You’re a principal who’s convinced that students benefit when their teachers collaborate. But one of your teachers thinks those “professional learning community” meetings are a total waste of time. He’s dug in his heels. What do you do?

Mock interview session for principal intern at WSU Vancouver
Intern Lisa Washburn, far right, is interviewed by three principals, from left: Lauren Hobson, Mary Horn, Jody ViDelco

The answer to questions like that one is the difference between those who get interviewed for principal’s jobs, and those who get hired. Which is why mock interviews are a key part of the WSU College of Education’s principal certification programs in Vancouver, Spokane and the Tri-Cities. At Vancouver, the  third and final year of the  program is a school-based internship that is packaged with “Pursuing the Position” activities: monthly seminars, frequent reflections, school visits by WSU faculty supervisors, and those mock interviews.

Some 175 principals and assistant principals have received their certification through WSU Vancouver. Every year the mock interview session brings some of those school leaders back to campus to help those following in their footsteps–and do a little socializing while nibbling Cougar Gold cheese.

This month, 21 interns were interviewed by 38 principals and assistant principals. Each mock interview lasted 75 minutes and included a review of the intern’s resume, sample letter of application, and update on major internship projects.

“The interview teams were three or four members each, simulating what an interview might be like for a school district position,” said program director Gay Selby, who explains at the end of this post how she would deal with that reluctant teacher described above. “The primary purpose of the interviews is give the interns feedback, which they get after nearly every answer.”

‘Even worth missing the first half’

Intern Susan Watson’s feedback on the feedback was glowing. She wrote: “My resume got 100 percent approval and I have a little tweaking to do on my letter of interest. I may feel ready for the new role of principal in my head and heart, but I have much to learn about how to communicate that readiness.”

Ryan Theodoriches, another intern and a Gonzaga basketball fan, described the experience as so great that it was “even worth missing the first half of the Zags game.”

The Vancouver principal interns also get to see the flip side of the process. They volunteer to interview WSU students who will soon be heading out to find their first teaching jobs.

In Spokane, the mock interviews have been happening for ten years.  Program director Jim Howard says he’s moved by the willingness of busy administrators, including school superintendents, to devote an entire evening each spring to give feedback to WSU principal interns.

The Tri-Cities program, like Spokane’s, lasts two years and the internships are simultaneous with the course work. “We do the mock interviews a little differently,” says Tri-Cities director Danny Talbot. “Our interns interview prospective teachers  along with principals and human resources people from the school districts–and then are interviewed themselves. It’s great practice. We do it spring and fall.”

Practice makes perfect at the undergraduate level, too. In Pullman, the Future Teachers and Leaders of Color organization offers mock interview sessions to prepare students for the teacher education program admissions process. This spring, organizers expected ten participants. Forty showed up.

Gay’s answer to the question

So how should a principal deal with a teacher’s resistance to professional learning community (PLC) meetings?  Here’s what Gay Selby would do: “I would start by asking him why the meetings aren’t helpful. Then I would tell him what assets I think he brings to the PLC and why his contributions are important. I would seek his commitment to attend the next meeting. Finally, I would ask if he would like me to attend as an observer–and then we would talk again.”