Christina met Dominic at the AASPA Human Capital Leadership Summit in 2022 and really was inspired by his approach to recruiting that drew from his experience in sports. Dominic graciously agreed to be interviewed and we are grateful to be able to share his wisdom here. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Christina: Hello, here we have Mr. Dominic Banks, can you please briefly describe your role and how you came into it?
Dominic: My name is Dominic Banks and I am in my 22nd year in the field of education. In 2018 after having spent several years as an Assistant Principal, the district had a position in Human Resources for Recruitment and Retention. I was part of the search team and had my sights set to become a principal. I had no thoughts about leaving the building. We didn’t find the desired candidates. In a conversation with my superintendent, he asked for my thoughts on recruitment, and I spilled my guts. I said, “Doc, you know I didn't pay attention to the position when it was posted but after reading about it it's pretty interesting and if I don't land in the principal role and this position is available in the future, I am going to apply for it.” He asked why and I just talked him through my thoughts and my vision around recruitment and retention. I spoke to him mostly about recruitment because I looked at it from the lens of recruiting student-athletes.
My Superintendent and I had a nice conversation and he says to me, “Well we need to talk more. I want to schedule a meeting with you, the Assistant Superintendent and Director of Human Resources.” So, I ended up interviewing for it and here I am. I've been the only person in this role. It is like I have this ball of clay that I get to play with and try to figure out: How to go about best recruiting teachers? How to go about best retaining teachers?
I have this ball of clay that I get to play with and try to figure this thing out: How to go about best recruiting teachers? How to go about best retaining teachers?
Christina: When we first met you mentioned that you have transferred your football recruitment skills to HR recruitment, can you please elaborate on where you see the overlap and how you have adapted those skills in your current role?
Dominic: I earned a football scholarship to the University of Delaware. I just remember going through that recruitment process. This is mid-90s so there's no social media and I'm like how are these colleges and universities finding out about me here in the southeastern part of Virginia? So, I think my first summer in the role, I cast this wide net like I wanted to touch base with everyone—every college, every university—I want all of your student teachers' names, their numbers, and so forth.
And, I do look at it through the lens of recruitment for athletes. You go wherever the best athletes are. I'll use football, if I need an offensive tackle or quarterback or 5-star running back I need to go where those individuals are. And that’s the same thing for education, you hear things, word of mouth is a powerful tool. They have a good pod of teachers in Ohio well let’s go to Ohio and talk to those individuals. There’s a good pod of student teachers down in Texas so let's go. I know that sometimes those places are a long shot, but we needed to cast a wide net in that first year.
Technology has allowed us to maintain a certain reach. We recently hired a teacher from Mexico City that I met at a virtual recruiting event. So now because of social media, you are able to build relationships with individuals globally. Because of social media, we were able to hire a husband and wife pair from Arizona. For me, it’s where can I go? Who can I speak with? Who can I convince that this is a place where they can make an impact and a change educating our young scholars? You leave no rock unturned, right, so we’re going to turn over every rock, and if we do go far and wide and you only come back with one individual, in your heart you know that one person is going to make an impact on your district.
For me, it’s where can I go? Who can I speak with? Who can I convince that this is a place where they can make an impact and a change educating our young scholars?
Christina: I love that. I see that parallel of casting a wide net like a football recruiter would. You don’t just stay within your area, your state, because you are looking for a specific role. You know casting a wide net is great, but it sounds like you also are pretty focused on what you’re looking for which is really important.
Dominic: Staying within that athletic mindset, what we’ll do is we will invite individuals to the district. I will carve out time with building principals to arrange for the individual to take a school tour. So you want to see our immersion program in action? Great, let me set that up for you, you can visit several immersion schools. It’s the same thing as a high school kid who is interested in playing football at Miami, Florida State, Notre Dame, and so forth so you get those individuals on campus.
Staying within that athletic mindset, what we’ll do is we will invite individuals to the district. I will carve out time with building principals to arrange for the individual to take a school tour.
Christina: I really like the idea of having them come visit and really see themselves as part of the team, right? You know when you’re recruiting and a high school student is visiting another city and another state for the first time and they can see themselves on that campus, taking those classes, walking to practice, it makes a big difference to really be able to feel it.
Dominic: Listen, I had several scholarship offers, Delaware being the closest to home, only 4 hours from where I grew up. When I came here, it was different. I just remember getting on campus for the weekend and being surrounded by the upperclassmen and those individuals, those guys, who I would later become their teammate, their little brother, and friend. They just welcomed me and I remember going home and sharing my experience with my mom and I was really excited even though they weren’t my number one at the time. But what happened was the recruiting coordinator spoke with me weekly throughout my process. Because of him my mother felt extremely comfortable allowing her “baby boy,” – her then 17-year-old son – go off to be in this foreign place. I spent time as a high school coach, so I know what that looks like and I am able to offer that to the teachers that we recruit and hire.
I spent time as a high school coach, so I know what that looks like and I am able to offer that to the teachers that we recruit and hire.
Christina: Yeah, and it’s not only about persistent communication but it also sounds like the quality of that communication where you can build trust with a parent and in this case with someone coming from another country or state to trust you enough to jump on board.
Dominic: I had to earn the trust of the science teacher I recruited from Mexico City, and it was not a one-shot deal. When I met her, she was a very experienced teacher. I stayed in contact with her, we talked periodically. Like you said, you have to earn someone’s trust and they have to feel comfortable with you and the district. Provide them with all the information, so they can make a very sound decision about their career because this is a big step.
This teacher was experienced, but imagine a 22-year-old coming out of the university; it is a little different for them. So, you have to be very delicate with them and that process. You want to provide them with all of the information and be available to them when they have questions.
As the face of recruitment for the district, I am also in charge of student teacher placements. That is another chance to recruit. With these students, I actually go into their classrooms. I like to see them in action. When we have students come to us from the university, I do an orientation at the beginning of the year and I also share with them that they are going to see me in their classrooms. Their student teaching is the first interview because I like to do an early-hire process in December and February. I try to go into all their classrooms and if I can’t, I’ll ask the building principals and assistant principals to assist me in this process. I want to see who is doing what, but I assure them not to be alarmed. My feedback is going to help and it’s non-evaluative.
Again, it's like recruiting: when the University of Delaware, Northern Illinois, the University of Ohio, when all those coaches came to see me play that is the same thing as me going to see a student teacher in action. I want to see you in action so that way I can have some information. I have a board and everyone is in tiers. So this individual I’ve seen them in action, and they’re like awesome, they are tier 1, I want to get them and schedule an interview with them immediately. Then I may have tier 2 individuals who I really like but I want to see them again and give them the opportunity to grow a little bit more. Student teachers are inexperienced, maybe I got to them just when they’re going into their solo teaching and they haven’t gotten settled at the time, so they’re my tier 2 folks and will get another visit.
That vision, all things sports, I love the sports thing.
Again, it's like recruiting: when the University of Delaware, Northern Illinois, the University of Ohio, when all those coaches came to see me play that is the same thing as me going to see a student teacher in action. I want to see you in action so that way I can have some information.
Christina:Yeah, and I see that coach hat on. You’re going in observing them, giving them feedback. You’re not just some HR Recruiter that they meet once and don’t see again. So, I definitely think taking on that coach persona is really important in building those relationships.
Dominic: Yes, absolutely, you need to have those opportunities to build relationships. For me, this is really important work. Initially, I never wanted to come out of the building because I enjoy being around students and teaching and learning. But, this also allows me to go into all 20—next year 21—schools to work closely with our student teachers.
But that’s just one layer. I am also responsible for our mandatory statewide mentoring program, so that’s when the retention side of things comes in for me. I get an opportunity to spend some time with our novice educators. I enjoy it. I don’t know if I would have left the building if I did not have the autonomy to do things the way I have done them over the past couple of years. You know, we’re still trying to figure it out and we have been met with the challenges of our national teacher shortage.
You need to have those opportunities to build relationships. For me, this is really important work.
Christina: Yeah, I’d actually like to ask a little more about that. So, you’re opening another school, you definitely need teachers there. So how is this national educator shortage affecting your district and how are you reacting to that challenge?
Dominic: It is definitely a challenge, fortunately for us, I think being one of Delaware's premier districts has helped. Everyone is fighting for teachers and I think we’re doing a little bit better than others. Here are some of the things we’re doing:
We work closely with the State and got a grant through HB 178. This allowed us to create a year-long residency program. This was the first year since I have been in this role that we have partnered with the colleges and universities to have year-long residents in the district. This group, once they finish their residency, will help fill some vacancies that we have throughout the district.
We get about 100 student teachers a year, so my job is to keep those individuals. I try to see them and offer them an early contract. So, some of the student teachers will be offered a contract before they before they graduate. We try to stay ahead of the curve in that way.
And then we also have our GYO (Grow Your Own) initiative at our high schools. In this Teacher Academy we’re working with these young folks trying to make sure they stay the course. They’re in high school, so anything can happen between high school graduation and college graduation so we try to provide opportunities and help along the way. We partner with universities to provide scholarships and support diversity. We tell our GYO high school students: we’re going to help as much as possible, you’re going to go off to college and you’re going to come back and you’re going to have a contract waiting for you. The opportunities range from being a substitute to learn more about the district, to serving as a paraprofessional while taking classes in the evening, to being guaranteed a full-time position once they have met the requirements.
Our next step in the GYO is to reach the middle schools, which we’ll do this Spring. I will actually go into the middle school and do kind of a recruitment event. It is designed to provide the students with information around teaching, what does teaching look like, what are the perks. We’re calling it “6 Years to 6 Figures,” because some of them may want to become school leaders. When I go into the middle schools I share that there are pathways at each of the 3 high schools, so when they do their course selection and pick their pathway, I am hoping to have encouraged them that education is where they belong.
Christina:You really are leaving no rock unturned it sounds like.
Dominic: No rock unturned. So I recently got an email, there’s an air force base near us in Dover, they’re going to do an event and I want to go down because there are service men and women looking to transition, and I want to talk to them about the field of education and how they can come and be a part of what we’re doing here in the Appoquinimink School District. Definitely not leaving a rock unturned.
Definitely not leaving a rock unturned.
Christina: Well, thank you so much for that insight and thank you for all you're doing to support future educators and the future of education as well. I definitely appreciate that.
Dominic: Thank you for having me.
Dominic Banks has had a distinguished career, connect with him on Twitter at @DeeBanks26 and @EduRecruiter302 or on LinkedIn at Dominic R. Banks.