The haves and the have-nots

silvana slideMany years ago, I encountered a participant on the IDLTM who had, shall we say, interesting views. She was the owner-director of a fairly successful language school in Germany, and had lots of fairly strong opinions about how management should work. I could tell a number of fairly shocking stories about her “unusual” views, but for this blog post I will just share the one which was possibly the most shocking – the one which left the rest of the group most open mouthed. This was when, during a discussion on recruitment, she revealed that she didn’t hire black teachers. I think she was taken aback by the collective gasp on this announcement, and she defended herself saying that her customers wouldn’t be happy with a black teacher. After picking my jaw off the floor, I jumped in and asked her how she knew that, and she announced that she was sure it was true, that German business people would not want a black teacher (this was an LTO which primarily worked with business English).  Now, obviously I was not in a position to claim a greater knowledge of that market and those customers (even though I found this claim hard to believe). So, instead I told her that even if what she said about attitudes were the case, that we have a duty to take a stand and make it clear that such attitudes have no basis in reality, and if there were customers that had such racist views, then it was up to us, language school managers, to educate them and not pander to that kind of thinking.

I have no idea if my words (and the support and agreement with my arguments from all of her classmates) had any effect.  Honestly I suspect not. And with hindsight I wonder if I could handled it better – by perhaps reporting her in some way (I’m quite sure such hiring discrimination is entirely illegal in Germany). But it is an incident that I suspect I will never forget.

So, why am I telling this story now? Well, I was reminded of this event very vividly last week during Silvana Richardson’s fantastic plenary about the continuing existence of prejudice against English teachers who have a language other than English as their first language (as Silvana pointed out, “Non-native English speaking teacher” is not a terribly positive description). The plenary was passionate, inspiring, and still also backed up with solid and strong research and great use of the literature to support the arguments made. It could have just been about passion and anger, but it never was, and instead was a thorough debunking of all the various reasons that are given and held such that native speakers get advantages in ELT.

I won’t review and comment on all of it, because I could not possibly do it justice, and anyway, I really think everyone should watch it for themselves, but one of the main sections of her talk is on overcoming the myth that “This is what students want”, and as I listened I was taken back to that experience mentioned above, when a similar argument was given to me for engaging in another discriminatory hiring practice.  From an academic managers perspective, then, I think it is our responsibility to get past this belief that students want native speakers.  Partly because it’s unlikely to be true (watch Silvana’s talk for the research data) but partly because even if it is true, we have the duty to change people’s perceptions – and we do that by changing our hiring practices. Fromteflequity this point forward, if anybody who has responsibility for recruitment says in one of my sessions “We have to hire native speakers, because the students expect/want it”, I will respond as I did back then, that even if that is 100% true it’s not a good enough answer.  I am also going to see how I, in my various strands of work, can support TEFL Equity Advocates. If you haven’t seen Silvana’s plenary, and you have any form of bias towards hiring native speaker teachers (as opposed to simply the best teachers), for whatever reason, conscious or unconscious, I urge you to watch the video. It takes an hour, but it’ll be one of the more important professional hours you spend this year. I guarantee that.

Growing Pains (1)

Evolution of a young plant(This is the first part of a two part post)

One of the issues that I often come across when speaking with managers of language schools is the problem of managing the transition from a small organic organisation to one that is larger and more mechanistic.

To explain a little more: Many language schools grow from small beginnings, perhaps with one or two teachers. In these schools, everyone does everything – the owner teaches, answers the phone, manages the business and cleans the classroom.  Aside from the business management side of things, the teachers probably do much the same. The business is small and everyone knows what is going on. It can feel like being part of a family. Slowly the business grows, and more people are hired, more teachers, more office staff, and so on.  But still the same ethos exists, and the staff feel that they are part of something. They feel recognised, appreciated, and free to be creative in their work

At a certain point though, a tension starts to appear. A tension between this close-knit family of employees and the needs of the business to have a bit more formality. The parent of a student comes in and ask to speak to someone about a certain matter – and no-one is quite sure who they should talk to.  Some students are offered payment plans which are unusual and they tell their classmates (or they stop paying and nobody notices). Teachers complain that students who passed the previous level don’t know what they expect them to know. A part time teacher who said she only wanted ten hours teaching a week, is annoyed when a newer member of staff is given a full time contract. And so on. The list of possible signs of this tension coming into play is probably endless.

It becomes increasingly clear – to everyone – that there needs to be formalisation, some more rules and procedures. That people’s job descriptions and responsibilities have to made more explicit. And while everyone can see this need, there is of course resistance to such a change. “Will we lose the feeling of togetherness that brought us here?” “The reason I love working for this school is the freedom and creativity I have here” “We don’t need rules, we just need to make sure we keep communicating”

The transition that at some point needs to be negotiated from a small young informal organisation to one that it is larger and more formal is a very tricky one to handle. Sometimes the tension materialises slowly and is worked out slowly. It might take a few years between recognising the need to change and actually changing. Sometimes the change is more or less instant – usually in the case when a small LTO is bought by a large chain. It can be a process which is painful, sometimes with staff leaving, or it can be a relatively smooth shift.

Carter McNamara’s organisational life cycles model (which is quoted in From Teacher to Manager, and which can also be found here) shows how organisations typically develop

Birth Youth Midlife Maturity
Size small medium large very large
Bureaucratic nonbureaucratic prebureaucratic bureaucratic very bureaucratic
Division of labor overlapping tasks some departments many departments extensive, with small jobs and many descriptions
Centralization one-person rule two leaders rule two department heads top-management heavy
Formalization no written rules few rules policy and procedures manuals extensive
Administrative intensity secretary, no professional staff increasing clerical and maintenance increasing professional and staff support large– multiple departments
Internal systems nonexistent crude budget and information system control systems in place; budget, performance, reports, etc.. extensive — planning, financial, and personnel added
Lateral teams, tasks forces for coordination none top leaders only some use of integrators and task forces frequent at lower levels to break down bureaucracy

In the second part of this post, I’ll take a model of trying to best facilitate this transition  and try to apply it to the language school context

May You Live in Interesting Teams

Working_Together_Teamwork_Puzzle_Concept (1)This year’s LAMSIG Pre-Conference workshop is entitled Effective Teams and Teamwork: building, participating, leading. I am looking forward to it very much – while I am one of the team presenting (the teamwork team?)  I expect to learn a lot from both my co-presenters and also those who attend and offer their experiences and thoughts to the event.

To preview the event slightly, I thought I’d write a little on teamwork and what it involves – why teams are a good thing, what types of tasks in an LTO which are particularly well-suited to teamwork, and a theory about what can help teams to most effectively succeed.

Why work in teams?

Teamwork serves a number of purposes in your organisation. These include:

  1. Teams are greater than the sum of their parts – we’ve all had experiences where we’ve had half an idea and put it forward in a team and someone else has taken it and said “Oh, yes, and if you did this…” and a third person refines it still further. Alone that idea would never have got off the ground. (Senge calls this Team Learning)
  2. Creating teams allows you to build connections across the organisation. Think of a marketing team for example, which included not just marketing staff, but teachers and student support staff. Not only would it provide fresh perspective, but it would also make the relationships between the members stronger
  3. More people become involved with issues that matter to them. People have the chance to contribute, not merely have decisions and changes imposed on them
  4. Change is much more effective when those affected by the change have been involved in creating it (as they would be if there was a team organised to drive the change)
  5. It’s a way of delegating tasks – giving staff opportunities to develop and giving you – the manager – more time to focus on other things

What sort of things lend themselves to teamwork?

Though teamwork is a good idea for the reasons mentioned above, that doesn’t mean that forming teams with no real purpose is wise.  Teams need to have something to work towards, not merely exist for the sake of existing.  Otherwise people will rapidly get fed up of being put into teams.  Just as in the ELT classroom some activities lend themselves to group work, others don’t.

Some decisions and changes that would suit teams in the typical LTO would be:

  • Choosing a new coursebook
  • Writing a new mid-term test for Level x
  • Devising a marketing campaign (I have no idea why so few schools do this, when in teachers, student support staff and receptionists they have so much expertise in what would attract students – and indeed in what the product being marketed actually is)
  • Developing a new course
  • Planning a peer observation scheme
  • Crafting a new performance management system

And, of course, many others

How can teams work together most effectively?

There is a lot written about teams – about the roles people take on in teams (see this Wikipedia article on Belbin for a starting point), about how teams develop and their lifecycle (eg Tuckman’s famous Forming-storming-norming-performing model ), and much more, but for this post I’m going to look at a model designed to help teams work as effectively as possible, developed by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer in “The Progress Principle” (2011).

The main idea behind this theory is that people are more productive, more engaged and more creative if they feel they are achieving something (obviously that’s not an earth shattering revelation, but bear with me here).  What this leads to is that teams (and indeed individuals) need to be able to celebrate consistent small victories. They need to feel like they are getting somewhere.  This is based on some fairly extensive research with a large number of people working project teams in different companies who were asked to keep a journal of their team experiences.

Amabile and Kramer then go on to suggest 6 mechanisms that managers can use in order to help their teams achieve these consistent small wins

  1. Set clear goals and objectives

Make sure that what the goal of the team’s work is very clear. Set SMART objectives. If people can see where they are going, it’s easier to see that they’re making progress.

  1. Allow autonomy

While the goals have to be clear, teams (and their members) need to have the freedom to reach those goals in the way they think is best. The more control people have over their work, the more creative and empowered they will feel, and the more they’ll recognise their own achievements. Don’t micromanage!

  1. Provide resources

Make sure the team has what it needs to do the work they have been given. If they don’t have the resources they will likely feel that the task itself is not important. Resources include not only physical things like supplies and technology, but training and support too

  1. Allow ample time

Give the team enough time to do the work (which will also allow them to be creative).  Deadlines which are too tight will result in lower quality work (and less harmonious teams).  However deadlines which are too far off may also be less motivating. So coming up with deadlines which motivate but which do not impede creativity and good quality work is important

  1. Provide support and expertise

Make sure your team has access to support and expertise from outside the team to help them progress with their work when they need it.  As the manager, this will likely include you, but it may also include others. Let those people know that they are expected to be available to help the team if called upon.

  1. Help people learn from “failure”

Sometimes teams don’t succeed in reaching their goal. This may be because they didn’t work very well together or it may be for reasons out of their control. It’s important to work with the team in working out why things didn’t go as planned and discuss what could have been done differently. If teams are punished for honest “failure”, the creativity and motivation in future work will be lost.

These 6 ideas will help the team make meaningful progress. From this it’s then important to routinely celebrate and reward success and achievement.  Encourage teams to keep a record of their achievements so they are not overlooked in the drive to get to the next milestone. Offer recognition for the achievements of the team in staff meetings. If it’s possible to offer small tangible rewards like taking the team out for dinner, or giving them a half day off, for big milestones reached, then do that, but recognition does not have to involve a financial cost.  Often a sincere “Thank You” and clear recognition for the work is enough.

This is one (among many) models of team effectiveness. Why not attend the LAMSIG PCE in Birmingham to learn about others and share ideas with colleagues and peers?

Bibliography

Amabile, T.M. and Kramer, S. (2011) The progress principle: Using small wins to ignite joy, engagement, and creativity at work. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.
Belbin, M.R. and Belbin, R.M.M. (2010) Team roles at work, Second edition. 2nd edn. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Senge, P.M. (2006) The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group.
Tuckman, B.W. and Jensen, M.A.C. (1977) ‘Stages of small-group development revisited’, Group & Organization Management, 2(4), pp. 419–427. doi: 10.1177/105960117700200404.

One more…

Just to keep this moving along a little, another post on the EnglishAgenda site that I recently wrote – this one on the book that Fiona Thomas and I wrote on Managing Education in the Digital Age

(Oh, and an actual real life new post will follow later this week)

 

A Return to Blogging

It has been a very long time since I blogged here, for which many apologies.  I am, though, determined to re-start this blog and to do so on a regular basis.  My plan is to publish something every two weeks on the subject of leadership & management in ELT. And this is a commitment, not a vague spring version of a new year’s resolution.

In order to start on that process, I will post a couple of things that i have had published in various places since I last wrote here, in the hope of enticing all those of you who have so generously followed this page to start checking back.

So, without further ado, here is something I wrote on LAMSIG (the Leadership and Management special interest group) that i am now coordinator of, and how it can be and should be a community of practice for DoSs, Academic Managers, ADoSs Senior Teachers, LTO directors, Principals, School owners and more

You can find this piece, entitled “Where can Academic Managers find support and advice?” here at the British Council’s EnglishAgenda site

Thanks for your patience, and you will now see me much more frequently

Managing Education in the Digital Age

ImageFinally, the new book I have been writing with Fiona Thomas (of this very excellent blog) has been published.  You can read about it here at The Round, or just go ahead and order it directly from Smashwords in various different formats.  

 

We both feel that this is an area which has in the past been overlooked – while teaching online is now written about quite frequently, managing online courses is an underrepresented area in the literature – and thus we wrote this book. 

 

Go to Smashwords via the link above and download a sample of the book to see if it may be of use to you – if you are thinking about running online courses, or if you already do, but would like some advice, suggestions and guidelines on how potentially to do it better

 

 

 

 

 

You can also see me talking about it here (filmed at the IATEFL conference just completed)

 

The summary of the book follows:

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 existing work provides valuable support for the educational community that is practising teaching and learning online.
However, very little has been written on the subject of managing this new online educational world.
This book attempts to address this gap from the perspective of academic (or other) managers in education institutions. It follows the process from the first decision to go online, and pursues that through planning, building, marketing, dealing with teachers, and finally, monitoring the whole.
In the first part of the book, we focus on the initial decision to go online; we consider what might be involved, note possible pitfalls to watch out for, and look at various other issues that need to be borne in mind.
We then take you through the process of laying the foundations for your online presence, including:
• choosing the type of course that is right for your, and your students’, needs
• defining the role of the online teacher
• setting up the administrative infrastructure including, but not limited to, technical support
• looking at the finances of online course delivery
• marketing your courses
• setting up quality control mechanisms.

Next, we look at the practicalities: keeping everything running, and monitoring the courses to ensure that they are progressing as planned. We also look at the best ways of obtaining teacher and student feedback, and, if necessary, how to act on it.
Each chapter includes a lively mixture of suggestions, advice, lessons from experience and quotes from participants 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.

 

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)

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