Appreciative Inquiry and observation feedback

A couple of weeks ago, I was privileged to be able to host a Q&A session with Sarah Mercer, who, amongst other things is an expert on teacher wellbeing.  (I thoroughly recommend her book on that very subject, pictured below – OUP 2020).  You can watch the video here

wellbeing sarahAnyway, among other things in the wide ranging discussion on ways to support teachers and managers in this current pandemic situation of emergency remote teaching, Sarah talked about how to give feedback to teachers in this period and she mentioned the idea of “Appreciative Inquiry” as a potential method for this.  Soon afterwards, I was training a course for department heads on “remote leadership of teaching teams”, and as a group we discussed teacher observation and feedback.  I had heard of appreciative inquiry before, through a webinar that LAMSIG had run earlier in the year presented by Ralph Rogers on the use of appreciative inquiry for change management (LAMSIG members can watch that here).  But I was intrigued by Sarah’s comments to read more into it – it’s touched upon in her book, but I was able to find quite a lot about the subject online.

The key thing that we have to note in this current online teaching/learning process is that none of us are experts.  Well, a few people are experts but most of us are not. In most organisations there is no emergency remote teaching expert on staff – either among the managers or in the teaching team. When a supervisor or an academic manager observes a lesson and provides feedback afterwards in normal circumstances there is an understanding that the observer can act, to an extent, as a mentor – an expert or guide. Even if the teacher being observed has more experience, the observer is perceived as being an expert who can offer guidance and support.  But in the current situation, the observer is a novice, just like the teacher.  Both are exploring and finding their way in this new form of teaching and learning.  As a result, the conversation between the two is more appropriately seen as a coaching interaction – helping the teacher to find ways to improve through dialogue and questioning.  (This is a very simplistic rendering of the coaching/mentoring difference – for more depth, see the website of my friend, colleague, and fellow LAMSIG committee member Loraine Kennedy)

This is where appreciative inquiry comes in.  It offers a way to structure a feedback conversation which is far more like a coaching conversation than the possibly more usual mentoring one.

Appreciative inquiry is presented as being “asset based” rather than “deficit focused”. That is to say starting the investigation with what is good and what is working well, and building from that, rather than trying to decide what is missing and what gaps need to be filled. That’s how it is used in the model for organisational change.  But what of feedback after an observed lesson?

The appreciative inquiry conversation follows the “4D” model shown here.  The headings and brief outlines here are not especially helpful to my mind, so let’s go through them.

1. Discovery

“What’s already working?” The teacher you observe will have had some successes in her online teaching. Some things that she’s tried out and that have worked and seem to have been successful.  What are those things?  Can she talk through the things that she feels positive about?  What was there in the observed lesson that is part of this success story?  This is the appreciative part of the appreciative inquiry.  As the coach, make sure you keep the teacher to this script, don’t let the conversation drift onto all the stuff that teacher is unhappy with. Build up a picture of all that is working well. Some possible other questions:

  • What is going well?
  • What do you feel confident doing?
  • What do you feel competent doing?
  • Where do you feel success in your remote teaching?
  • What positive stories from these last few weeks do you have?
  • What did you particularly like about the lesson I just observed?

2. Dream

This is the forward looking part of the process.  Asking the teacher what she wishes she could do better.   Getting her to think specifically about where she wants to develop and improve her online teaching.  Questions like

  • What are your goals for your online teaching?
  • If I observed you in one month from now, what would you want me to see that has developed?
  • Can you name TWO areas that you’d like to develop in your online teaching?
  • What do you wish you could do?

This part is “dream” but it pays to give space for specificity.  We’d all love to be delivering amazing perfect lessons every time, but we’re all beginners (did I mention that?), so choose a couple of things that in particular would be good to focus on.

3. Design

This part of the cycle is about coming up with a plan.  Given what we already have (discover) and what we want to achieve (dream) how can we get from here to there?  Ask for suggestions and ideas from the teacher as to how they can achieve what they plan to achieve. Brainstorm ideas. Share contacts and connections who might be able to help. If there are other teachers on staff who may be good at a certain area, suggest they link up and work together (perhaps by the teacher in this conversation observing the other teacher with their agreement, and seeing how it works). Again you can use specific questions, such as What are two steps you can take right now to start moving towards the “dream” we just talked about?”.  

4. Deliver

(Sometimes I’ve seen it, including in the image above, as “Destiny“).  This is the experimentation/application phase.  Trying out new approaches, applying what was learned in the previous stage.  Taking opportunities to try new things and to see what works.  As the manager here your job is to check in from time to time. “You said you were going to try out that new online vocabulary teaching activity – have you had the chance to do so yet? How did it go?”

Obviously this approach isn’t necessarily limited to observation feedback. It could be the structure of a performance management interview conversation, as well as any form of professional development or reflection.  For example, when I started reading around the subject I came across this article by Carolyn Shemwell Kaplan in “The Language Educator” on An Appreciative Inquiry Approach to Reflecting on Teaching 

And maybe, you can use it for yourself.  How have you done in managing your team over these weeks of lockdown and emergency remote teaching? What’s gone well? What have you got better at? What positive stories do you have? And, as a result, what do you wish you could do?  How are you going to make that happen?

Good luck!


Image by Jan Alexander from Pixabay 



delegatingOne of the key skills of any manager is delegating tasks.  I’ve yet to meet an academic manager who doesn’t realise the value of delegating tasks, but have also met very few who actually do it as much as they should.

Why delegate?

There are a number of reasons why delegating some tasks is a good idea. Here are a few:

  1. Higher efficiency – which is to say that you are not doing tasks that could be done by someone else
  2. Increased motivation – giving people new and challenging tasks, giving them responsibility all aids in motivation.
  3. Skill development – doing new tasks develops new skills. It’s a form of professional development to take on new activities that you previously hadn’t been involved in.
  4. Better work distribution – if you (or anyone else) is overworked and has too much to do, perhaps work is not distributed evenly

However, even though the benefits of delegating are clear, many of us don’t do it.  I’ve asked a lot of managers over the years why now and the responses are always fairly similar:

  • “It’s easier to do it myself” 
  • “By the time I’ve explained what I want to be done, I could have done it myself”
  • “I still have to keep track of what people are doing, and that takes up time too”
  • “It’s not fair to ask my staff to do some of these tasks”
  • “I can do it better”

All of these may be true.  Well, at least the first 3 often are. It sometimes does take longer to explain something than to actually do it.  But that doesn’t stop you setting up short useful practice exercises in the language classroom – exercises that you know to be useful and valuable learning experiences.  And again it certainly would be easier to do that gapfill yourself in the classroom, but what would be the point?  (OK those analogies don’t entirely work, because the job still has to get done, and it is not simply a learning experience), but there is an element that does fit.  Often (not always) when I dig down and keep asking questions, it becomes clear that actually deep down, the reason for not delegating more is the reluctance to give up control.  And there is definitely a sense of lack of trust in others to do the job well.  So for many of us delegating is actually an exercise in letting go. Very zen.

How to delegate

I can’t force you to delegate tasks, but hopefully you do get why you should and how useful it is.  And perhaps by providing a model for how you can delegate more effectively I might persuade you to do it more often. Challenge yourself in the next week to delegate at least one task.

Make a list of all the tasks you regularly do (not the emergency ones that come up without notice, because probably you’ll have to do those anyway). Next to each one write K (keep), S (share) or D (delegate)  [Ricardo Semler recommends that you keep no more than 5, but this may be going a bit far – but at the very least, go through it again and see what you have put in K that really could go in S or D]. All you need to do then is to decide who to delegate the tasks to.

When you’re doing that there are a lot of factors to consider.  Who actually needs to develop the skills that doing this task will develop? Who already has those skills and can therefore be trusted to carry this out successfully and efficiently? Who might be interested in doing this?  And of course, last, but by no means least, who actually has the time?

Now sometimes, you may have a good idea of who has the right skill set or of who might be interested in such a task, but other times you may not.  Let’s take timetabling for example. Now timetabling is one of those tasks that DoSs either enjoy or loathe with a passion.  I’ve met academic managers who have to lock themselves in their office for three  misery-filled days at a time in order to devote themselves to this task.  I know of one very well known ELT organisation in which their very well known academic manager who is a brilliant teacher trainer, seems to spend nearly all his time devising timetables. In short, timetabling could be a D task (or perhaps – see below, an S task).  But you probably don’t know which of your teachers would enjoy timetabling, because they’ve never been asked or they’ve never done it before.  But timetabling is like a logic puzzle – matching classes to teachers to rooms within certain detailed parameters.  The kind of logic puzzle that some people love trying to solve. Who do you see doing sudokus or crosswords in their spare time?  Those might be the people who would actually enjoy timetabling.

[I ought to point our here that while timetabling is in some ways the ideal task-to-be-delegated, it can involve a level of stress and responsibility that perhaps needs to be the manager’s job – which is to say that timetabling confers an element of power. Certain teachers want certain timetables, and giving the responsibility of doling out such things may be something you want to avoid – not that your timetabling teacher will play favourites, but that he or she will likely gain favour with some and become persona non grata with others. So tread a bit carefully and possibly be part of that process, to make it clear that the buck stops with you.]

The big danger when you start delegating tasks is that you give all the tasks to the people that you really trust and that you know will devote a lot of energy and responsibility to the task. But, if you do that, you risk burning those teachers out or at the very least irritating them a significant amount. Plus the teachers who you think need to learn the most never get the opportunity (and if there ones you perceive to be lazy, you reward them for that by allowing them to be)

Once you’ve chosen who to delegate it to, make sure you clearly explain the task. What are the deadlines? What are you expecting to be done? What is the objective of this task (why is it there at all)?  Make sure that the person you’ve given the task to understands, and also, if they need any special access to anything (databases, records, whatever) to do the task, that they are given that access.

Once they get started monitor and offer support, but don’t get too close. They probably will not do the task in exactly the same way you would have done, but that’s OK (it might even be better).  They will almost certainly take longer over it than you would have, but that’s because you’ve done this before and they are learning it.

Finally get feedback from them about how it was – whether they got everything they needed, what else you could have done to support them, whether the task was totally clear, what the person thinks about the systems that they had to interact with to get it done, and so on.  One of the hidden benefits of delegating is that other people might notice areas in which the organisation as a whole could work better.

For another good article on this, try this one from the very useful MindTools site




Growing Pains (2)

“Growing” by Motiqua

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the problems of transitioning from a small LTO to a more medium sized ones with all of the changes that this implies. This is something which I’ve encountered fairly often in my work, but I was reminded of it specifically, when I read an article recently in HBR about tech start-ups facing the same dilemma.

You can read the article here – HBR allows you to read 5 articles for free every month if you register with the site, which is, I believe a great deal, as it is a fantastic resource

“Start-Ups That Last: How to scale your business” by Ranjay Gulati and Alicia Desantola

Tech start-ups tend to go through these organisational life cycle stages at a much greater speed than most other industries (going back to McNamara’s life cycles from my previous post, it feels like Facebook went from birth to maturity in a few months!) , but that doesn’t mean that the lessons are not applicable to our world.

The article outlines 4 key areas to be aware of and to work on in order to facilitate the transition into a more mature organisation.  I’ve ordered them slightly differently from the way the authors did which reflects the importance I would attach to the 4 points as I have seen them arise in the ELT industry.

Sustaining the Culture

One of the hardest areas to deal with in such a transition is what feels – to staff – like a loss of culture.  As the organisation becomes larger and somewhat more formalised something can be lost.  But this shift does not have to mean that the culture is entirely changed. I would recommend sitting down with the entire team to try and work out what it is about the current culture, the “small young organisation culture” that actually does feed people and make them feel part of something, make them feel part of a family or an organisation in which their own identity is not lost. Get staff to think about why it is they do like working for the LTO, and then once you’ve got that input, work together to see how you can grow and do what needs to be done without losing what makes the place special.

I once came in as a consultant to an LTO going through this kind of change.  The director felt it was time to change but also thought that the staff were against it.  I talked to everyone individually and then we had an all staff meeting.  From this it became entirely clear that no-one was actually opposed to the idea of growth (and in fact they felt the LTO needed to grow and expand quite dramatically as they felt they were missing out on opportunities), and everyone recognised the need for clearer procedures, but they were worried that the place they enjoyed working at would become less personal.  We worked together to find out what it was that made it a good place to work and worked on what could retain that feeling and even make it better . The point here being that the director had completely misread the staff’s resistance, and in fact they were as enthusiastic and as ready as she was to start the change process.

Adding Management Structure

Perhaps one of the things that most worries everyone in a small organisation is adding more managers.  Staff worry because more managers is seen a meaning more rules, and also increasing the hierarchy and putting more distance between them and those at the “top”. Managers worry because it might mean less control.  And everyone sees it as taking away from the culture (see above). But if this doesn’t happen then everything will become increasingly slow moving and difficult to handle.  The manager’s role is not to make rules and enforce them, the manager’s role is to support people and make sure they have what they need to do the best job they can.  And one manager cannot effectively support 40 people. (yes, the manager’s job is also to make decisions, but the wider the span of control, the harder it is for that manager to find the time to make those decisions). Too much management can, it is true, mean too much bureaucracy and too much control taken away from the staff.  But it needn’t, and a well handled expansion of management can be very helpful.

I worked recently with another growing LTO (it was no longer small, but was still dealing with some “small structures”) in which the teaching team had grown to about 90 people – all of whom were being managed by a single academic coordinator.  Clearly that was unsustainable and a decision was taken to create teams of 15 teachers each with a supervisor who would act as team leader and report to the academic coordinator.  Of course there are always difficulties in adding managers – staff might feel resentful at being now “under” someone who previously was a colleague, and the new managers can struggle to cope with that and with the change in relationships. But handled well it is essential to make the organisation function well.

Planning and Forecasting with Discipline

Small organisations tend to act on hunches, improvising as they go. What makes a small organisation successful is the ability to be flexible and quick in responding to ideas or possible opportunities.  And at the same time, choosing to launch a course that doesn’t take off is not likely to be the end of the world. We feel we know the market, we have ideas about what people want and we can build courses and services that meet those needs. But as we grow our market grows too – perhaps we consider new branches or satellite schools (the example above under sustaining the culture, was one such), and perhaps we stop being experts in our possible customers.  Also, many small LTOs don’t keep good records. Files have built up in haphazard ways and we simply don’t really have the data we need to make informed decisions.

One need of the sustainable LTO, then, is to start being a little more organised with the information you collect.  Student feedback. Where applications are coming from. Where applications are not coming from.  And to create better and more effective processes for making plans for the future.  People need time for that, time to gather information, time to share it properly and time to use it as the basis for future directions. It may feel less flexible, less nimble, but once the organisation reaches a certain size making up new courses on the fly is no longer helpful . You need more clear goals and a more sustainable way of reaching them.

Defining specialised roles- generalists vs domain experts

At the beginning, as mentioned in the previous piece, everyone does everything. Teachers also answer the phones, enrol students, clean classrooms and teach every class that comes up.  We are jacks (and jills) of all trades.  And in small organisations this works very well. But it does mean people having to quickly and efficiently acquire new skills – often with a very steep learning curve. So as the organisation gets larger we tend to specialise a lot more.  One person is responsible for answering the phones, and teachers just get on with teaching (for the most part). And then people start to be hired from outside to take care of specific functions.  The LTO starts to attract a lot of young learners, and so you hire a YL expert. And away from the classroom, you might hire a marketing expert. There are many benefits with this – the YL teacher can spend her time teaching the YL classes and perhaps even training up others.  She brings her specialised knowledge to the area and this can only be beneficial.  It also allows those not specialised in this area to be freed up to do other things.  But as you can see, often these specialised posts are filled from outside, which can leave long serving staff (the generalists) feeling rather marginalised. A sense that is only exacerbated when the organisation starts becoming more departmentalised, and the YL expert becomes the head of the YL department.

It’s important to bear in mind that the generalists also offer a lot to the organisation – they are the history, they know how things function and they cross different areas.  If you do not recognise and accommodate this hugely important aspect of the organisation, you risk losing them, and ultimately you will end up with a very silo-ised organisation in which everybody just functions in their own little narrow piece of the puzzle.  So, build relationships, use the cross-departmental knowledge and skills of the generalists to ensure continuity and an organisation in which there are not only experts in specific fields but experts in the organisation as a whole, experts in working across departments. Find ways of supporting and recognising the generalists, and work to stop the LTO becoming a series of silos.

In some respects any organisation that is growing and indeed shrinking) is experiencing some of the issues associated with scaling as referred to here and in the previous post, so even if your LTO seems larger and more established than one experiencing growing pains (or if your LTO is still young and small), it’s still worth bearing these things in mind.  After all, if you look at the massive tech companies that have grown up in the large few years you will see that they are doing everything they can to try and follow these principles above – from trying to break down silos to preserving the culture that made them innovative.

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

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.



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 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 🙂

Project Management week. Introduction

At the IATEFL conference  in two weeks from today I will be doing a workshop about project management and specifically training project management online.  This week (here) I will endeavour to create some context for that workshop and discuss some of the things that I will be talking about there.

One of the areas of management that appears to have got the most attention in recent years, and certainly in my experience, is project management.  My first post-MA job was as an educational project manager, and since that time I have been managing, participating in and consulting on various large and small scale projects around the world.  From Brazil to Nepal, Micronesia to the European Union.

But where I see the need most clearly is in my work as a trainer. When the IDLTM was created, for example, we wrote in 6 core modules and 2 “local” modules, which the centre offering the course could propose.  I’m 99% sure that in every single version of the course that has so far run, one of those two modules has been project management. In addition, as time goes on, I find that more and more I am asked to do workshops and seminars on project management – it’s not that this is the only thing, but is does seem to be currently very fashionable, and, I am increasingly seeing, necessary.

More and more people are involved in project work, more and more organisations are tending towards an internal project approach to running things (sort of like Handy’s task culture), and more and more language teaching organisations are seeing external project work as a way to diversify their income streams.  And there is a lot to learn about how to design, run and participate in projects.  And, I would argue, it’s increasingly something that is not just for managers – in many language teaching and other educational organisations I’m familiar with – everyone is involved in projects.

Projects internally can be a way of effecting change, of creating teams, and of making the organisation function better. Externally, they can create opportunities for networking, build new sources of income, and create partnerships across organisations and even across borders.  Anyone working in education in the EU for example, really ought to be aware of the tremendous opportunities available for very interesting and innovative work through the European Commission’s various funds.

All in all, then, I feel like  I have a great deal of experience in project management and in teaching project management and design over the years. It’s this experience I will be drawing from in my session at the conference, and in talking about how  I’ve had to change from teaching it more or less entirely face to face, to doing it in a more blended format, to now where I am doing a lot of purely online project management training.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about some of the skills involved in project management and design and then later in the week, about how I have tried to approach teaching those skills in an online format.

Natural disasters and the roving trainer

After  a fair amount of consideration, I’ve decided that I’d like to use this space not only to talk about management issues but also to talk a little about some of the issues that face freelance trainers/consultants etc in our field. The former is what I teach and write about, the latter is what I live on a daily basis, I suppose. I don’t think these things are unconnected, but  suspect that they are very much connected for me, but perhaps less so for anyone reading this. Anyway, if you think I’m making a mistake in combining the two, please let me know in the comments below.

Last year I found myself trapped in the UK after a conference, when Eyjafjallajökull erupted sending ash all over Europe and grounding flights. As I sat there in Heathrow airport and latterly in various UK locations wishing I was at home with my family, I pondered how much I’d come to rely on air travel.  It became clear to me that this was not only a lot, but also that it was probably unsustainable (obviously from an environmental perspective all these airmiles are unsustainable, but also from a work/life perspective I began to conclude that it was so as well).  As I read the stories in the papers about the effects on various people of the enforced airspace shutdown, I began to wonder whether the world would be changing in the future, and we’d stop flying everywhere.  In fact the conference I’d just attended (IATEFL as it happens), was very wired and people had been able to participate in it from all over the world.  I wouldn’t have liked to have missed it, but in theory I could have “been there” from home. More and more meetings are taking place online, and I have been teaching ELT management online for ten years now in various formats (and on various platforms). Meeting people face to face is extremely useful, and possibly at times indispensable. But while it used to be the only option, increasingly it isn’t.

So, I mused on this possibility, and the idea that I might be able to cut down a lot on my travel, while I twiddled my thumbs in the UK and then as I took the long train ride to Berlin for my next engagement at the EAQUALS conference.  Would it be that this unpronounceable volcano would finally provide the catalyst for major change in our (and my) working practices?

9 months down the line, and it would seem that it hasn’t really. I spent much of the latter half of last year away from home in various locations, all of which trips involved face to face training, and therefore seemed sort of indispensable (though in the same period I did also start working on a purely online course).  This morning though, I was reminded that natural disasters like the volcano that had disrupted my flight home from IATEFL didn’t necessarily confine their effects to travel and face-to-face work.  One of the IDLTM centres that I work is the Institute of Continuing and TESOL Education at the University of Queensland. In Brisbane. This morning I dragged myself from bed especially early to “meet” my class of students who are all based in various locations around Australia and New Zealand. At 6am I log on to find that the servers are down.  Hardly surprising perhaps given the fact that the UQ campus is by the river.  The Brisbane river which is currently rising very fast and swamping the city.  With many people I know in Brisbane forced to evacuate their homes and take refuge where they can, me not being able to have a class at the scheduled time was hardly a concern, but it did serve to remind me that natural disasters can also affect us even in the 21st Century with our distance this and our online that.  Food for thought I guess while I watch the waters rise from half way round the world, seeing pictures of the building in which I stayed as recently as November which now has water lapping at its doors, receiving emails from friends, colleagues and students who are affected by the rising waters.

And, I find that my friend and colleague, and flat-mate from that last course, Ron White, has already commented on his reactions to the pictures and the stream of news we are seeing, and summed it up much better than I could

Later update: The servers came back online (which is more than the planes did, back in April). I can only assume that they are housed somewhere higher up than I imagined this morning.