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.


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