Demo Lessons at Scale in a Virtual Climate: Lessons from D.C. Public Schools

Written by 
Lauren Dachille

Demo Lessons at Scale in a Virtual Climate: Lessons from D.C. Public Schools

Given the incredible impact that teachers have on student outcomes, hiring decisions are among the most critical functions of any K-12 organization. Unfortunately, research shows that there is still much room for improvement when it comes to identifying and selecting top performers in the hiring process. One screening tool that has gotten much attention, especially amidst recent school closures, is the demo lesson. 

While demo lessons can be a heavy lift — both for candidates and screeners — when facilitated and scored carefully, they can also be a strong predictor of classroom effectiveness. Furthermore, principals tend to value the results of performance-based assessments and may therefore weigh demo lesson results more heavily than other screening factors.

So what is a demo lesson and how can schools facilitate them at scale, especially in the current virtual climate?

First, a demo lesson or teaching audition can be collected as part of the screening process, either as a video upload or a live lesson that happens as part of a school site visit. Typically, lessons range from 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the context, and are supplemented by a feedback-incorporation component, either as a re-teach or as part of a follow-up interview. As you consider how to incorporate demo lessons in your context, it’s important to avoid creating substantial barriers for candidates and to train hiring managers on how to facilitate demo lessons and use the results.

At D.C. Public Schools, the demo lesson has been part of the screening and hiring process for almost a decade, and has been shown effective in predicting outcomes on the District’s teacher evaluation system. In the early days, live teaching auditions in front of a real DCPS classroom were coordinated by the central office Human Capital Team for every candidate put into the pre-screened hiring pool. However, this original process proved to be time-consuming, creating challenges in a highly competitive market for teachers. 

Today, DCPS has evolved to use the demo lesson as a step in the process only for candidates where more evidence of efficacy is needed. Rather than being a mandatory part of the pre-screen, demo lessons are typically facilitated by school leaders at the school site in the later stages of the process, before an offer is given. This has reduced the number of demo lessons needed and shortened processing time for applicants. 

A critical part of the screening process at DCPS is a team of 60 Teacher Selection Ambassadors (TSAs) — high performing DCPS teachers who do part-time work each hiring season scoring applications, interviews and demo lessons for candidates in their same subject area. This program is relatively inexpensive, provides a growth pathway for DCPS teachers, and ensures that subject matter experts score all teaching demonstrations. TSAs receive 20 hours of training prior to starting the program, including anti-bias training and norming on all of the District’s hiring rubrics. 

Adjusting the demo lesson process to the current virtual hiring environment has been the next step in the evolution of DCPS’s administration of demo lessons. They’ve made some key changes to their demo lesson scoring — namely, for demo lessons that may not have a live student audience they are focusing on identifying evidence of core teaching competencies rather than a hard scoring against the typical rubric. They’ve also made tweaks to their teaching audition guide and have provided substantial guidance to principals and candidates on how to prepare for virtual demo lessons, including facilitating a webinar training series for hiring managers. 

At Nimble, we have five recommendations for facilitating demo lessons in the current virtual hiring climate and beyond:

  1. Don’t require demo lessons from every potential candidate — reserve them only for those under serious consideration and where additional information is needed;
  2. For now, consider other, more virtual-friendly sources of information on candidate effectiveness, like structured professional reference checks, which have been shown to be effective predictors of classroom effectiveness;
  3. Build capacity by training current high performing teachers or instructional coaches to help score demo lessons in their subject area and align scoring to teacher evaluation rubrics;
  4. Train hiring managers to ensure they know how to facilitate successful virtual demo lessons where needed, and are bought in on the importance of the data they gather;
  5. Provide resources to ensure candidates are comfortable with a virtual demo lesson format where it is used.

For more information on facilitating demo lessons in a virtual context, including sample preparation materials for candidates and hiring managers, see the Demo Lessons section of our coronavirus resources page

Lauren Dachille
Founder & CEO @ Nimble