Reflections from Transyvlania

[I bet you thought that people in Transylvania didn’t actually have any reflections didn’t you?]

Anyone who has ever been a teacher knows the value of reflection. What did I observe in my lesson? What did the students do/not do? What conclusions can I draw from this? How will this inform future lessons? This rough cycle of questions is (or should be) familiar to all teachers, and will certainly be familiar to anyone who has taken a valid teacher training course. It is, I hope, a given that reflecting on our practice in this context is an extremely valuable thing to do, and will ensure that we focus on the students’ learning and that we continue to develop as teachers.

But it is not just teaching and teachers that benefit from this process. Reflecting in and on action (as Donald Schon and later Peter Senge termed it) is valuable for all of us, in whatever field of endeavour. I would like to suggest that managers of language teaching organisations should therefore consider two specific courses of action. Developing the reflective skills of and building in reflective time for their staff, and, also, for themselves.

I’ll start with managers themselves. Every week you do loads of managementy things. I won’t list them all here, but obviously there are tons of different tasks you do in the week – some planned, others responding to circumstances. Do you ever take a moment to reflect on what you did? To sit and think through a series of questions which might help you learn from the experience (in a fairly structured way)? Probably not. We tend to assume that there is too much to do. All of our (expanding amount of) work is crammed as tightly as possible into the time available. How would we ever find time to reflect on top of all that? Yet somehow, though there are always more things to do, and new tasks that we have, we always do seem to find the time. So, if necessary, think of reflection as yet another vitally important management task. Because it is one.

If it helps to have a plan laid out to structure this reflection time, here is one: First, decide when you are going to reflect. One option would be at the end of the week, since that works in the looking-back-at-what-I’ve-done sense. The downside is that if you set 4pm on Friday as a weekly reflection time, there’s always a danger that it will get shunted back by other things, until it’s too late and it gets dropped as being less important. This is really only something you can work out with the knowledge of your own schedule and your working approach. I find that it works for me to set two times a week as reflective time – at the end of the Tuesday, and at 111am on Friday. I do everything I can to keep these times fixed (and treat the times like predetermined meetings with myself). If it is really impossible to avoid scheduling something else at 11am on a Friday on a particular week, then obviously do that and move the reflective “meeting” back a couple of hours. To start with put aside an hour for each such “meeting”. When the time comes, make it clear that you cannot be disturbed for that time, and turn off your computer (at the very least make sure you are not distracted by incoming emails – for me actually turning it off is the only way I can really do that).

Start by brainstorming a list of all the things you’ve done since the last time you reflected. Note them all down. Some of the things will be easy as they will have been scheduled, others may be harder to recall since they may have been short and unplanned. But try as much as possible to remember everything you did in the week. It doesn’t have to be in chronological order. Now take a look at your list. Is there anything that stands out? Something that didn’t go well? Something that went very well? An event or activity that seemed to contain a critical incident or other learning moment? Take that activity and break it down, asking yourself the following series of questions:

  • What exactly happened? What did I do? What did others do? (What, not why. List everything you can remember, no matter how trivial, just in case it turns out to have relevance)
  • What possible explanations are there for these events (what I did, what others did, actions, reactions, etc)? Make a list of any or all that you can think of.
  • Which of these explanations are most likely to be factors in what happened? Can I draw any general conclusions from this? What can I learn about management, my own management style, and about the needs and styles of others?
  • Based on this, is there anything I could have done differently, more successfully? If some similar situation arises in the future, what do I want to make sure I remember?

Obviously there’s nothing earth-shattering about this set of questions, they are a standard set of questions designed to take one around Kolb’s experiential learning cycle. But by doing this in a structured way it’s more likely that you’ll get something valuable out of it.

There’s one way of doing it better though, and that’s to involve others. Get their input into how things have gone, get their input into the way you’ve handled things. The more feedback you can get and the more opinions you can accumulate the fuller your view of things will be. But now we’re getting onto feedback, another of my little obsessions… and for now, this will have to do.

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What is the IDLTM?

Over the course of the last two weeks in Barcelona, I´ve been training on the IDLTM.  But, what is the IDLTM?  Other than being an extremely cumbersome acronym, that is.

[Disclaimer:  I´m about to explain what the course and certificate are.  While I do not directly profit from the success of the course, as one of the regular trainers on the course, I do have a vested interest in it being successful.  I was also one of the team that developed the curriculum, so I am quite personally attached to it, too.]

The International Diploma in Language Teaching Management is a course and qualification for managers of language teaching organisations.  The three organisations behind the course/certificate are Cambridge ESOL (like CELTA, DELTA etc), the University of Queensland, and the School for International Training (USA).  All three organisations are well known for their work in ELT and so the diploma itself is widely recognised, and very globally portable.  In addition the IDLTM is the sole  ELT management qualification recommended by NEAS (the Australian language teaching accreditation body).

Content and delivery

The course covers 8 modules: Managing Organisations; Human Resource Management; Managing Financial Resources; Marketing; Customer and Client Services; Project Management; Managing Change; and Academic Management, all of which are specifically tailored to the language teaching organisation context. [A full syllabus can found in this PDF document]

It is a blended learning course involving (usually) 2 weeks face to face at the beginning, in which typically all the 8 modules are begun.  Subsequently, in a 7-8 month period, the modules are extended and gone into in greater depth in an online format.  This is also the period in which the assessment takes place.  Assessment is by way of an assignment for each module, which are designed, as much as possible, to be practical tasks which are (it is hoped) of value to the person taking the course (and his/her organisation), as well as being an assessment tool for the diploma itself.  To give an example, the marketing assignment is to create a marketing plan for a new course, while the financial management assignment involves creating a fully costed proposal for some development of the organisation.

The course is designed to be at a post-graduate level, and indeed within the University of Queensland system, it can be applied towards their MA in Educational Leadership degree (it counts as 1/3 of that MA).

History

UCLES (as it was then – now Cambridge ESOL), developed a course in the early 90s called the Advanced Diploma in Language Teaching Management.  This was piloted in a number of countries and contexts.  Based on this original course, at the turn of the century, the three institutions which now “own” the diploma came together and decided to revise and redevelop the course and relaunch it as the IDLTM.  The first IDLTM course began in the USA on October 1st, 2001  (I vividly remember this date as I was the course coordinator and three weeks before the course was due to start, there was a fairly major world event, which we thought would force us to cancel the course as all the participants in that particular group came from outside the US, and not ony did some need visas, but all, of course, needed to fly in.  Fortunately, we pulled it off).  Since then there have been a number of courses run around the world – in Brattleboro (VT, USA), Brisbane, Brazil, and Barcelona.  There is no actual requirement that courses must be held in places beginning with B, just in case you wondered.  This year aside from the the Barcelona course I´m working on at the moment there was one which started in Brisbane in April, one which will be in Brisbane at the end of October and one which will be held in DaNang, Vietnam in November (see, I told you it didn’t have to be a place that starts with B)

The online segment of the course nowadays takes place on Moodle.  So, far the course has had an extremely good record of student retention, with fewer than 5% dropping out (which as I understand it for blended or online learning is a very good rate).

Why take it?

Other than the fact that you might get me as a tutor, you mean?   Well, obviously I’m biased, but I reckon it’s a great course for managers of language teaching organisations, many of whom have come into management positions through teaching and have had very little (if any) actual management training.  This course meets the needs of such people, and provides both a hands-on and an in-depth theoretical grounding in management principles and practices.  It offers a portable qualification and certification by three of the (arguably) biggest names in ELT.  However, I do need to point out that it is not the only course in existence.  I’ll write another post in the next few weeks listing some of the other qualifications, to provide a modicum of balance (though only a modicum, you understand).  I also hope some people who’ve taken the course come across this page and add their feedback on the course as comments so you know there are people who have real participant-eye experience of the course who can give a different view.

And finally…

The most important question of all. How the hell do you pronounce “IDLTM”? Assuming you don’t want to refer to it as The International Diploma in Language Teaching Management all the time that is, obviously. Well, opinions differ. There are some who pronounce a short I, with a schwa between the T and M. Something like Idyll-Tm. Others go for a longer I (Idle-Tm) though some dislike the whole “Idle” bit, while some participants have played fast and loose and gone with Ideal-Team. I’m an idle man, myself, but then if you’ve been following this blog and it’s very slow post-growth, you’ll probably have guessed that already.