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


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.


  1. J.J. Dossett

    We have all seen schools shift from very controlled environments for information delivery to complex systems meant for problem solving. Much of the information students need is still the same but methods have changed drastically with technology. Students today need the ability to learn in and out of the classroom environment. There are many advantages for students having the ability to learn anywhere, but these advantages are neutralized if student learning needs are not met in one environment or another. Teachers must have the ability to reach students where they are and adjust accordingly. Unlike in the past where teachers could count on seeing there students 180 days a year and delivering content in a cookie cutter matter. Teachers in the future must be more flexible with student needs.

  2. K. Stafford

    21st-century teachers need to be more forward-thinking. Industry standards have changed and companies are looking for innovative employees. If education remains stuck our students won’t be able to keep up with modern-day expectations of the workforce. I think the 21st-century interview questions will help an organization weed out the teachers who aren’t able to modernize education. These questions merge their personal skills and innovation with the needs of today’s students.

  3. Robert Walters

    Teachers should also instruct students in how to be self reflective. Viewing “students as creators” and the notion of equipping them with a “growth mindset” are built on the foundational idea that students know something about themselves. While this could be an extension of critical analysis, it’s a slightly different skill. Giving students the keys to understanding themselves, or at least to be knowledgeable about their own learning styles, personality, ways for processing emotions and stress are more than just momentarily beneficial. For what good is it to teach them all about the world, but nothing about themselves?

  4. Taylor Emmons

    I like the ideas this post brings to the table when you start thinking about interviewing the right person for the job. I found this quote interesting, “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.” This reigns so true. We expect students to adapt to the environments they are learning in and challenge their thinking, but it is the teacher who must foster this sense of community and environment. It has to be their teachers that challenge the students to try something new or dig deeper in their own learning. The 21st-century interview questions I think challenge that idea and will help school administrators find a teacher who is willing to reach outside their own comfort zone and evolve their students thinking and skillsets.

  5. Lahra Byrne

    Today’s teachers must be flexible, empathetic, and open to learning and growing. I like the interview question “How do you manage your own ongoing learning opportunities?” It is crucial for teachers to set personal and professional goals, self-reflect, be open to constructive criticism, and always be looking for ways to improve. I believe in effective PD in which teachers discuss what they’ve learned and implement it in their classrooms. Admin must follow-up in PLC meetings re: PD topics to make it meaningful.
    Teachers must be passionate about delivering differentiated instruction and preparing their students for upcoming school years and future careers. They need to understand their students’ needs and modify lessons accordingly.
    Taking applicants on a tour of the school is helpful in seeing how they interact with teachers and staff and to generate more questions. It’s important during an interview to be an active listener, to ask follow-up questions, and to take good notes.
    I like how the 21st century interview questions are more detailed and focus on empowering students and teachers.

  6. James Patrick

    Being probably the oldest student in this class I enjoyed the article for it makes me aware that the time period I grew up in is not the time period I teach in. One of the things I am aware of is that my educational values when I was in primary and secondary school are nothing like the values children have today. So in that respect, I feel like this paper helps remind me of the proper way to conduct an interview in today’s world. In an interview, the importance of wording your questions properly is essential to finding out as much as possible about the applicant. I remember about four years back I was applying for a position at a 6A school here in Oklahoma and I could tell the people performing the interview were nervous about my age. So in order to test the waters a bit, the principal asked me, “How are you going to be able to relate to these kids?” I instinctively realized the question was not how was I going to relate to my future students but how does someone my age manage to relate to today’s classroom. I came away from this interview knowing that the question was framed around my age and I felt discriminated by the principal’s question. I look back on this experience and realize the importance of how questions are asked. A better question would have been, can you tell me about some of the things you like to do in the classroom to support your teachings? Then take this information and see if the teaching style meets your schools’ goals. The proper way to frame a question is a key to learning about a teacher during the interview process. I like the thought of having a conversation with the prospect and giving them the time to tell about themselves.

  7. Malarie Cline

    I have recently started interviewing for another job in the field of education and it amazes me because the interview questions seem to be more geared towards the traditional interview questions. Since I have mostly worked in a small school district, I honestly don’t think I would be prepared to answer some of the 21st century interview questions due to lack of experience in some of those fields.

  8. Ashley Rubey

    I really like the list of 21st-century interview questions. I can definitely relate to being interviewed with the traditional list back in the day, but recognize the need and benefits from the current shifts in our schools. The reality is our students and their needs are also changing. With that, the teachers in their classrooms and the schools housing those classrooms also need to adapt to fit the needs of their students. This shift in the way we think about hiring teachers and what kind of teachers we are looking for will assist in this. I also think it is so important to include other members of the hiring grade level or team in the interview process. Teachers have valuable input and can assist in finding a good fit for their team.

  9. Jessie Wright

    I really love these 21st century interview question ideas. Especially compared side-by-side with the more traditional questions it is easy to see how these really dig deeper and could help a school leader better understand the candidates they are assessing and what each individual brings to the table. One question that stood out to me was “In what ways will you challenge your colleagues’ and the principal’s thinking?” This is a really powerful question that can potentially help you understand a lot about how a person will fit within the school. It also tells the person being interviewed that the school is not looking for someone to just show up, do what they are told, and then go home, but that the school wants someone who will help push the site and its students and staff forward. After all, for schools to improve and develop the 21st century skills needed for success they must have diverse perspectives to recognize areas of improvement and challenge norms.

  10. Luis A Romero

    To be an educator, you must develop a growth mindset in your students and help them develop and learn new things by themselves. Provide the guidance but allow them to find the answers to their own questions. Allow their curiosity to guide their own steps. A good educator does not provide the answer. He helps the student to develop their intelligences by understanding the student strength and weaknesses. He should be able to inspire the student to be the best that he could allow them to empower themselves. He must know the new trends in education and be able to apply them in a classroom. H

  11. Nathan DeSandre

    As the world continues to change in different areas, so does education. Teachers are asked to move away from just assigning work and making sure their students turn into good people. Teachers in the 21st century are now looking to challenge students to learn at a higher level. Students are starting to ask they question,” Why?” about everything they hear in the classroom. I believe that this curiosity that is growing in students today can be used by teachers. Students need to be molded into problem solvers and by using the word” why” all the time students can push themselves to find more answers.

    When it comes to hiring teachers, a strong administrator is going to be looking for those who can cultivate this type of growth mindset. Some may think that younger teachers do a better job of this because they have been taught in their own schooling how to produce this type of learning. However, I believe that the best teachers have experience of being in the classroom but have also learned over time how to adapt to this new style of teaching. Those who are willing to learn how to be a better teacher are the ones you want to hire. I feel that I can always find a way to become a better educator. Professional development can be a great tool when transforming teachers to be 21st century educators.

  12. Shareen Smith

    One thing that stood out to me was collaboration. I agree that it is essential for students to learn to collaborate with others, but it is also very important to hire teachers that are committed to collaboration. In interviews at my school, we ask several questions including what the candidate views as their role in a PLC, how they would handle differing ideas within their PLC, and how collaboration among teachers benefits student achievement. I also agree that a growth mindset and helping students develop perseverance and resilience is important. I think we’ve seen this year that all students have grown in these areas.


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