ARC Project profile: Teacher Selection Project

We chat with Robert Klassen, from the University of York, about his venture, the Teacher Selection Project which helps to select and develop new teachers best suited to the profession.

This project profile is part of the Aspect Research Commercialisation (ARC) Accelerator, Class of 2021. ARC (formerly SUCCESS) is now on to it’s second cohort of university-based ventures seeking to change the world through their innovative, creative and disruptive ideas.

Q: What’s your academic background and how did it lead to starting your venture?

My research field is educational psychology, so through my career I’ve been looking at teacher and adolescent motivation, and the reasons behind behaviours. Most of my research was quite theoretical but for the last eight or nine years I’ve been interested in how to actually apply that research to practice. 

Through a series of research grants in Canada, where I started my career, we started looking at how to apply motivation theories to help identify teachers who might be successful in their field. Then when I moved to the UK, I started a new project looking specifically at recruitment and development of teachers. 

Q: What does your venture aim to achieve and how does it tackle the issue?

There’s a lot of research done on recruitment, human resources and selecting people into government positions, medical education and other fields, but almost nothing about teachers, so that’s the research gap we’re filling. It’s really expensive and hard to develop people when they’re in the profession, and the idea of filtering at the selection stage wasn’t considered very systematically. 

So we use online tools such as situational judgement tests for selection – these have been used in other fields before, but not so much for selection into education. We develop psychometric tools that look at teachers’ non-cognitive attributes like resilience, empathy and emotion management.

Given the high stakes involved in choosing teachers, these tools give a detailed and accurate picture of the strengths and the weaknesses of prospective teachers using authentic video or text-based classroom simulations non-academic skills.

“We are looking to improve and streamline selection processes, but we’re also looking to do this for development processes, and using classroom simulations has been really successful in development of new teachers as well.”

Robert Klassen, Teacher Selection Project

Q: How is the ARC Accelerator program supporting you in bringing your venture to life?

I’m an academic; I’ve published papers and gotten research grants but don’t have much of an entrepreneurial bent. ARC has been a window into this whole new way of thinking about how to make a sustainable, long-term impact through a social venture. As academics, we try to develop an understanding of something, but the idea that research can make a sustainable impact through solving ‘real-life’ problems is challenging sometimes. So my impression of ARC is that it’s really supportive, exciting and challenging for those of us who haven’t been brought up to ‘think entrepreneurially’ as a way to create new funding streams to benefit society. 

The big thing that I’ve learned is that while we might be experts about our research subjects,, as an entrepreneur, it’s about addressing needs. It’s so important to listen and try to put myself in the shoes of potential clients and customers to address their actual needs, not the needs I think they should have based on research findings. Most potential clients just want help in solving a difficult problem, and that’s where we can use our social sciences training – to help people solve challenging problems. 

Photo credit: Tima Miroshnichenko via Pexels

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