Wilburton Elementary: Staffing from scratch

Wilburton Elementary Principal Beth Hamilton sitting at a table with students.

Wilburton Elementary is a state-of-the-art school being built from the ground up, following the guidance of the Microsoft Education Transformation Framework, and is a collaborative effort between the Bellevue School District (BSD) and Microsoft. Follow Wilburton’s progress as it happens, from breaking ground to becoming a true 21st century learning community when it opens its doors in September 2018.


When Wilburton Elementary opens next fall, its more than 400 students will experience a state-of-the-art campus and an innovative curriculum designed to help them thrive. As I watch the building taking shape just a few miles from our Microsoft campus, I can almost see those students bursting through the front doors for the first time.  But Principal Beth Hamilton knows that none of that will matter without the right team in place.

So, as the foundations are laid, and the physical space begins to take shape, we wanted to take a closer look as Hamilton turns her attention to hiring.

Constructing a building is relatively straightforward, but constructing a team of committed educators, sharing a common mindset and teaching philosophy, is something else entirely. It’s a challenge I’ve seen play out time and again. Even with a hiring cycle that’s been moved up from March to December, it’s a big job.

Hamilton knew that Wilburton’s unique mission would attract candidates from both inside and outside of her district, but how would she find the right candidates? Communication would be key.

Taking advantage of Skype, Hamilton began holding webinars for teachers in the Bellevue School District. The one-hour sessions gave her the ideal platform to get teachers excited about the school and to gauge their interest in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“What I appreciated about the webinars is they really gave me an authentic way to share the vision and the mission of the school using my voice,” Hamilton told me. “One of the biggest pieces was sharing the commitment I want everyone to have, my commitment to professional development, and my focus on collaboration and learning together.”

Just as important, she could answer questions in real time through chat, helping these potential Wilburton educators get a richer picture of what Hamilton envisions for the school.

Finding teachers who are interested in helping to create the Wilburton community is just the first step, of course. Finding the right teachers is what’s really important to Hamilton.


Asking the right questions


Hamilton looks to the ISTE Standards for Educators as a guide for the skills her teachers need to be successful at Wilburton, noting that these are innate skills. The ISTE Standards also help her when she’s interviewing candidates.

ISTE CEO Richard Culatta agrees. “Technology on its own is meaningless,” Culatta says. “But in the hands of teachers who give students the autonomy and support, technology becomes a powerful tool for creating, collaborating, and problem solving.  Technology has the potential to put students in the driver’s seat of their learning. This requires a mindset of starting with the learning goals and then asking how technology can help achieve those goals. This is the foundation for the ISTE Standards for Educators. We’re proud to support Wilburton and other innovative schools around the world that understand the power of using technology in support of transformational learning.”

Finding educators who demonstrate continuous learning and leadership, encourage positive digital citizenship, and who can collaborate, design learner-driven activities, facilitate learning with technology, and effectively use data to meet learning goals, means asking the right questions.

For Hamilton, that means getting to an educator’s passion for teaching, how they inspire learning in others (adults and students), how they facilitate the use of technology tools in the classroom to amplify learning for all students, understanding their own professional learning and goals, and their beliefs around equity and inclusion. The ISTE Standards guide these topics, supported by several education competencies, which outline core principles for identifying key skills.


Connecting hiring to the Wilburton vision


Wilburton’s STEM curriculum and status as a Microsoft Showcase School means that technology will be part of its DNA, as it is in so many of the exemplary schools I’ve visited around the globe. But that doesn’t mean the school’s teachers need to be technology experts.

“While I think it’s important that our teachers know how to use technology and they see it as a benefit, I am looking for candidates who are innovative and have a willingness and mindset of moving, growing and collaborating, and are not afraid to try new things,” Hamilton explained to me. “Technology is important, but I think that the mindset and skills of being a problem solver and being willing to fail is almost more critical. We can teach you how to integrate technology as long as you’re willing to try it.”

Hamilton is also asking herself – and her leadership team – some critical questions, guided by Microsoft’s Education Transformation Framework:

  • Which learning outcomes and curriculum requirements need to be developed to achieve our vision?
  • What impact will the vision have on teacher requirements and expectations?
  • What are the minimum qualifications/expectations for new and existing teachers?
  • Which policies will need to be developed to support teachers and staff in their work and continual learning?


Building a teaching community


She’s still months away from having a fully-formed teaching team, but Hamilton is already knee-deep in planning a professional development strategy. Like so many of the best school leaders I’ve met, she started by seeking input from colleagues in her district and around the country, asking, “What do we need to do to start a new school?

“Professional development is my entire job right now,” Hamilton says. “I’m working with our curriculum director, our computer science/STEM team, our instructional technology team, the special education and early learning departments, and more. We’re going to brainstorm what we need to do and how we prioritize equity and inclusion, technology, and positive behavior support. We also have to learn each other’s names and become colleagues and a community!”

Plans include certifying all her new hires as Microsoft Innovative Educators (MIEs). That’s one of the technology pieces. Beyond that, Hamilton is working to build a continuous learning culture at Wilburton. By the time the school opens, teachers will have had the opportunity to take advantage of over 100 hours of paid professional development – enough to get everyone on the same page and to set the stage for growth.

Hamilton’s vision of making Wilburton the center of a vibrant community of learners, teachers and parents hinges on her ability to hire the right educators. It hinges on educators who are willing to challenge themselves and who are not afraid to fail as they push to change the culture of learning. Once they’re on board, the real work begins, and I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing how this brand-new school unlocks students’ limitless potential.


Up next: Professional development


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