Trilogy Blog

Building an Online Teaching Team

Author: Erika R. Carson, Ed.S.

Published: May 12, 2020

Whether you’re building a team of instructors from scratch, scaling your team of instructors, and/or trying to manage the team of instructors you already have, the first question you and your leadership team need to ask yourselves is “Who are we? What are we trying to achieve?” and “What is our plan for success?” If you’re not sure who you are and/or what you’re about, building and/or maintaining a team of qualified instructors is going to be a bit of a challenge. Every company has a different mission and a variety of goals that they have set for themselves, but it’s important that the leadership team be able to “lead” your team of instructors in the right direction. This cannot happen successfully without structure and clarity. I have developed a guideline (a rubric) that helps me to maintain our standards, keep track of what we want as we comb through candidates, and as we move through the application process.

When it comes to hiring for education companies and/or institutions, many people think that the best instructors are the smartest instructors, but based on experience, I’ll take EQ (Emotional Intelligence) over IQ any day. Sure, you want instructors with a solid grasp of content – this is still important. Misinformation is definitely more damaging than no information at all. However, when you’re putting together a team of instructors it’s for the purpose of running a service business. Figure out who you would want working for you and what their strengths need to be – communication, creative problem solving, tenacity, self-motivation, etc. That being said, you should also realize that one of your goals has to be to help students understand academic content, but in the same vein helping students learn, has to be tied to relieving the parents, schools, and/or programs of a stressful burden.  The solution (the academic service) cannot be more burdensome and/or more stressful, than the challenges being faced by the parent, school, or program, as they try to support their students’ academic needs. The burden of success should never be tossed in the lap of the client. When someone reaches out for support, it’s often because they have either reached their limit and/or they have exhausted all other resources, in their efforts to support their students. My point being, that if you have an instructor that’s book smart, but who cannot empathize with the emotional needs of the individual(s) asking for support, those individuals will seek out services that “truly get them” and who can create an emotional safety net for them. As you build your team of instructors, you want to select people who recognize this first and foremost.

 Getting back to academics, I would challenge the idea of traditional testing and/or survey of knowledge for applicants. Let me just preface this by saying that you don’t want to be unfair, but you do want to hold potential instructors to the standard and the expectations that have been set by your leadership team. Almost anyone can prepare a lesson ahead of time, and/or study for the information they will have to regurgitate on a test, but if you want to know the breadth and depth of their knowledge, related to a specific topic, giving them the answers ahead of time is not the way to go. What I do is fair – I ask applicants what their areas of expertise are, and then I ask related questions, incrementally increasing the challenge level. Sometimes helping applicants come to the realization of what they don’t actually know is a good thing for them as well. Most of the solid candidates I interview are happy and relieved when I let them know that I will never ask them to teach something outside their comfort level and that they are more than welcome to meet with me again if they believe they have improved their mastery of a topic, and want to be re-evaluated. Having the opportunity to grow is as important for the instructors as it is for the students.

 Although some people may see academic knowledge, and instructional skills as one and the same, I would circle back to the earlier comments related to having empathy. Students who come to us, whether to address deficits or in need of a higher level of challenge, are typically coming to us because the traditional classroom is not working for them. Often, they have decided they are not smart enough, that they are weird or different, and/or they have completely, emotionally “checked-out” of one specific class or school in general. So, punishing a student who is already punishing themselves, is not the path we choose when working with students. When interviewing applicants, I ask them about their own experiences in school, as well as their perceptions of education. I play the role of the student asking instructors questions that they may not be prepared to answer, carefully listening to, and observing how they respond. I want to see that an applicant is willing to roll their sleeves up and work with students to guide the student to the answer, in a way that is constructive and positive. Instructors don’t have to be cheerleaders, complimenting everything a student does (this has proven unsuccessful anyway), but they do need to be supportive, communicative, and clear. A student should never walk away from a session with their instructor feeling more confused and/or worse than when they started. So, as I interview applicants, I look at the way the applicant speaks to me when they are slightly uncomfortable or stressed. I look at the applicant’s body language as well. Students are very observant, especially if they have already faced a lot of challenges in school – they are often looking for a reason not to trust you, to confirm that you don’t like them, and/or to validate their beliefs that they are burdening you. A teacher who can “read the waters” when it comes to understanding how a student is responding to their instruction, is a teacher that I want on my team.           

These are just some of the characteristics, processes, and insights into how I go about selecting instructors that fit our mission and help us meet our goals. In addition, these are all the variables I continue to look at as I run quality checks and evaluate our current team of instructors. Students and instructors change over time, as a result of growing older, changes in lifestyle, changes in priorities, etc. Using your standards and criteria to continually evaluate the quality of the service that you are providing, and being consistent in how the process of how applicants are handled will help everyone on the team, as a team grows in the right direction.

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