Great Lessons from Jimmy Casas on Hiring For Excellence

Last week I attended a great webinar presentation provided by NASSP with guest presenter, Jimmy Casas, on Hiring For Excellence.

Jimmy Casas
Jimmy Casas

Jimmy is the current principal of Bettendorf High School in Bettendorf, Iowa. He was named the 2012 Iowa Secondary Principal of the Year and was selected as one of three finalists for NASSP 2013 National Secondary Principal of the Year. Among his many other accomplishments, he co-authored a book with Todd Whitaker and Jeff Zoul entitled, What Connected Educators Do Differently. Check out his website for more great resources.

After I ran my notes by Jimmy, he gave me the thumbs up to share some highlights from his valuable advice for school leaders who are hiring new teachers or team members:

5 Questions To Ask Yourself

1. Where in your organization does average exist?
Most organizations have an abundance of average. How can you change that most effectively? By the people you hire and develop.

2. How do we begin to address the average in our organizations?
We build leaders so we move from average to excellence. Our most important responsibility as building principals is to hire the best people. It is not something that can be delegated to someone else’s control.

3. Are we modeling the kind of excellence we are seeking?
We can expect what we aren’t demonstrating. Are we the kind of leaders someone would want to work for?

4. Would future candidates really want to work for a principal like you?
Your interactions throughout the interview process play one of the most important factors in attracting great teachers.

5. What does our support system look like to develop new employees in excellence?
Different kinds of schools face different challenges from urban, suburban to rural. But anyone can adopt changes to move toward more excellence in hiring decisions.

So How Do You Find Excellent People?

1. You as the principal should make the first personal contact.
When you do, it serves as an initial screen for both of you. You are also the best person to present the passion and vision of your organization.

2. Make interview times more flexible.
Don’t make the mistake of only one-day interview options. Inflexible time frames can miss out on quality possibilities. Modeling flexibility also establishes the kind of expectations that you want to see in them when serving students.

3. Set up candidates for success; it’s courteous and thoughtful.
Explain who will be in the interview, the time frame, and what roles each person will play.

For instance, you may say, “We have a 45 minute time set aside with four individuals followed by a tour. We may ask you to share a lesson during our time.”

Also, think ahead with the following steps:
• Plan for someone to greet them and help them feel at ease before you interview.
• If you sense nervousness, stop the interview, remind them it’s okay and start again.
• Provide a tour of the building. Be courteous and respect the time they’ve given for exploring.
• If it’s during school time, ask them to demonstrate or model a lesson you’ve already pre-determined ahead of time with a conversation they’ve had with a department chair. Give them 30 minutes to give you their best.

4. Focus on follow-up.
Check their references to see their history and respect the candidates’ time. Call every candidate back whether they are offered the job or not. Use this time to share what they did well, offer suggestions, and build confidence. Or you may need to call if you still need a few days to make a decision. Keep them informed.

5. If you have a great candidate who wasn’t hired, you should encourage them that you would love to see them in a classroom.
Offer to be a reference for them to another opportunity. Helping them may create an opportunity for you to work them at a future time.

Need Some Screening Tips?

Before you ever contact the candidate personally, use a digital screening process. Your online applications can help you determine who shares the best values for you to meet in person.

Internal candidates can follow the same interview processes so you have equitable experiences for any person looking. Every candidate should feel like they earned a position. “Giving” someone a position makes him or her feel like they didn’t earn this can be doing them a disservice.

How Can You Increase Your Applicant Pool?

Work with other principals in your state, colleges, associations, to share needs for potential openings. Attend recruitment fairs.

The way we treat people in the interview process also travels word of mouth. People talking about your school will spread the word faster than anything else.

What About Reference Checks?

Sometimes the screening process will allow pre-reference checks. During the interview, write down the questions you want to ask in the reference checks. Don’t always ask the questions for answers you want to hear. Go in depth.

Here are two questions to ask the principal when checking a reference:
1. How many teachers do you have in this department of all your teachers, where would you rank this candidate?

2. If you left your district today and took another principal-ship, would you pursue this candidate to recruit to your school?

Setting Boundaries For Interview Teams

1. Give each person a role and voice otherwise you’re wasting their time.
2. Don’t acquiesce your authority to make the final choice so define the roles clearly on the front end.
3. Do not rank candidates. Have committee members rank strengths and stretches and then answer the question, “Is this somebody you believe you could work with?”


What are candidates saying about you and your school when they leave the interview? As you create a culture of excellence, you must take time to choose the best candidates. We have the most valuable commodity–students. So they deserve our dedication to make the process the most effective it can be!


Teachers are the most important people within the school to influence student learning and success. School leaders must make hiring great teachers one of their most important priorities. It cannot be delegated. It cannot be done passively. It must be done with purpose, passion, and excellence so that you attract teachers with the same enthusiasm for helping students.

Now It’s Your Turn

What are some other tips you’d add to Jimmy’s fantastic lessons in hiring for excellence? Want to connect with more of Jimmy’s insights? You can follow him on Twitter via his handle @casas_jimmy

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker