As Microsoft’s high-tech School of the Future readies to open its doors to an inaugural class of students this fall in Philadelphia, officials there have released a new freely accessible online resource designed to help educational institutions tap the right personnel to fill key jobs.

Dubbed, the “Education Competency Wheel,” administrators contend the resource, already being used by educators in Philadelphia, is the first of many Best Practice-type solutions that will be rolled out to schools nationwide as a result of the software-maker’s $63-million collaboration with the nation’s seventh-largest public school system.

First used by Microsoft as a tool for aiding in the global hiring process, the competency wheel consists of layers of skill-sets and personality characteristics–attributes its designers say represent the full spectrum of talents necessary to help school districts achieve success in the 21st century.

Six core “success factors,” make up the wheel’s hub. These include Individual Excellence, Organizational Skills, Courage, Results, Strategic Skills, and Operating Skills. From the hub there extend a series of spokes depicting 37 specific competencies deemed essential for success by the school district, Microsoft, parents, teachers, and other stakeholders consulted during the project. For example, the section dedicated to Individual Excellence includes 11 “competency areas,” including Interpersonal Skill, Motivating Others, Building Effective Teams, Valuing Diversity, and Learning.

In conjunction with these attributes, the wheel features brief descriptions of each quality, meant to help human resource managers and administrators predict a particular job candidate’s proficiency in a given competency area. The wheel also provides other resources, including sample interview questions and suggestions for helping candidates nurture particular skill-sets.

According to Mary Cullinane, group manager for Microsoft’s U.S. Partners in Learning Program and a corporate leader of the School of the Future project, the wheel encourages prospective employees and employers to think about the jobs they are trying to fill in the context of real-world scenarios, as opposed to a series of hypothetical and sometimes meaningless questions.

“[The Education Competency Wheel] creates an outline that allows you to be really reflective from a skill-set perspective…about where you need to go,” said Cullinane, a former teacher.

The version of the wheel used in Philadelphia and now available to schools online was developed in partnership with Lominger Limited Inc., a Minneapolis-based consulting and leadership firm that collaborated with administrators, teachers, parents, and other school district stakeholders to identify the competencies and attributes featured as part of the resource. Microsoft says the project represents just one of the many ways public-private partnerships can be used to the benefit of public schools.

According to Tomas Hanna, senior vice president for the Office of Human Resources with School District of Philadelphia, the resource already is being used by administrators to identify candidates for leadership positions throughout the district.

By encouraging job applicants to discuss their past successes as part of the interview process, Hanna says, the competency wheel represents “a good predicator of future success.”

Whether identifying candidates for district-level leadership roles, placing principals, or hiring new teachers to staff open classrooms, he said, the idea is to “put the right people in the right places” to promote the district’s ultimate goal of boosting student achievement.

Among the many tasks the Education Competency Wheel reportedly has helped with in Philadelphia are more clearly defining specific job profiles, evaluating job applicants, and structuring interviews to more accurately assess candidates on a case-by-case basis, said Hanna. The district already has used the tool to place and identify at least 15 principals as well as to aid in its ongoing search for a new chief operating officer. Eventually, he said, the same competency wheel could be used to identify classroom teachers, and predict success at other building-level positions.

Though it’s unlikely any single administrator or district-level employee would embody all 37 of the competencies identified on the wheel, he said, the key is to identify particular skills in certain individuals and to combine those skills so that the district, from top to bottom, encompasses the broadest representation of talent possible.

“It’s all about modeling behavior,” said Hanna. “Identifying the best people…getting them in the right places…focusing on a goal.”

By making the wheel and its associated resources available for free to schools via the internet, Cullinane says she hopes districts nationwide will adapt the tool as a means of guiding certain hiring and personnel decisions.

“Most districts simply aren’t even aware of this as a methodology,” she said. The idea is to help schools become more efficient from the outset by making better hiring and staffing decisions.

Philadelphia’s School of the Future is slated to open on Sept. 7.

Links:

Education Competency Wheel web site
http://www.microsoft.com/education/competencies/default.mspx

Microsoft Corp.
http://www.microsoft.com

School of the Future web site
http://www.microsoft.com/education/schooloffuture.mspx

School District of Philadelphia
http://www.phila.k12.pa.us/

City of Philadelphia
http://www.phila.gov/

Lominger Limited Inc.
http://www.lominger.com/