Hiring the Right Teachers for 21st Century Schools: A School Leader’s Priority

Jackie Mania-Singer and Ed Harris


Hiring the right teachers should be a top priority for effective school leaders. The reasoning is simple. According to Brock Prize Laureates Ellen Moir (2009) and Linda Darling-Hammond (2010), the single most important element in the learning process is the teacher. Thus, finding and hiring the best teachers must be a paramount task for school leaders.9

However, finding and hiring the best teachers is not always an easy undertaking. In addition to hiring teachers, school leaders have copious additional responsibilities, and interviews can sometimes be relegated to rushed rituals squeezed between other administrative duties. Consequently, in order to hire the best candidates, long before the interview process occurs, school leaders must know precisely what to look for in a teacher and be prepared with the best possible interview questions.

Successful Teachers in the “Not-too-Distant-Past”

Not too long ago, qualities of a successful teacher would include effectively managing safe and orderly classrooms, disseminating subject matter, directing students’ “time-on-task” activities, and facilitating standardized testing processes. Of course, safe classrooms, helping students to stay on task, and assessing knowledge is still important. However, for today’s successful teacher, an additional set of qualities are needed.

Successful Teachers Qualities for the 21st Century

As we have emphasized in multiple edupreneur courses and blogs, the world for which our educational system was designed is rapidly changing. Moreover, many of the future jobs our students will have do not currently exist. If students are to compete in this evolving global society, they must be adaptable and versatile. They must be proficient in the “Four Cs:” Creativity, Communication, Critical Thinking and Collaboration. Successful teachers must be able to effectively facilitate those growth areas. In essence 21st Century teachers must be: 

  • Committed to the vocation of (or calling to) education, continually and proactively honing their craft by using a variety of available professional resources such as Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and online opportunities.
  • Understanding of the societal shift from “students as consumers” to “students as creators.
  • Forward thinking and able to articulate a vision of education for 21st Century schools   that aligns with more engaging and flexible learning environments.
  • Understanding of the importance of growth mindset, grit, and multiple intelligences as well as how to help students build resiliency and perseverance.
  • Innovators, relationship builders, and storytellers.2
  • Adaptive to the continuous societal changes.

The implications for 21st Century interview questions and the differences in focus between those and traditional questions can be seen in the following table: 5,7


Comparison of Traditional and Potential 21st Century Interview Questions

Traditional Interview Questions

21st Century Interview Questions

How do you prepare students for the job market or college? How do you prepare students to be successful in careers that currently do not exist?
How will you facilitate the development of 21st century competencies in your students?
How do you manage your classroom? How do you teach students to manage and/or direct their own learning?

In what ways do you cultivate a growth mindset in your students?

What kinds of in-service professional development do you prefer? How do you manage your own ongoing learning opportunities?
Have you built a Personal Learning Network (PLN)? Why or why not?
How do you impart your knowledge or subject matter to students? How do you facilitate learning whereby students are creators of information rather than merely consumers?
How do you help students to learn what you as the teacher don’t know?
How do you assess student assignments? How do you teach students to be problem designers in addition to problem solvers?
Why do you think you are a good fit for our school? In what ways will you challenge your colleagues’ and the principal’s thinking?
How do you make sure students are on task? How do you give students an opportunity to contribute purposefully to the work of others?


Your Thoughts

Just as education is rapidly evolving, the characteristics or abilities of a successful teacher are also changing to meet the demands and needs of today’s students.  When planning your interview, remember, the above suggestions are not set in stone. We are all in this rapidly changing education business together and learning alongside each other.  After reading this blog, reflect on your own interview process or questions and answer the following questions:

  • What are your ideas about what today’s teacher should be and do?
  • How can the hiring process be improved?
  • How can the above interview questions be improved? What interview questions should be added?



  1. Couros, G. (2016). 10 essential characteristics of a 21st century educator [web log comment]. Retrieved from https://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/6783.
  2. Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). Evaluating teacher effectiveness: How Teacher performance assessments can measure and improve teaching. Retrieved from http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2010/10/teacher_effectiveness.html.
  3. Educational Research Newsletter and Webinars. (n.d.). “Effective teachers are the most important factor contributing to student achievement.” Retrieved from https://www.ernweb.com/educational-research-articles/effective-teachers-are-the-most-important-factor-contributing-to-student-achievement/.
  4. Harris, E. L. and Curry, K. (2017). Three Reasons Why These are Exciting Times for Edupreneurs. Retrieved from https://edupreneuracademy.org/exciting-times-for-entrepreneurs/\
  5. Miller, G. (May 2013). The new look teacher interview [web log comment]. Retrieved from https://gregmiller21stcenturyleadership.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/the-new-look-teacher-interview/.
  6. Moir, E. (2009). Accelerating Teacher Effectiveness: Lessons Learned from Two Decades of New Teacher Induction http://www.oregon.gov/ode/schools-and-districts/grants/mentoring/Documents/accelerating-teacher-effectiveness.pdf
  7. November, A. (June 2016). Interview questions for new teachers in 21st century school [web log comment]. Retrieved from http://novemberlearning.com/educational-resources-for-educators/teaching-and-learning-articles/interview-questions-for-new-teachers-in-21st-century-schools/.
  8. Stronge, J. H., & Hindman, J. L. (2003). Hiring the best teachers. Educational Leadership60(8), 48-52.
  9. Tucker, P., & Stronge, J. (2005). Linking teacher evaluation and student learning.Alexandria: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.  PDF.

Image Source


  1. Mindy Englett

    “They must be proficient in the “Four Cs:” Creativity, Communication, Critical Thinking and Collaboration. Successful teachers must be able to effectively facilitate those growth areas.” This quote caused me to ponder. I work with teachers daily. I work with administrators daily. So many of the problems we are faced with in education can be covered by one of those four Cs. I think there is a huge mindset shift happening in education, and administrators are having a hard time keeping up. These are definitely key points I will think on when hiring teachers. These are points I plan to use when I talk with teachers in professional development settings. Keeping these on the forefront of our minds make us better teachers and better learners.

  2. Tasheika Cole

    I must say that I am enjoying the 21st century education and teachers that are joining the movement “Not business as usual” but yet excited about a new innovative way of reaching the 21st century learner. It is important that we find ways to reach the students of the 21st century student. to do this I feel that the old way of teaching has passed and all things are new. It is important that teachers are allowing students to be self motivated,self paced and independent thinkers to say the least.For this mind shift to happen among our students it must first show through our educators.The qualifications that were noted in this blog are right on point. An educator must first be committed and understanding of the needs of the student. Knowing that it may be more than just educational needs. Innovative and a forward thinker, this mind set will show students that everyone has to adjust to societal changes. I like the interview questions for the 21st century educator interview. I feel that they are very thoughtful and would produce good fruitful answers from a committed future educator.

    • Eddie Perry

      I agree that students need to be self-motivated. I feel like efforts in that regard must change as well. I believe that if students are to feel self-motivated in the 21st century, where curriculum asks for critical thinking skills and creativity, it is necessary to foster ownership in work. When students feel like they are pouring themselves into their assignment, when they get to put their stamp on learning, it becomes something they are doing for themselves instead of something they are doing for a grade, parents, teachers, etc. I truly feel like this is the trajectory that education is heading towards, and I feel that this is an exciting time to be a teacher!

  3. Amy Eikenberry

    I really appreciate this article as it identifies the needs of our students in a light that many educators are not ready to address. I completely agree that our students today are going to be asked to perform tasks and seek careers that are not in existent yet. Traditional forms of education still have several advantages for students, but relying solely on tradition and ignoring innovative strategies that help students to be more independent learners and less teacher dependent will not prepare them for THEIR future. I love where the article mentioned, “teachers must be Understanding of the societal shift from “students as consumers” to “students as creators.” In our ever changing world, it is clear to see a driving force of creativity. Engaging this concept in the classroom will help develop students’ thinking into being creative thinkers rather than dependent thinkers.
    I also want to comment on the interview questions. I really appreciate these because they reach beyond the surface of the educator’s experience and beliefs. The questions ask the interview participant to really discuss how they will move students into readiness for the future that they will be living in.

    • Sean McKinney

      I absolutely agree with your comment about the interview questions helping the principal understand an applicant’s drive to prepare students for an ever changing society. I have never had questions like these asked in an interview, but in the future I certainly hope to intentionally incorporate these types of questions where appropriate as I interview potential staff members.

      One concern in the current educational climate is actually the availability of people to interview. I have seen numerous positions since the peak of the recent education funding crisis in Oklahoma 2-3 years ago that have gone unfilled. Another large number of schools had such a small number of applicants for open teaching positions that they had to hire the best applicant they had regardless of whether they were the best fit for the school culture.

    • Shelley Lawson

      I agree Amy. I liked how the article identifies that there are still solid practices taking place in schools, but also recognizes the shift that must take place. I also enjoyed the list of interview questions. My district has a set of interview questions that all candidates are asked, and I would like to propose some of these questions as replacements/additions.

  4. Katy Horton

    I must say, I appreciate the shift in the traditional interview questions. They really stop and make you think deeply about your educational philosophies and practices. I personally would love to see more added to the interview process. While it is more time consuming, I would love to see a portfolio from the candidate of student work, lesson plans, and sample lessons. Additionally, so much can be gained from actually seeing a candidate teach. When I interviewed for teaching positions in St. Louis, I was expected to give a sample lesson to either a small group, or a full class. I would rather see the interview process shift in that direction, but as Sean said, applicants for teaching positions in Oklahoma are not at an all time high.

    • Kaila Goode

      I agree I am enjoying the shift to more creative thinking interview questions, more focused on the process and less on traditional views of students as consumers. We are supposed to teach our students from critical thinking and reflective thinking perspectives; thus, when interviewing teachers we should also expect them to think this way when being interviewed and answering questions about their teaching processes.

  5. Julia Gardner

    When we think about today’s teachers and the qualities we look for when interviewing, we should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak. A brand-new teacher may be philosophically aligned, but lack the practical knowledge to implement. This is fine; we can provide training, mentors, and experience that will help her build these skills.

    At the same time, an experienced educator may have skills to run a classroom, but not have any idea what a PLN is or had the freedom to implement student-centered learning. Again, this is fine; we can provide training, mentors, and the experience if the teacher is willing to learn something new.

    School leaders are already cautious when it comes to brand-new teachers, but we also need to be careful not to undervalue an experienced teacher who may not know how to implement in these ways—yet, but has a growth mindset.

    This may be another question to implement, no matter the experience of the teacher: How do you respond when you encounter new learning? Another way to approach this might be to ask for examples of how the candidate works towards a growth-mindset in his or her own life as a learner.

    • Lauren Stauffer


      I agree with your thoughts about hiring brand new teachers. I know I probably did not give the best answers at my very first interview, but thank God they gave me a chance to prove that I could become a great teacher. I was also extremely fortunate to have a great mentor who helped me become an effective teacher. If you have several candidates for the same position, I think the 21st century interview questions can be really good for deciding between two highly qualified applicants. As interviewers, we need to make sure that we are not solely relying on these questions to decide who would be best for the position. We need to think about who would be the best fit for our district’s mission, goals, and culture. I like your insight on growth mindset. When we interview, we need to make sure the applicant has a growth mindset whether they are a brand new teacher or an experienced teacher. The applicant’s willingness to collaborate, adjust, and strive to be a better teacher is key to a good fit.

    • Bridget

      I agree, Julie. Not all applicants are seasoned educators. As Sean mentioned in a earlier comment, the pool is not as deep as it once used to be. Therefore, it is important to have interview questions that both seasoned and novice can answer.

      I also agree that having a growth mindset is one of the most important qualities to look for in an applicant. One of the interview questions we ask currently is around them sharing a time of critical feedback and how they grew from it. It is interesting with those who truly have a growth mindset can usually answer this question fairly quickly. If it is harder to answer, then maybe you haven’t had many opportunities to grow lately.

  6. Chanda Gibson

    “They must be proficient in the “Four Cs:” Creativity, Communication, Critical Thinking and Collaboration. Successful teachers must be able to effectively facilitate those growth areas.” This statement is critical. As educators, we are not building robots who will mindlessly do what we tell them to do. Look at how we are communicating now. We are all virtual to do circumstances beyond our control, and we are doing it extremely well because we are able to adapt and overcome. Our creativity is allowing us to continue doing what we love to do: educate young people. Our critical thinking has helped us figure out answers to the problems we are facing. Collaboration and communication keep us connected to our coworkers and students all in the name of education. This is what educators of the 21st century should be doing. Innovation is the name of the game we should be playing on a daily basis.

    The shift in questions is excellent. As the generations change, so must our thinking to what a classroom/classroom teacher looks like. Are we hiring teachers who are willing to bend (but not break) in order to accommodate all student learning? I think that having teachers go through an impromptu lesson plan should be part of the interview process. I remember doing that during my interview with Union. Give the prospective hire a little time to come up with a sample lesson during the interview process, or have it as part of the application process so it could be referred to during the interview.

  7. Heidi Launius

    This article is great in giving the perspective on how teachers are changing in response to the need for 21st Century learners. To accomplish this we must provide teachers with the training to change. We cannot teach them one way in teacher preparation programs and then expect them to go out and teach in a completely different manner. As teachers we cannot expect our students to know how to do something that they have not been taught and as leaders we cannot expect a teacher to teach in a student centered classroom if they have not been taught this way as well as given the resources to teach this way. It is imperative that if we are going to reform how we teach, that we also reform how we prepare teachers. I have always done my best to have a student centered classroom but it was not until a couple of years ago when my district gave us the resources and professional development on what this looks like and how to achieve this that I finally feel comfortable and will never go back to teacher centered.

    The interview questions are relevant and great questions, but again, if we as leaders do not prepare our teachers in this manner they will not be able teach in this manner. We cannot expect teachers to just go out on their own and find this information. We need teach them how to be a 21st Century teacher.

    • sam allen

      As leaders we must help our teachers to understand how to teach the 21st century student. The learning has changed from teacher to student centered. It can be hard to give the control to the students in the classroom because some teachers may not have the knowledge or resources to know how to do this. It is imperative to give teachers professional development on how to do a student centered classroom.

      I think the interview questions are more relevant and more directive. The traditional questions are open ended and you can get a range of answers. Where the 21st century questions are more specific. There will be a specific answer to these questions and it’s narrow compared to the broad traditional question.

  8. Adam Peterson

    Wow, reading the 21st Century interview questions is especially poignant in the distance learning model that most schools find themselves in during the covid-19 crisis.
    Right now teachers aren’t managing classrooms rather than helping students to manage their own learning. These are different skills and obviously students managing their own learning is also a lifelong skill.
    Our school recently wrote a belief statement. I know part of our new interviews includes sharing that with potential hires and having them share how they fit into that framework. It is basically an invitation into our culture.

    • Victoria Vargas

      I agree that the 21st Century questions are poignant as it shifts both the classroom mindset and expectations during this pandemic. While many of us in the classroom weren’t asked these specific questions when we were hired, many of us are up to the challenge of adjusting how we school. Personally, I believe I have worked at shifting the responsibility of learning to my students. It’s going to be interesting to see how education evolves and welcomes this forced changed.

  9. Kimberly McCallum

    I like several of the interview questions. I think it is important to listen beyond their words, however. Some applicants can beautifully articulate all the right and currently appropriate answers, but not be able to create anything remotely resembling that in their classroom. Other applicants may not be up on all the current terminology, yet put the principles into practice daily in their classroom. I was involved in hiring process of a teacher recently. Of the four interviews, this one was clearly the shining star. The applicant knew all the latest terms and trends, asked all the right questions of us to show awareness of trends that we had not mentioned, yet…something did not sit right with me. Another applicant was a bit more hesitant, a great deal more nervous, lacked the plethora of current jargon, yet…something about that interview clicked with me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t articulate it. I didn’t have the words for what I was sensing. We went with what appeared to be the shining star. My experiences since have given me some words to articulate what I was sensing. Some stars have are gold-plated. They look beautiful on the outside, but when the job begins to bring wear and tear, that outer layer quickly fades revealing what is underneath. Other stars seem a bit duller, but the wear and tear only serves to polish them and cause their shine to brighten with time. Now, I wish we could come up with the question that reveals that!

  10. Jason Riggs

    In the second paragraph the authors write, “…long before the interview process occurs, school leaders must know precisely what to look for in a teacher…” I’m discovering the truth in this statement more every day. With a better understanding of what is needed from a new hire and the type of employee that would ‘fit’ within the instructional program at your school, the better you can assess the answers and discussion in an interview. Similar to a grading rubric, you must know what you are looking for. Building leaders should be looking for someone who is prepared and willing to lead students into an unforeseeable future. As mentioned in the article, students are no longer coming to the teacher for information. We are all consuming information all day long. Teachers must empower students to navigate through the abundance of data they constantly are bombarded with or even to ignore it out at times.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *