premise is that the most important characteristics, above subject knowledge, are empathy and interpersonal skills. Subject knowledge is very important but, according to the Klassen, the relationship between the teacher and student is what enables the learning to take place and makes the difference between a memorably good – or bad - teacher.
Mr. Crehan and I have had the great privilege of being able to pick all our staff, as having been here 29 years, there is no-one that we haven't chosen ourselves. When asked what we look for in our staff we would always answer 'someone with heart'. Obviously, we do look very closely at the academic and professional achievements of teachers to help us to create a short-list, but after that the warmth and enthusiasm that the person exudes is an important factor in our choice of staff member, whether it is a teacher, a caretaker, a chef manager or a lunch assistant.
I once went on a course about interviewing and was told that we have to be aware of the 'halo/horns' effect; i.e. one mustn't make a judgement about the person from how they look or from first impressions. We are wary of this trap, always plan our interview questions very carefully and compare the strength of their answers to our questions - but the personal characteristics of the interviewee are nevertheless very influential in our choice. We are drawn to teachers and other staff who display empathy and warmth, and often this is something that we pick up from the first moment of meeting someone, so there is an element of gut instinct involved.
I would say that there are several other characteristics that we would also rate highly in our choice of teachers, with evidence of creativity, humour, spark and love of their subject - and children! - being very important. Clearly if there is lots of warmth but no strength of character or ability to be assertive, then this may not be a successful appointment either as, if there is no classroom control, then there is going to be no learning . . . but this aspect might be possible to coach.
The article is saying that you can coach various aspects of performance in a teacher to make them more effective, but that you can't change their personality. So one does need to be sure when employing teachers that they do have that basic caring instinct as part of their make-up. This does seem rather obvious, but I suspect that there are many teachers out there who may not necessarily have an abundance of this quality and have been drawn to teaching maybe through a love of their subject rather than by their love of children.
It has been interesting over the years that Mr. Crehan and I have always agreed on the choice of staff at St. Helen's; I don't think this is because they are all clones of ourselves, which is sometimes the danger when people are interviewing! There is however something about our staff here which is very 'St. Helen's' - almost before they join the school - and could perhaps be a reason why we generally have so little staff turnover.
We are about to make our most important staff appointment yet - the new Head of St. Helen's College, to join only four sets of heads (it was founded by two sisters) in its 91 year history. We have on this occasion enlisted a very experienced educational recruiting consultancy to help us to be sure to choose the right person, and each prospective Head will be put through his or her paces with many different activities to test leadership qualities, but empathy will be one of the top requirements.
Family is an important word at St. Helen's College and clearly the essence of family is warmth, empathy and love. I think that, although the academic side of the school is very important, nurturing the whole child in every aspect is even more important; without empathy in our teachers we wouldn't have the ability to bring out all the all-round strengths in our children and to understand and meet their needs.
So I do agree with the article on the importance of empathy as a character trait in teachers - and head teachers. I hope that our parents will also agree that our teachers at St. Helen's do have many outstanding qualities including warmth and empathy - the essential factors in helping to sustain the St. Helen's College family and creating a nurturing environment in which the children will put down roots and grow into wonderful, empathic, well-rounded human beings.