Once you’ve sent your application package off, you will find yourself waiting, waiting, and then waiting some more. At times this wait can be no more than a day or two, but in instances like the application process to become an occasional teacher it can be a multi-month long stretch.
Your resume is finished. Your cover letter is set. There’s nothing more to do, right?
This article will explain the most effective ways to use your time between sending off your application, and preparing responses for the most likely interview questions you will find yourself answering.
This is the second part of this multi-part series explaining:
My background is with the Toronto District School Board, and this information is shaped through the lens of the many interviews I and my colleagues have been through in the TDSB, and surrounding GTA boards.
This advice also applies to boards both inside, and outside of Canada. It is also useful for experienced teachers who are looking to interview when changing schools, seeking leadership positions, or looking to become administrators.
What do I need to know before I interview?
If the application process is crafting blueprints, this stage is breaking ground and ensuring that a strong foundation is in place.
To prepare, before you even start to think about the questions and answers, you need to consider:
- Step one: Strengthen your foundational understanding
- Step two: Internalize the language of education
- Step three: Read key documents
- Step four: Look at board-specific resources
Nothing can stand without a strong foundation, but a strong foundation will last generations.
Step One: Strengthen your Foundational Understanding
At the time of this writing, it is February 2022. Why is that important? Because education is always changing. What would have been written here in 2002 is very different to what you’ll see today. And, if you’re reading this in 2025 this may be completely out of date. However, I doubt that. Written from a skills-based, pedagogy-first perspective, the foundational resources here should last for your entire career. Which isn’t to say that new data-driven responses won’t reshape things in the future, but that will only augment the following pieces.
Universal Design for Learning
What is Universal Design for Learning?
It’s a pedagogical framework that suggests rather than individually accommodating students, teachers should consider the implementation of pre-accommodations for all students, so that specific changes are rarely, if ever, required.
Watch this Introduction to Universal Design for Learning for a fuller understanding
I have led a number of professional development sessions, both locally and internationally for public and private schools using the materials in the video above. While this is not replacement for live-interactions, I have done my best to ensure that education workers can engage with enhancing their craft, at a time that best suits their individualized needs.
Would you like to know more?
- ONE WARM COAT: A Practical Guide to Universal Design for Learning
- A Guide to Understanding IEP Areas for Growth and Accommodations
- Using Headings to Chunk Assignments
Assessment and Evaluation
In Ontario a document titled Growing Success was released in 2010. It is the guiding document that outlines assessment and evaluation in Ontario. As such, all Ontario teachers should know it, understand it, and practice it.
This isn’t always the case.
And one of the main reasons for that, is that the document is intimidating. Hundreds of pages long, only the first few dozen are necessary for most educators. Universal Design for Learning was not considered during the creation of that text.
Watch this Complete Breakdown of Growing Success for a fuller understanding
Growing success explains the importance of allowing students multiple opportunities to demonstrate their learning. It focuses on each assignment being considered in a continuum of skills demonstration, rather than ascribing an arbitrary percentage to each piece (for example, the paragraph written on the fifth day of class is forever worth an unchanging 5% of final grades).
It’s just good pedagogy
A number of prominent American school boards are beginning to use a Growing Success style approach to their own assessment and evaluation practices. Why is that? Because it’s good pedagogy. So many teachers were resistant to the document at first, claiming it was just another fad and that education should actually be X, Y and Z.
Each time I explain to those educators that Growing Success codified X, Y, and Z well over a decade ago they are shocked. And are willing to give it a second look.
The biggest problem Growing Success has is a PR problem. As for the document itself? It’s fantastic. And it (or the short video above) will let you know everything you need to know about assessment and evalution.
Would you like to know more?
- Inquiry Based Learning: A Practical Introduction for Teachers and Education Workers
- It’s not Mark Inflation, it’s Grade Reframing: Marking Under Growing Success (Ontario Teachers)
Step Two: Internalize the Language of Education
It’s one thing to walk the walk, but there is always something to be said about being able to talk the talk. Especially when you only have thirty minutes to show everything you know. What follows is a completely incomplete glossary of education terms, what they mean, and how to use them in a sentence.
I started off learning the terms more as a joke than anything else. But year after year, I realized that when I used them in conversation it was no longer for satirical effect, but rather because they were the best ways to explain a number of key concepts.
The more you use the terms, the more natural they’ll feel, and the easier it is to use them without even thinking about it. Having practice conversations with friends, colleagues, or people on the bus – trying to use as many of the terms as possible – will help get you ready to use them during your interview.
An achievement gap is the gap between a student’s recorded – grades-based – performance, and their expected performance based on their peers.
Samantha’s achievement gap is more closely connected with her inability to submit work, rather than her curricular knowledge. By focusing on submitting her work, she will be able to quickly close that gap.
An autodidact is an intrinsic learner. It is a student who learns on their own, and who desires to enhance their own education, without the constant supervision and guidance of a teacher.
By using project-based learning I focus on instilling transferable skills that will empower my students to become autodidacts who apply the in-class learning, throughout their entire experience.
An action plan are the steps you have designed to move from where you are, to where you want to be. It removes a goal as something that exists in theory, to something that is being actively worked towards.
After I identified that skills gaps existed in my students transferring in from from Mr. Windor’s class, I created an action plan that focused on identifying learning gaps, focusing on soft-skill development, and scaffolding foundational knowledge for success.
Assessment is incredibly close to evaluation. And yet, it is very far away. Some documents (like Growing Success) will use them interchangeably at times, but use them correctly in other instances. Go figure.
Assessment is when teachers gain a strong understanding of student ability, so that they can tailor their teaching to the needs of their students. It is the consuming of information students demonstrate.
By providing my students with a number of differentiated opportunities, I was able to gain a substantial amount of assessment data. It seems that while all my students understand Inferring, I need to refocus my teaching of Connecting to ensure a fuller understanding.
When you start to plan your yearly calendar, you can’t look at Day 1 first. You need to look at the final day of the year, and determine what curricular expectations you need to teach, and what overall expectations you will be evaluating. Then, you need to chunk your units, and plan them backwards by identifying what will be evaluated by the end, before considering how to approach the teaching to lead students to those goals.
By backwards planning my year, my units, and my individual lessons, I have ensured a clear roadmap from where students are beginning from, and where they need to end up to be successful next year.
Do you have a digital classroom or Learning Management System (LMS) to enhance your brick-and-mortal classroom? Great. That’s a blended learning environment.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, some educators were resistant to Blended Learning because they didn’t see the value in integrating technology in the classroom. Now, however, it’s almost impossible to teach any other way.
When we build capacity we enhance the abilities of the entire organization. Some principals may look to build capacity by rotating educators through a variety of grade levels, to ensure that there are a number of individuals who have the skills to perform key tasks.
We let Lisa teach the Grade 9 students for the last fifteen years, because she was the expert. But then she retired. Now we don’t have anyone capable of teaching Grade 9 effectively. I sure wish that we had focused on Building Capacity by pairing her up with other teachers while she was still in the building, so they could learn from her. We can’t afford to make that mistake again.
Chunking is taking a big picture piece, and breaking it into smaller sections. You are already chunking your year into units, and your units into individual days. Consider how you are further chunking those days into differentiated activities, and those activities and assignments into manageable sections.
Why yes, I do know that I have given my grade 9 students a 36 page assignment. Here’s the thing though: I’ve been chunking it so that they are only give one or two double-sided pages a week. And each of those double sided pages is further chunked into smaller tasks that we can walk through as a class, providing immediate feedback and assistance. My chunked 36 page assignment is more accessible than your 4 page piece.
We can’t just do things because we feel they are the right thing to do. Well, I mean, we can. And we should be doing the right thing. But, when they’re data driven (when you have some research to back up your choices) that’s when you have a strong pathway forward to support your direction. It will also help bring others on board.
By taking a data driven approach to the implementation of Universal Design for Learning in our department, we are assessing student performance from the previous year to this year, while looking at how prior cohorts performed during this transitional time. By recognizing a 15% increase in achievement levels, we understand the importance of moving forward with this initiative.
Do you remember that one assignment your teacher had you do in high school, all those years ago? The one that stands out, even though everything else just blurs together? That was a deep learning activity.
By providing a differentiated opportunity for students to demonstrate their learning through self-selected multimodal expressions, focused around the integration of modern technology and app development, they have engaged in a deep learning evaluative piece that ties directly into their curricular expectations.
Ensuring that information is not only held by one person, or one group of people. You could desilo information in a department, a school, or a school board.
The most frustrating thing about this initiative is that it feels like we’re all trying to reinvent the wheel. And, while we now have one awesome wheel, I wish the board had created a pathway for us to desilo our information with other schools in our learning network, so that they could grow from our creations, and we could integrate the successful parts of theirs.
Giving students choice. That’s what differentiated instruction is. Don’t say “Write an essay” say, “Demonstrate your skills by choosing to create a piece that highlights them. This demonstration could be a…”
By providing my students with a differentiated evaluative piece, they were able to engage with the demonstration of their learning on their own terms, creating an environment where they wanted to demonstrate, and perform at their highest levels of success.
Tied closely to the concept of assessment, evaluation is where teachers communicate a student’s learning progress to them. Often times this comes in the form of levels, or numerical grades.
Assessment is where teachers receive information from students. Evaluation is where students receive information from teachers.
After multiple assessment opportunities, where students were provided with descriptive feedback, they received a final evaluation in the form of an overall grade level.
That kid at the back of the class getting an 80 without trying? They’re likely high-achieving, under-performing. If they have the ability to achieve a 90 or 95, but they’re choosing to stick with their low-effort 80, they’re high achieving, but still under performing.
Sam thought that I wouldn’t notice they were a high-achieving, under-performing student, but when I recognized they had the ability to achieve above their current level, I created an action plan to engage them in future learning.
Hi interest; Low barrier. Something that can be accessed by almost anyone, but is still rich enough for fulsome discussions and learning opportuinties.
These are the new HiLo texts. They discuss adult scenarios, but are written at a 400 Lexile level so that students can demonstrate their literacy skills, without complex readings impacting their overall achievement.
How many modalities do you want to engage with? Written? Oral? Visual? Something else entirely? Go for it. Be multimodal.
The information was presented to students through multimodal learning opportunities. In-class handouts were reinforced by video clips that could be accessed through the blended learning environment, and followed up with through short discussions and oral lectures. Finally, visual images were sorted to convey the practical application of those skills, so that students could engage with the material using a variety of modalities.
Project-based learning is a form of learning where students do not spend all day being lectured by their teacher. Instead, their teacher sends them off on a journey to develop something that demonstrates their learning, while augmenting the chunked sections through brief instances of direct instruction.
No, I do not stand at the front of the classroom and lecture for 75 minutes each day. I scaffolded the foundational skills for success at the beginning of the term, and now let students engage in project-based learning, when they can apply their skills outside of the classroom, and create meaningful expressions, while acting as agents of change in the world around them. It takes the pressure off of me to perform for over an hour ever day, enhances students engagement, and increases overall student success. It’s the way to go, in my book.
On student reports, you will see the term percentile. It indicates what percentage of individuals in the same group, this individual out-performed.
Lisa is in the 95th percentile for their oral decoding skills. They can fully demonstrate their learning, better than most other students when they use an audio book. However, their written decoding skills are in the 5th percentile, meaning almost all other students outperform them there. What has been undertaken to assess this student’s learning gaps, and are there previously successful strategies that should be implemented, before we create an action plan to help enhance their success, closing their achievement gap?
Before you teach X you need to ensure you’ve taught Y. Grade 10 skills are scaffolded on top of grade 9 skills. Scaffolding is the practice of not moving on before you have secured the prior level of understanding.
By reviewing all key literacy skills at the start of each year, using grade-appropriate materials, I ensure that there is a foundational knowledge that I can use to scaffold future learning on top of. By spiraling the integration of my learning skills, I ensure that the scaffolding remains secure, and that students are constantly prepared for their new learning.
There is more to school than sitting in class. There is the relationship between students, and the caring adult in the building, students and their peers, teachers and their colleagues, staff and the administration, and so much more. School culture is the overall feelings people have within a building. A strong school culture encourages everyone to perform at their best. A poor school culture allows for underperformance to feel acceptable.
Spirit weeks, and bar-be-ques create a strong school culture, that is further enhanced by extra curricular activities. That’s what keeps students happy to come to the building, and engaged in their learning. Strong administrators understand the importance of enhancing school culture for staff too, by providing them with the occasional lunch or breakfast before parent teach interviews, or on teacher appreciation day. While they may have to pay out of pocket, department heads often do that for their teams as well – because educators know the importance school culture has on individualized success.
Shared leadership is the understanding that no one person knows everything. If you have a supervisor who tells you they know what things need to occur for success to be reached, they are not engaging in shared leadership. A shared leadership model is one that values the experiences and knowledge of everyone – and from that combined understanding, a decision forward is made.
While I appreciate your view in the best way to move forward with this initiative, I think we need to step back and view this through a shared leadership lens, where education workers are asked for their feedback, as the way they see things from their daily experience in the classroom is different from how we see things in the office – removed from the day-to-day education of students. Similarly, we need to bring in student voice, so that we can benefit from their views, before charting a way forward that synthesizes all of these view points. Additionally, what do you think about including parent voice in this planning?
Step Three: Read Key Documents
There is always more to learn. These documents should provide you the foundational knowledge you need to seek out other texts to fill in your individualized learning gaps.
Ministry Document: Mental Health information
- Promotes positive mental health at school
- Understanding co-morbidity (multiple disorders at once)
- 15% – 20% of teens affected (5 – 6 per classroom)
- Focus on Differentiated Inquiry-Based assessment opportunities
- Enhance student autonomy through choice
- Create positive and meaningful environment
- Increase academic confidence
- Reduce stigma
- Prepare single-shot lessons that can be used throughout the year focusing on Mental Health to encourage discussion
- Page 30 – Common Signs of Anxiety
- Page 34 – 37 – How it presents, successful strategies
- Page 63 – “Strategies that Promote a Calm Classroom Atmosphere to Help all Students Pay Attention
John Malloy’s Key Note Summaries
John Malloy is a superintendent for San Ramon Valley Unified School District (as of February 2022), and the former director of education for the Toronto District School Board.
His key note speeches provide a wealth of knowledge for all beginning and experienced teachers.
- John Malloy’s Keynote Speech at TDSB Unleashing Learning 2018 (Summarized)
- TDSB Director, John Malloy’s Keynote Speech at TDSB Unleashing Learning 2019 (Summarized)
Ministry Document: Assessment and Evaluation, and Beyond
- Strong pedagogical understanding of assessment and evaluation
- See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbGTfpHrtFQ
WhatBinder around the Web
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Step Four: Look at Board-Specific Documents
Educators looking to apply to the Toronto District School Board should familiarize themselves with the following documents:
- Strategy to Address City Growth and Intensification
- Senior Level Organizational Responsibilities and Reporting Structure
- Multi-Year Strategic Action Plan
- Mental Health and Well-Being Action Plan
- TDSB YouTube Channel
Next up – I’ll describe the five basic questions that are asked at almost every teacher interview, and I’ll provide you with the frameworks required to formulate a strong response.
Continue the Series:
- Part Zero: How to Apply to the TDSB
- Part One: How to Land an Interview
- Part Two: Preparing for an Interview
- Part Three: Interview Questions… and Answers
Michael Barltrop has been teaching since 2006, integrating comics, video games, and TTRPGs into his classroom. He has been the head of English, Literacy, and Universal Design. Feel free to reach out through Twitter @MrBarltrop!
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