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Monday, February 1, 2016

Combines in Schools? Recruiting #1 Draft Picks

Combines in Schools?
Recruiting #1 Draft Picks

By Kyle Barrentine
Principal, Decatur Middle School
MSD of Decatur Township
PhD Student
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University


Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

            The NFL Draft is still three months away, yet the screening of prospects and the ranking of “applicants” have already started.  In reality, recruiting #1 draft picks is an ongoing, day-to-day process, where NFL scouts, general managers, and coaches keep track of prospects all year long.  Consider the following:

Ø  This weekend, college football seniors will participate in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama where they will be evaluated by hundreds of NFL scouts. These scouts will be projecting players’ abilities to be successful in the NFL.
Ø  In another month, players who have declared for the NFL draft will come to Indianapolis, Indiana to once again be evaluated by hundreds of NFL scouts and coaches. Players will be poked, prodded, interviewed, and challenged in both physical and mental tests. 
Ø  After the Draft Combine, NFL teams will host targeted players for more intense testing and interviewing; some NFL prospects will even host a “pro day,” where they set the schedule and the activities that they will complete during this time.

The goal of it all is for teams to find the very best players to join them, so that they can achieve at higher levels.  Isn’t this what principals should be doing when they search for teachers to employ . . . to find the very best teachers so that their school teams can achieve at higher levels?
We think so.  In fact, we believe this process, borne of football, can bear fruit, yielding positive results in any given K-12 school.

In order to accomplish this, principals MUST look for a #1 draft pick, each and every time they have a position open.  Every hire must be better than the last.  As our friend Dr. Todd Whitaker notes, principals should want their schools to become more like their new teachers; new teachers ideally would not become more like their schools. 
Anyone disagreeing probably isn’t a Pro-Bowler in the first place, let alone one that should be starting.

In order for principals to repeatedly find #1 draft picks, they must have specific, intentional processes that they follow for recruiting, screening, and interviewing.  It can’t exist only in the spring and summer at the height of the hiring season; not unlike the NFL, this process must be an ongoing, yearlong experience.  Recruiting consistently and intentionally can’t be emphasized enough.  Principal-as-TALENT-SCOUT is the only way to play the game, as finding the best candidates and having systems in place to locate them, is what instructional leadership is all about.
How’s it done?  Rather simply, really.
One system that principals could use would be to create, compile, and update a database of potential teaching candidates. Destination events provide the low-hanging fruit.  As principals attend teacher recruitment fairs, they could create a database of candidates that would look similar to the one below.

Teaching Area
Contact Info
Chad Champion
English 5-12
Alison All-Star
Social Studies

Principals might further populate this database any time they have student teachers, or even substitute teachers, in the building.  They might create a running list of students who declare interest in teaching, when they graduate from high school.  Deft principals may even begin the recruiting process with elective classes in middle school or high school that allow those interested in teaching to work with students in younger grades, under the guidance of the best teachers.  They might even offer these younglings a more formalized observation or evaluation, as part of their class grade, similar to what their teachers experience as part of their profession.
What a great opportunity to observe teaching in the classroom and to have informal conversations with those impressionable and energetic!  What a great way to influence mindset and the possibilities of lifelong service.  After all, don’t most NFL players dream of the big league while still in school?  Why should those who end-up as educators wait until their undergraduate experiences to dream a dream . . . to visualize?
When principals then have openings in the teaching ranks, their lists (databases) could be the first places they go in order to begin recruiting and screening.  They would be the equivalent of the NFL’s draft board. Maintained and updated from year to year, a principal’s database of candidates would grow as a rich resource.
So would the list of kids wanting to come home to their alma maters, moving back into their communities and raising families.  Place-bound educators “by choice,” with civic ties and community connections . . .  it just doesn’t get any better than that.

            Of course, having a draft system is one thing; the next, critical step in the hiring process would be the interview.  Principals, like NFL coaches, need to bring their own version of “game” to everyone’s first impression.  Lazlo Bock, Senior Vice President for People Operations at Google, shared Google’s goal when interviewing:

Remember too that you don’t just want to assess the candidate. You want them to fall in love with you.  Really.  You want them to have a great experience, have their concerns addressed, and come away feeling like they just had the best day of their lives.  It’s always worth investing time to make sure they feel good at the end of it, because they will tell other people about their experience—and because it’s the right way to treat people. (Bock, 2015, p. 90)
The interview is really the step that closes the deal for your #1 draft pick.  The process should be appropriately challenging for all candidates, loose/tight in its format, while consistent to a certain degree.  It must be fair and legal, yet malleable enough to allow for a candidate’s creativity and diversity to shine. 
Since principals are hiring people to teach, and thus in a sense, to better lives through inspiration, it is important that principals actually SEE what teachers can do, as opposed to hearing what teachers think they can do, or university professors said they can do.  The interview process should include an evaluation of the prospects’ abilities to “bring game” to the subjects for which they might compete.  We pose that this competition might involve students as commentators, more often than not.
In his book, What the Dog Saw, Malcolm Gladwell wrote that there really isn’t anything an interviewer can learn about candidates before they start that will predict how they will perform once they’re hired, so how do people really know whom to choose (Gladwell, 2009, p. 317)?  We respectfully note that much can be predicted accurately, if principals and teams are willing to take the time.
The Super Bowl is just around the corner, and thus, another great season of NFL action is about to conclude.  Well . . . from our sides of the television sets, anyway.  It’s anything but time off for those who consider themselves only as good as their next day’s best work, which must include achieving a bit more than last season, with folks who can run a bit faster, compete a bit longer, and score more effectively, as that is what the profession demands.
Combines in Schools, and recruiting #1 draft picks, can offer the same levels of success, with persistent leadership effort in growing a portfolio of viable recruits, and a selection process that works to garner the best.


Bock, L. (2015). Work rules!:  Insights from inside Google that will transform how
            you live and lead. New York, NY: Hachette Book Group.

Gladwell, M. (2009). What the dog saw and other adventure. New York, NY:
            Little, Brown, and Company.


Kyle Barrentine and Ryan Donlan are vigilant in their efforts to make each day better than the last, and each year more productive and successful in the education profession.  If you have ideas on how you are ensuring the best possible draft picks, as well as processes, in your school, please contact them at or at  They would certainly like to borrow a page out of your playbook.


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