Jargon: Doubleplusgood or doubleplusungood?

It’s time for everyone to pull together, think outside the box, and work together on a shared vision that we can all buy into, which will enhance synergy and drive greater market penetration.

I’m currently teaching a group of DoSs (Directors of Studies) online and someone commented that most EL teachers will never accept or even listen to the terminology of management.  Words and expressions like many of those included above are ridiculed and laughed at.  As a manager, then, how to deal with this?  Is it a problem?  My answer is no…

Firstly I think we should forget the suggestion that is just an ELT issue.  Management speak is ridiculed and treated with deep cynicism everywhere.  Witness popular games like Bullshit Bingo, and TV shows like The Office.  There are a number of reasons for this – a healthy suspicion of “management” brought upon by previous bad experiences, a little bit of cultural cringe (particularly from non-US Americans of expressions thought of as American), a general mistrust of jargon, etc etc.  But, primarily, I think a lot of the problem comes with the suspicion that what these words represent are just hollow and empty concepts with no meaning that are just bandied around instead of actual ideas and concrete actions.  It’s this last problem which is the one we’re in a position to deal with.

Because what this mistrust forces us to do is to actually ensure that we are NOT talking in empty rhetoric and are actually using terms which are meaningful and valid.  This may mean that we actually have to change the terms themselves (by now words/expressions like win-win or vision may have become so devalued that they have become to all intents and purposes unusable), but it definitely means that managers have to make sure that they know what they’re arguing for.  Things like “shared vision”, for example, and “buy in” are not bad concepts just because the words are devalued.  In fact I’d argue that shared vision and buy in are extremely useful concepts. (There are however, words -like synergy, for example- which I do think are for the most part meaningless buzzwords, which really ought to be disposed of).

Forced to outline why shared vision is a good thing (whatever words you end up using to explain the concept and value), before starting to work on developing such a thing, enhances transparency, communication and openness, as well as making sure that the development work is fully understood by everyone. Who knows, it might even increase buy in 🙂

So, embrace cynicism.  It will make you a better manager, and will actually serve to make your organisation a better more open place, with greater understanding and clarity for everyone.

Further reflections

A long time ago, when I last posted to this blog (many apologies for the extended hiatus everyone), I talked about how managers could use the concepts of reflective practice, familiar from teaching, in their own “management practice”.  I also said, during that post:

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 then went onto to describe how the second half of that might work. My intention then was to look at the first half in a second blog post, before life (and death) intervened and halted my blogging for a while. But now I’m (finally) back, and would like to look at that second piece – that of “Developing the reflective skills of and building in reflective time for their staff”.

Now I won’t go into great depth explaining why I think providing professional development opportunities is something that ought to be one of the top priorities for any school, I think we can take it as a given (but if anyone wants to question that assumption, I’m happy to do so at some later date).

What I will do is to assert that well-structured reflective practice is one of the best and most effective sources of professional development that exists.  It is also one of the cheapest (and while this ought not to be a deciding factor in selecting PD , let’s face it, it is unfortunately not unimportant).

Many teachers these days have a fairly good idea about how to best reflect on their practice – courses like the CELTA reference it, while the SIT TESOL Certificate (the closest US equivalent to the CELTA) is built around reflective practice. But how many teachers, faced with long hours and heavy schedules, really make the time to actually reflect on their practice?

So, a five step process to make reflection less the exception and more the norm:

  1. Run a workshop (or series of workshops) on reflective practice, covering the why, the how, and even the what.  Get people inspired by the idea of reflective practice, and give them the tools to get the most out of it.
  2. Initially set up a series of facilitated reflective practice sessions.  In such a session, teachers meet to share their experiences and work through the process themselves (with facilitator assistance).  You may find that there are some very committed reflectors in your staff – use them to help and support the others.  they can be the facilitators in such a process.  Check out the literature on this process – there’s plenty out there.
  3. Once everyone is competent and really sure of themselves and the process, then they can either stay within the facilitated session system if they wish, or find a place within their own work week to independently keep reflecting.  Working with someone is more effective than working alone, so perhaps a buddy system can be encouraged, but ultimately teachers should work out the way that works best for them.
  4. To make this as systemic as possible, I’d even go as far as to write one hour of reflective practice time into everyone’s contract.  That doesn’t mean it should be clocked in and clocked out of, just that it is clear that this is something that the organisation values, and that teachers should avail themselves of the opportunities offered in this area.  how and when people choose to take this hour is up to them (as, indeed, is whether – the hope is that having gone through a process of training and practical experience, they will in fact make sure that they make reflection part of their weekly work load)
  5. As ever, seek feedback, monitor and evaluate how this is going.  Get feedback from teachers on how the training, facilitated sessions and subsequent independent reflective practice is going.  What could be done to make it better?  Are they actually doing it?  Why/Why not?  If not, what would help them to do so? Do they feel that it’s helping their teaching?  Are there follow up/refresher trainings that could be useful? Etc etc.

Reflective practice should not replace other forms of professional development, but it should form a major part of the professional development programme of any language teaching organisation.  In order to do so, it needs to be fully integrated into the work week, and needs to be supported with training and support.