The Tough Part

Jen Robinson Education, Elementary, Social Issues

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This past year we looked at ways to increase student leadership roles on our campus. One role we created was a Student on Special Assignment (S.O.S.A). Originally six students were selected for this role. Soon after we realized we needed to build more capacity and bring more students on. Our school had an application that the S.O.S.A.’s felt comfortable using, so the position was posted and the kids were eager to start interviewing. I found students stopping me at breakfast, on the playground, at lunch and afterschool checking in to see when we would interview. I asked them to wait at least a week to collect applications and then we would screen and select candidates for interviews.

Once we had five to six applications, we began the screening process. I invited the students to read through the applications and record strengths and areas of concern. They did this in my office standing around a table taking each application one by one carefully reading through finding specific details and reasons to support an interview. They left post-it notes on the applications to refer back to later in the process. We were ready to schedule the interviews. Of the five candidates, the team decided one candidate would not be eligible to interview at this time. We asked her to meet with the students, who shared with her why the decision was made. They let her know, “Your actions do not match what we want people to see in a S.O.S.A. In class and after school you are getting into trouble and not doing your work. If you would like to work on these actions and apply later in the year, we would be happy to interview you.” I sat in, saying nothing, just observing how the students owned it.

The interview process: At first I really didn’t know what to expect. As a team we discussed the interview process and maintaining confidentiality. We practiced the questions and what the process would like and then the first interview. I sat at the table and asked questions along side the students and modeled how to record the student responses. The first candidate was visibly nervous and anxious. The students did a great job of calming him down and make him feel safe. The students navigated through the questions and then on to the speaking portion. The candidate stumbled a bit, but rocked it! The final part was the written portion where the candidate was asked to step outside at a desk to complete it while we debriefed. It was awesome listening to the kids debrief and discuss strengths and concerns and how this candidate would contribute to our school. The team was so excited to tell him he had gotten the position that they decided to bring him back in. Candidate one was hired as our first SOSA! The team was over the moon.

As the interviews continued I removed myself further from the table and the process. The kids had this! Of the next four interviews, three were asked to be S.O.S.A.’s and one was denied. This is when I truly saw each of these students as leaders. The candidate who was not chosen had a great interview, however the team was concerned with her actions in class, at lunch and afterschool. Her actions did not match what she had said in the interview. During the debriefing the S.O.S.A.’s brought up these concerns and how to address it. I asked them how they would like to handle this situation and without hesitation two students stood up to say, “I will tell her. I am her friend, so it should come from me. I will give her examples of what we mean so she understands and we can invite her to re-apply after break.” Upon re-entering the conference room, the team shared the news. The candidate was disappointed and began to cry. I escorted her out and met with her privately to discuss the process. She agreed with the decision and had begun to think about her next steps.

After the interviews the team debriefed and shared their thoughts and reflections on the process. They commented on how hard it was when the candidate began to cry. One S.O.S.A. asked if we should just let everyone be a S.O.S.A? At this point I sat on my hands and bit my lip so as not to intervene. Two other S.O.S.A.’s spoke up and said, “No we did the right thing. We have worked hard to create this position and our reputation. We can’t let everyone who applies be a S.O.S.A., it wouldn’t be fair.” This group of students blew me away with their reflection and thoughtfulness of the process and their role as student leaders in our school.

I began to wonder, what might it look like if a student sat on our interview team for teachers? What insight might they bring that we are completely missing? Would they help us see teaching candidates through another lens?

 

Jen Robinson

Maricopa, Arizona

Hello, my name is Jen Robinson. I have been in education for over 20 years. I began teaching in Buffalo, NY in 1992, as a pre-school special education teacher. My experience ranges from primary grades through high school. My husband and I moved to Arizona in 2001, where we were fortunate enough to teach at the same school. In 2004, I achieved National Board Certification and currently support candidates. In 2011 I completed my Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation. My dissertation research focused on supporting National Board candidates through their certification process. During the 2012-2013 school year, I completed my National Board renewal process. It was humbling and very powerful to step back into a classroom. I am currently an elementary principal. I am excited and hopeful for the new school year. I also serve on the Arizona Teacher Solutions Team where we are solutions focused in an effort to transform and elevate the teaching profession.

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Comments 1

  1. Sandy Merz

    I hope you continue writing about SOSA. I’ve often thought that just as teachers have unique credibility in talking about effect of policy on practice, so do students. But where teachers’ voices are often ignored by policy makers, students’ voices are often ignored by teachers.

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