Compass Rose Academy invited me to observe a critical part of their hiring process, when prospective teachers do demo lessons with real students and sit down to talk with families. Hiring the right teachers is essential for the continuing success of the school, and the process of choosing teachers reveals a lot about the Compass Rose Academy philosophy. The fact that parents and students have a say in how Compass Rose hires teachers says a lot about how the leaders hold themselves accountable to the families they serve.
Demo lessons usually happen on a Saturday at the Compass Rose Academy campus at Brooks on the South Side of San Antonio. When I visited, there was a group of school leaders on campus, including Principal Peter N. Uwalaka, Chief of Staff Ray Tijerina, and Founder and Executive Director Paul Morrissey.
The teacher candidates arrived on campus at different times and rotated through several stages. In one classroom, each candidate taught a demo lesson to a group of current students. A few teachers and administrators were in the back of the room, too. The adults were there to observe the demo lesson and also to pretend to be disruptive students and see how the teacher candidates reacted. Once each demo lesson was over, the students got to share their feedback with school leaders and report what they liked or didn’t like about each applicant.
In another classroom, the prospective teachers sat down with a group of parents of current students. The conversation went both ways. The parents asked questions about how the teachers would handle communication with families. In turn, the teachers asked the parents about the school culture and what parents have come to expect about Compass Rose Academy. Once the teachers stepped out, the parents also shared their feedback with school leaders.
Once the demo lessons and parent meetings were over, the Compass Rose Academy leadership team gathered to weigh the pros and cons of each candidate. This conversation revealed a lot about what Compass Rose Academy is looking for in a successful teacher. As part of their decision making, the school leaders considered the prospective teachers’ interactions with students at the demo lessons, as well as the parents’ impressions.
Here are some of the characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses of teacher candidates that Compass Rose studied on demo day. They are all mixed together to not reveal too much about any one candidate. Overall, they give an impression of what makes a successful teacher at Compass Rose, a school culture that wants every student to succeed—regardless of their background—and to have the character traits to do well in class, in college, and beyond.
Here are some of the positive characteristics noticed by the Compass Rose team, including students and parents.
- When the teacher makes the students do most of the work of thinking and talking about the subject.
- Using strategies to check that students know the material before moving on.
- Asking students to “turn and talk”—build conversation skills and check each other’s knowledge before going back to a group activity.
- Teachers who have presence, confidence, and assertiveness—these are important for classroom management.
- Introducing vocabulary words and reinforcing them through the lesson; for example, a prospective teacher explained that bacteria are prokaryotes, and used that term repeatedly.
- Grit: having overcome adversity in their personal journey.
- Demonstrating their intelligence by having a strong academic background, such as a degree from a selective university.
- Alignment with the mission of Compass Rose Academy. This means having high expectations of all students and wanting to see students of color—in particular, black and Latino—succeed against the odds.
- Having a diligent mindset—willing to come in on weekends or work late in situations where the students need extra help to meet their goals
- Parent communication: being prepared with specific strategies for sharing information about student progress with parents by using software, text messaging, etc.
Having an opportunity to observe demo lessons, a parent panel, and a meeting about prospective teachers gave me a sense of how Compass Rose Academy views teacher recruitment as essential to fulfilling its mission to help students succeed.
- Careers at Compass Rose Academy
- “South Side School Choice Fair at Compass Rose Academy,” Inga Cotton, San Antonio Charter Moms, March 20, 2018
- “Meet the Teacher Night at Compass Rose Academy in San Antonio,” Inga Cotton, San Antonio Charter Moms, August 21, 2017
- “Compass Rose Academy Sets Course for Southeast SA,” Bekah McNeel, Rivard Report, August 8, 2017