvage a dot.com? Wield absolute power? Invent something revolutionary? Stun a student with the power of learning? The answer to that question is, in fact, the heartbeat of an individual’s belief system - what they think their lives are all about and what moves them. And more and more, researchers are uncovering the indispensable power of right beliefs to create and sustain school change.

This is the fifth article on how school leaders might better serve the needs of at-risk youth, an area of public education severely in need of reform. Here the writers examine how an interview instrument based on screening into the profession individuals with winning attitudes and beliefs can serve not only at-risk but all youth in the public schools. To date, the series has suggested that traditional forms of teacher certification depress at-risk youth achievement by inadvertently ensuring that the neediest students receive teachers with the least life experience, increased demographic misrepresentation, and greatest chance of turnover. The series has also discussed the value of alternative teacher certification to meet the educational needs of would-be teachers in a client-friendly way. Alternative teacher certification, research has shown, provides a path for more mature individuals with valuable life experience and the school-to-work knowledge relevant to at-risk youth. Because all that is needed to apply is a baccalaureate degree, this method vastly increases the potential candidate pool. Of course, additional qualifications apply. Even so, coupled with belief-based screening, the whole process provides dynamic energy to select from the increased number of candidates those whose beliefs will ultimately empower them to be a formative, life-changing factor in the education of the neediest children in the nation. Here is how the relatively new paradigm works.

Start with Priority Beliefs. Why do people (and teachers) do what they do? What governs their behavior? For the most part and without a lot of thought, people act on their beliefs. Often they are unaware of the far-ranging implications of a belief system that may be largely subconscious. As the writers documented in The Fourth in the Series, Synergistic Power: Alternative Teacher Certification Programs and Research-Based Teacher Selection, beliefs are generally formed when an individual is young and beliefs are difficult to change. Further, it is challenging to concoct a method by which interviewers can tell what a candidate for a teaching job really believes. For instance, if the candidate knows s/he should believe that “All children can learn,” and the interviewer asks, “Do you believe all children can learn?” no candidate would say, “No, I don’t. Some children can’t learn.” Or if a candidate is asked, “Will you do whatever it takes to make diverse children feel welcome at school?”, what kind of a candidate would say, “No. I’ll do the minimum.” Yet the minimum is what many candidates, once hired, actually do, or they won’t try various methods, or they caricature minorities, or find excuses not to teach. Too many function as if only children who look a certain way can learn. Or they find excuses, blame, or sort children instead of supporting them.

Bare Bottom Line. At minimum, as noted above, hiring officials need to know 1) what they’re looking for in a candidate and 2) whether or not the person they’re interviewing is telling them the truth.

Is the candidate second-guessing the answers and trying to meet the questioners’ expectations, whatever they are? Is the candidate technically knowledgeable but has no convictions? How hard will s/he try to accomplish the goals? Is the candidate there for the children - whatever it takes - or there for him or herself? Is he there to put his daughter through med school? To get her “high five” and retire? In fact, interview teams need to know both of these bottom line questions. They need to know and understand candidates’ full range of beliefs in order to add to the learning organization another voice for growth and change.

In a recent, finely-written article on the power of beliefs, authors Fawcett, Brobeck, Andrews, and Walker tell the story of a teacher named Maryanne and the principal, Rusty:

“Rusty is the principal of an intermediate school (grades 3 through 5) and Maryanne is one of the teachers in his building. Maryanne is a good teacher in the traditional sense, but she has fallen into a teaching routine that doesn’t take into account the diversity of her students. Some students make it, and some don’t. When they don’t, Maryanne blames the students for being unmotivated, the parents for not caring, or the TV for promoting antisocial behavior. Recently, however, she has begun to rethink her view of students. . .” (Fawcett, Gay; David Brobeck, Susan Andrews, and Linda Walker, “Principals and Beliefs-Driven Change.” Phi Delta Kappan. January 2001, p. 405).

Principals are wise to rethink beliefs, for their power is immense in achieving student outcomes. That is why screening into the profession those with empowering beliefs is undoubtedly easier than trying to change the beliefs of those already certified and sitting in classrooms in front of kids.

Profile of Power. The most researched and efficient available interview is based on decades of research by Dr. Martin Haberman, Distinguished Professor of Education at The University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. Haberman started in the 1950’s to discover what was the difference between teachers who quickly quit or failed to teach and those who were “stars” or who, by all accounts, taught every child to the maximum. The profiles were based on the clearly outstanding teachers each principal identified as unparalleled in effectiveness or absolutely a “star.” Interviewing thousands of “stars,” Haberman identified clusters of beliefs about what the teacher thought s/he was doing and why s/he did it. What emerged were patterns of beliefs shared by all the “stars” which the professor then translated into interview questions. Over the decades, the interview has maintained a persuasive 3% error rate in failing to identify those teachers who will succeed with the children most educators consider extremely challenging to teach.

An effective interview, then, elicits a candidate’s belief system, the heartbeat of their career choice. In this way, candidate answers will tell hiring officials whether or not the candidate knows “what good is” and whether or not they exhibit that good. The other challenge, knowing whether or not the candidate is telling the truth is also crucial.

The Haberman Star Teacher Interview achieves this crucial goal by appearing to be asking one question but really measuring something else. Candidates who finish the interview questions have no idea if they did well or not. Because the interview accesses an individual’s deepest level of commitment and demonstrates exactly to what or whose good the candidate is called (whether his own, the students, etc.), there are any number of answers possible, but only trained interviewers will know which answers match the “star” profile. Ironically, interviewees can fail the test repeatedly.

A research-based interview that screens for beliefs will go a long way to help principals and hiring teams avoid fatal hiring decisions. Getting rid of poor teachers, often called “deselection,” is a very expensive and time-consuming process. Said one principal about research-based hiring, “I made all kinds of faculty selections for 28 years not knowing what I was doing. . . I’d make the selections and then sit back with my fingers crossed. With this process, however, you pretty well weed out the failures” (New York Times, “Spotting Teachers Who’ll Fail.” Education Life. 4.5.92, p. 10).

Uncross those Fingers! NEXT TUESDAY: How teachers especially selected for their beliefs and alternatively certified quickly build up resilience in at-risk youth, increasing their achievement and helping them stay in school.

For further information about how your school or university can develop Alternative Teacher Certification programs, please contact The National Center for Alternative Teacher Certification Information at www.altcert.org or call 713-667-6185.

For many years Dr. Dill worked at The Texas Education Agency reviewing traditional teacher education programs and building alternative program and has many years of experience in teacher education in colleges and university. Dr. Dill authored A Peaceable School: Creating a Culture of Non-Violence published by Phi Delta Kappa (1999). Dr. Dill is currently Associate Director of Special Programs for Round Rock ISD (Round Rock, TX) and Senior Researcher for The Haberman Foundation/NCATCI. Delia Stafford-Johnson is President and CEO of The Haberman Educational Foundation/National Center for Alternative Teacher Certification Information (NCATCI). For ten years, she was Director of the first alternative teacher certification program in Texas started in the Houston Independent School District and has twice been honored by President Bush at the White House for her work in teacher education.

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