Oaths of Office

I was recently listening to a BBC podcast which asked how much blame for the global financial crisis should be attached to MBA programmes (You too can listen to it by clicking here, should you be interested, and believe me it is worth it). To summarise, in case you can’t bothered to listen to it, or don’t have time, people in charge of MBA programmes (or MBA programs, as it probably ought to be since they focus on the US and especially Harvard), feel that their only failing was that the model of risk assessment that was taught has proved to be deficient. Others, meanwhile, say that in fact, MBA programmes taught their graduates to put shareholders interests ahead of anything else, and in fact in one damning piece of research quoted (conducted by the Aspen Institute), students entering an MBA were asked what the role of business was and answered that it was to produce goods and services for the community, and by the time they finished the degree had changed their primary answer to “maximising shareholder value”.

Anyway, one of the things that was raised on the show was the MBA Oath, which is something that has been put together by some students to try and make graduates of such programmes more responsible leaders and managers. You can find the full text of the oath here.

As someone who teaches/trains on a post-graduate course for managers (though not an MBA, but the IDLTM), I wondered how much relevance this has for me and for those students I work with. Now, I don’t for a moment think that myself and my colleagues who teach on the course have been focussed on maximising shareholder value and profit, and in fact I suspect we do a good job of making sure managers who go through the course are fully focussed on the teachers, admin staff and other employees, and by extension the learners who are at the heart of any language teaching business.

Also, in general, as a profession, I think many school owners and managers do tend to be more people than money oriented.  This doesn’t apply to every school, and I’m sure we’ve all experienced LTOs (language teaching organisations) which are very much focussed on advancing the financial status of the owner

Having said that, however, I think it’s never a bad idea to examine (and re-examine) the way things are done and the ethics and moral choices that lie behind the things that we do.  The more I look at that oath, though, the more it seems self-evident (and only serves to highlight what a problem was being created by traditional MBAs in that some of those things had to be stated)

So, here, rather than trying to apply a set of platitudes of the “obey the law” and “think about things other than just personal profit” type, I’d like to come up with a list of commitments that LTO owners and even perhaps DOSs (or other middle managers) might want to keep pinned to their office wall. I have decided to take a leaf out of Ken Wilson‘s book and start this off as an open thread for commenters to make their suggestions –  I do have a few ideas myself, but rather than pre-empt things, I will, for now, keep my powder dry and see if people reading this would like to suggest some items of their own.

So, over to you!

Posted in Ethics. Tags: . 8 Comments »

8 Responses to “Oaths of Office”

  1. tonywatt / @cuppa_coffee Says:

    While I agree that educational management tends to be people-oriented rather than profit-oriented, more and more HE institutions are selling off their ELT dept to private equity firms so the likelihood of decision makers having no experience of language learning & teaching is increasing, in the UK anyway.

    But this need not be a problem if managed effectively – school owners need not be experts in the field they invest in, as long as they employ people who are, let them make the decisions, and hold them accountable.

    As a new manger, I used to see the need to profit/cut costs and the drive for academic progress and student support as always being in conflict. But now, after 3 years, I have simplified my thinking: happy teachers, happy students, means happy profits.

    Much in the same way Bill Clinton’s election campaign had the “It’s the economy, stupid!” sign on the wall to keep them focused, how about:

    1) It’s the students, stupid!
    2) It’s the teachers, stupid!

    Of course, problems arise if you ask me to measure ‘how happy’ the students and teachers are!


    • Andy Hockley Says:

      Cheers Tony, thanks for starting us off, and with such a good post.

      I had as the first of my tentative as-yet-unstated ideas for such a list to be something along the lines of “Our business is about learning – and the centre of everything we do should to be ensure students (and we) are learning”. However, I much much prefer to simple directness of “Its the students, stupid!” And obviously the corollary of that is “It’s the teachers stupid”. Like you, I reckon this pretty much defines the work of the successful LTO. And I fully agree that taking care of this essential core, will actually result in success (and therefore support the bottom line).

      Measuring happiness? Hmmm, that sounds like the idea for another blog post. Let me mull on it for a while!

      • tonywatt Says:

        There are millions of ways to grind out a profit, but none of them are as fulfilling or avoid as much staffroom unrest as simply putting students and teachers first.

        Sure, someone will need to secure credit, or new premises, or handle swine flu epidemics, or a offset the effect of a failed venture, but how these events impact on the LTO can be looked at from the teacher and student perspectives.

        Even in this ‘ideal’ scenario, one problem could be if owners/managers rely on measuring student satisfaction or teacher complaints using too many metrics. Even the numbest of LTO managers should be able pick up the vibe in a staff room or student common room which may not be reflected in student reviews or teacher appraisals.


  2. theteslacoil Says:

    Everything important is contained in those two points, but, if I can get a little specific: minimise paperwork. The less paperwork, the happier the teacher; the happier the teacher, the happier the student.

    • Andy Hockley Says:

      Thanks Tesla

      I have the strong suspicion that “less paperwork” is what Herzberg would term a maintenance or hygiene factor, rather than a motivator in itself (by which I mean if you have a lot of paperwork you probably wish you could get rid of it, but if you have what seems like a reasonable amount of it, having less is not going to suddenly make you put a spring in your step). I am guessing, therefore, that in your job you have too much 🙂

      • theteslacoil Says:

        Fortunately, paperwork is not a problem where I am now, although it has been a factor in my leaving a previous job. I get frustrated by paperwork because there is always a valid reason for any one piece of it, which makes abnegating it en masse all the more difficult. Having a lot of paperwork seems to me to be a sign of poor managerial governance, especially in so far as the paperwork asks of respondents that they benchmark themselves against a series of metrics. Such an approach seems to index a baleful failure of consent. If teachers buy into a school’s philosophy, then they quickly if not immediately realise it instinctively. It is not experienced as a regime to which one must adhere, but aesthetically as a kind of intuition or pedagogical common sense. When this consent breaks down, or when it never existed in the first place, it requires supplantation in an external form in the guise of many rules and much paperwork. In which case, either the teacher is unsuited to the position, or the school’s philosophy is at odds with its primary avowed aim of educating students.

  3. Jason Renshaw Says:

    Ethics and ELT management… you sure know how to open a good can of worms, Andy!

    I was Academic Coordinator/DoS at three different quite large/successful/prestigious private language institutes in Korea over a period of about 10 years, and I always found this issue of ethics an interesting one (not least because it varied enormously across western versus Korean thinking). In Korea at least, school owners are almost inevitably businesspeople first, and language-learning-people second or (often) not at all – and generally the society there (even the student-customers) respect and admire that!

    For me personally, it was all about Yin yang (if you’ll forgive the cliché sound of such a term).

    Considering the very sensitive issue of East Asian ‘face’, it was always an interesting (and sometimes tragic) exercise to establish oneself as the educational “Yang” (the ‘sunny place’ on the south slope) to try and complement the “make a stash of cash at all costs” business “Yin” (or ‘shady place’ on the north slope). That was the way I tried to see things in private English education – yin yang: two complete opposites bound to and within each other. It worked for me in terms of trying to maintain some sort of logical balance.

    So remembering yin yang was high on my agenda, which in turn gave rise to “Education is our business, and our business is education.” You disrupt or give undue priority to one of those two, and you effectively disrupt the whole, risking a failed venture overall.

    Like most DoSs, I also very often found myself in the middle, sometimes needing to scold a becoming unscrupulous school owner from the education standpoint, other times needing to ask well-meaning but sort of clueless teachers to pull their heads in (and realise that there’s no point being 100% right every time – from the purely educational standpoint – if the business then has to fire 75% of its teachers or halve their salaries just to stay afloat).

    Being a quintessentially Asian term, I also found it impressed Korean education business owners and local co-teachers, and helped me win a lot of small battles. Overall, however, I probably progressively lost the war!

  4. Josh Says:

    I recently interviewed at Education First in the US for a management position, and was not surprised to find out that performance is based on selling more weeks – ie keeping the students there longer – which is oftentimes in direct opposition to the student’s goals of passing a test. On the other hand, several university IEP courses have push-through testing and offer IELTS “discounts” if their pre-sessional courses are passed, which is becoming ever-easier as it is bad word-of-mouth if students fail and teachers project their own failures and successes onto students anyway. So ethics in education? ethics in business? Check out this recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education called “We are all Madoffs” and then let’s talk about so-called ‘ethics’ co-existing in materialistic societies:


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