Does your school have a teaching philosophy?

having a bit of a ponderOne of the questions I often ask participants on the IDLTM course is whether their school has a teaching philosophy and, if so, what that philosophy is.  I haven’t kept accurate records of the responses, but in probably about 15% of cases the response is that there is one and that is stated somewhere (usually in the marketing materials). And in the vast majority of other cases the response is that there is nothing written down, but there is something unwritten which is understood.

We then, usually, get into a discussion of how it is understood, by whom, and how something like this which is unstated can be adhered to (and monitored).

So, what about your school?  Do you have something written down?  If so it’s likely to be somewhere in your marketing materials (or possibly, but rarely, in your mission statement(s)).  It probably uses words and phrases like “student-centred” and “communicative”.  There may be something in your brochure/website that says that classes will involve group work or similar (for the benefit of students so that they know what to expect).

If you don’t have something written, then do you feel like you have a teaching philosophy?  If you observed a teacher delivering a 30 minute lecture on some finer point of meta-language for example, how would you respond? What would tell you (and the teacher) that this was going against the unwritten rules?

So, if you’ve bothered trying to answer these questions, then you’re probably responding that the adherence to and the understanding of the teaching philosophy comes from some combination of the recruitment policy, the professional development that is offered, and observations.  It’s possible that the coursebooks or other syllabus and curriculum documents come into this process as well.  Is that about it? (Please leave comments if I’ve missed something out).

But let’s question this. Not because I think the student-centred, communicative, etc etc approach that we all sort of accept is the wrong one.  But because Senge et al in the various work on the learning organisation, ask us to unearth our mental models and challenge them.  And it seems to me that there is no more pervasive mental model in ELT than this one. (Though obviously, having held your mental models up to the light and examined them, you can decide that they are still good).

It’s probably not the work of this blog to start coming up with alternative methodologies and teaching philosophies (not least because I wouldn’t know where to start), but the biggest single factor in perpetuating the current way of doing things through language schools (as far as my conversations with DOSs and the like show) is the hiring policy.  And the way hiring decisions are made is very often dominated by one single acronym: CELTA.  Which is to say that the CELTA (especially) is so ubiquitous as the dominant entry level qualification for EFL teachers, that the cycle is constantly perpetuated.

Now I’m going to start attacking the CELTA here, that’s been done elsewhere, and I think it (the CELTA) does what it does pretty well. But because it’s the de facto pre-service qualification, its influence on “the way things are done around here” is very deep-rooted. And I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. New teachers come into the profession through CELTA and in time, down the line, as they become managers, they look to hire CELTA qualified teachers.  [Though to be clear it's not every job market which is so dominated - in many countries hiring foreign teachers is out of the question financially, so it tends to be local university qualifications that hold sway]

As managers, when we’re looking for new teachers, particularly in a market where there is no shortage of teachers looking for work (which for many schools is currently the case), we are going to look at people we can trust to do the job. In a perfect world we would have a lot of time to review candidates and interview at length with various different techniques to really get at whether that teacher is going to be an asset to the school and fit in to the staffroom culture.  But we don’t live in that world, we live in this one.  The one in which we tend to have to make fairly quick decisions on new staff without a great deal of information.  In the instance, the CELTA is invaluable – if we’re looking at a relatively new teacher those 5 letters tell us that he/she can probably survive in the classroom and engage the students.  The trouble is that our lack of time, and need to do these things quickly, means  that other qualifications get overlooked, because perhaps we don’t have the time to investigate and discover what having such and such a qualification tells us about the teacher we are looking at.

So,  your school probably does have some form of teaching philosophy, and it is, by default, the one articulated on the CELTA.  So, what is that philosophy?  Well, I’ve just been on the Cambridge English website to see if I could find out, and actually I can’t. The marketing materials all promise that, among other things, the CELTA will “teach you the principles of effective teaching” (page 4).  The syllabus is a little more detailed as you might expect, but still doesn’t really nail its colours to the mast.  I should stress that I don’t have a problem with this, as it seems to me that the course really should be making teachers reflect and question and think critically, rather than telling them that there is one way of doing anything.  But I think we are all basically aware that regardless of the openness of the presentation, most teachers emerge from the CELTA with a view of effective English language teaching which is contained within certain limits of general belief in what is effective and what is not effective.

I’m not a second language acquisition specialist, nor am I steeped in research into effective teaching methodology.  I too hold the CELTA (or the RSA Certificate, since I’m old), and the DELTA (or DipTEFLA, because, well, ditto), so I come from the same tradition, and believe the same things broadly.  And of course this is also true of the majority of people making those hiring decisions, and curriculum and course development decisions.  I’ve worked with Cambridge English (or UCLES as it was then) on the IDLTM, and I know they put a massive amount of work into these things and are constantly updating them as they go.  So, like everyone else, I do tend to assume that a CELTA qualified teacher is likely to be one who can succeed.   

So, should we challenge that? And how, given the pervasiveness of the CELTA in everything we do and everything we are, could we even start doing that?  I’m not sure I have an answer to this (well, I do believe we should challenge it, because I believe we should always seek to challenge the mental models we take for granted, but I’m not sure how we could do that)

I feel like this is going round in circles and getting nowhere, party because it’s moving into an area I don’t know enough about to comment with any authority on (though that hasn’t necessarily stopped me before), and partly because I feel like this is all getting lost somewhere in the interesction on the Venn diagram between teacher training, language teaching and learning theory, ELT “policy”, and language school management.  And it is in that latter area where I want to address this and not the others (though of course they are all connected).

To focus though on ELT management: How can we challenge some of our assumptions, how can we unearth those mental models?  And what does this mean for our recruitment policy, our PD offerings and our course and curriculum management?  (Or to put it another way, you’ve read all this way, only for me to repeat the questions I started with)


LAMSIGD04aR04bP01ZL-Jefferson4b_smlGiven how little I update this blog, it may surprise you to learn that I am the man entrusted with keeping the IATEFL Leadership and Management SIG website up to date.  Well, in the not too distant past it has been relaunched, and I’m actually, amazingly, keeping it up to date.  So I thought I would give you a bit of a guided tour because there’s lot of useful stuff for the LTO Manager that can be found there if you know where to look.


So, the home page is at which will take you to a page that looks something like the one on the left, though the pictures may be different. At the moment we’ve got photos from our most recent event in Izmir in May.

You’ll notice a series of headers at the top which take your further into the site and reveal some of the exciting content contained therein…

I’ll highlight a couple of these, skipping over some of the less interesting ones such as the “Committee” page where you get to see pictures of me and the rest of the reprobates professionals who make up the committee.

Under Community you can find links to our new LinkedIn group which has already started generating discussions on LTO management questions. If you’re a LinkedIn member, go here to sign up for the group. You can also find pictures form recent events – not only the Izmir conference, but the PCE at the last IATEFL conference in Liverpool.

Under Events, there is information about our upcoming events – next year’s PCE on “Creating a culture of resilience and preventing burn out” in Harrogate for example is listed here.  There are also reviews and links to posts and blogs about past events, as well as a list of Webinars that IATEFL is organising.  We (LAMSIG) will also be organising some webinars, so watch this space.

scoopitPossibly of greatest interest are the links found under Resources.  Here you will find a link to our new ScoopIt page of links, which may be of interest to language teaching managers.  This page, updated very regularly includes lots of links (currently as I write this there are 162) all of which are possibly interesting – some are specifically related to ELT management, while others are more general, but still I think relevant to us.

Below that on the drop down menu is a page entitled “Archived articles” which is a collection of 46 (46!) articles that have appeared at one time or another in the LAMSIG (or ELTMSIG as was) magazine.  This is a hugely useful resource for everyone, I’d say, so please dig in and find things that may be of use to you.

articlesarchiveSo, hope that is of value to you, and hope you get involved with the site and LAMSIG in general.  We’re always open to ideas suggestions, requests, articles, links, ideas, proposals, and so on and so forth.  There is also a twitter account for the SIG : @IATEFL_LAMSIG  and even a facebook page (though to be perfectly honest I’m not quite sure what to do with that – any suggestions gratefully received).

Peer Observations

In the most recent edition of the IATEFL Leadership and Management SIG magazine, I had an article entitled “Setting up a Peer Observation Scheme”.  You can find this article attached here.

I hope it is useful.

Managing online courses

managing education in the digital ageSo, I am writing a new book, with the excellent and much-more-talented-and-knowledgeable than me, Fiona Thomas ( of this very useful blog ).    It is called, as you have already worked out, “Managing Education in the Digital Age: Choosing, setting up and running successful online courses”, and we are quite excited about it.

You can read all about it and even see a sample chapter (in the section marked “Labs”) here at the website of The Round, which makes us part of a very innovative and exciting new way of publishing.  At that site you will also find that I am listed under the heading of “Creatives”, which is a rather grandiose title where I am concerned, but I may well start using it on my business card.  “Andy Hockley: Creative. “.  But I’d have to ensure people read it as a noun.  I am a creative.  I am not merely creative.

Anyway, in the meantime here is the draft introduction to the book so you can get a sense of what we’re on about.


Managing Education in the Digital Age



Increasingly education is moving into the online world, and a growing body of literature reflects this from the teaching perspective.  Online teaching and learning is now being written about and researched at great length and this work provides valuable support for the educational community practising teaching and learning online.

However, very little has been written aimed at managing this new online educational world, from the perspective of academic (or other) managers in education institutions making the decision to go online and pursuing that through planning, building, marketing, dealing with teachers, and monitoring the whole.

This book, then, attempts to address that gap, and look at the process of managing online course from beginning to end.

We begin with making the decision to go online in the first place, thinking about what might be involved, the risks and other things to be borne in mind.

Section two is focussed on laying the foundations for your online presence – choosing the platform or material that is right for your (and more importantly, your students’) needs; defining the role of the online teachers and tutors; marketing your courses; the finances of online course delivery; setting up quality control mechanisms; and setting up the administrative infrastructure including, but not limited to, technical support.

Finally we will look at the practicalities, keeping everything running, monitoring and ensuring that the courses are progressing as hoped for, as well as obtaining teacher and student feedback, and if necessary acting upon it.  What can be learned and what can be done with the things that we learn from our online course provision?

The chapters will include a lively mixture of suggestions, advice, lessons from experience, case studies, and quotes from managers of such courses.

We hope you find this book useful and engaging, and that it helps you make informed decisions about taking this step in your institution.

Fiona Thomas/Andy Hockley

Hello, again

LAMSIGD04aR04bP01ZL-Jefferson4b_smlTo kick off my efforts to revitalise this blog, I’d like to announce the launch of the new IATEFL LAMSIG (leadership and Management special interest group) webpage. Even if you’re not a member I think there is a lot of interest there, with among others:

  • information about the SIG’s events, including next year’s PCE on “Preventing Academic Manager Burnout” (events>upcoming events)
  • a number of articles from past issues of the newsletter covering all aspects of ELT management (resources>archived articles)
  • photos from our most recent events (community>photos)
  • and others

As part of the new LAMSIG web presence you can also find from that site links to:

The intention is to bring together academic and other managers in ELT to share ideas, questions, problems and best practices.  So, bookmark it!

Peer observation survey

I know there’s probably nobody checking this blog by now, given its dormancy (is that a word?), but anyway, just in case:

I am looking into peer observation systems and would greatly appreciate your help. If you could find 10-15 minutes to fill in this survey (and pass it on to others you know), I would be very happy. Thanks!

The results will feed into a workshop I am doing at the “Developing Teachers in Developing Schools” event in Brighton in November (which I am sure will be excellent and you are all (both) urged to come – details here, and a subsequent article which I’ll put up here

Training project management online

Having been training project management skills face-to-face for some time, through the Fundamentals of Project Management course I have been doing this training in a purely online context of late (see this page for details)

Obviously face to face course provision is quite different from online, but each has its advantages. The advantages of online training include the facts that people can participate at a time convenient for them; there is typically more time for people to work on things (developing ideas, creating things, etc); the discussions can be much more in depth (though I should stress “can” rather than “will”); and there is a greater opportunity for reflection and skill building.

So, attempting to make use of that the course mentioned above takes 6 weeks and leads participants through all of the fundamental skills mentioned in the previous post. This involves input, discussion (both synchronous and asynchronous – fancy words for “at the same time” and “not”), tasks, and various project management resources.

This is a sort of shrunken version of what part of the course looks like (Moodle by the way is a great tool for delivering courses.  As someone who does a lot of online training and in different “venues”, I can thoroughly recommend Moodle, and thoroughly unrecommend the awful “Blackboard”)

SLA FPM Moodle

Course image for the "Fundamentals of Project Management" course run by Sue Leather Associates

To give an example of some of the input here is a short introductory powerpoint show from the course (the other big advantage of online learning is that you can hear me deliver a slide show but you don’t have to actually see my face. Result!)

[This was supposed to be embedded but wordpress isn't cooperating]

Using the wikis available on Moodle, participants build up, over the period of the course, a fully designed project including all of the aspects we have discussed (such as objectives, stakeholder analysis, risk assessment, tasks, outputs and outcomes and a full monitoring and evaluation plan). As with anything, the more one does something the more one learns and makes something even better, but I would say that the course at the moment is proving to be extremely successful at helping people to get where they want to go in learning how to design and manage projects. So far we’ve had over 50 students taking the course, from all over the world.

So, if this piques your interest, you can attend my session at IATEFL on Tuesday 19th April or even sign up for a course! (Go to for more details and to register). Here endeth the brief self-promotion :-)


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