Delegating

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

 

 

 

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Feedback

Teachers are swimming in feedback. When we teach we give and receive feedback all the time, and it is an utterly essential part of the classroom interaction. We get feedback from students’ facial expressions, their body language, that glazed look of incomprehension and (hopefully) the glint of “a-ha”.  We get it from the way that the students use the language, mistakes, and perfect sentences.  We get it more formally with questionnaires, and formal surveys, and slightly less formally by checking at the end of each lesson. We offer it through praise, and through our facial expressions and body language too. We offer it through error correction (both oral and written), and through the questions we ask. Students also get and give feedback from and to each other. It is impossible to imagine a classroom without feedback.  Both teachers and students recognise the value of this feedback (even though it may be given and received unconsciously in some cases)

But, how much feedback goes on in your workplace outside the classroom? Is it enough? Do you (and everyone else around you) recognise the value of feedback? Do you actively seek it out?

I’ll come clean and declare my biases and say up front that feedback is quite possibly the management subject that most intrigues me and one that is (in my opinion) sadly neglected in much management literature and thinking. The concept of feedback in management seems often to be relegated to an annual performance review, and in our context to a possible occasional lesson observation. However, I feel a regular, ongoing, culture of feedback is an integral part of a true learning organisation.  This subject also came up recently on Jeremy Harmer’s (excellent) blog.

In this post I’d like to try and set out what I mean by effective feedback, why I think it is essential, and how we can perhaps starting to instil a culture of feedback in our schools. I’ll be focussing on ongoing informal feedback rather than more formal performance management (or appraisal) systems.

Why is feedback useful (nay essential)? Well, for the same reasons it is essential for our students. It lets people know that they’re on the right track. It helps them to feel competent. It helps signal which goals are most important. It can also feed into the more formal systems (and ensures that nothing that comes up in such a system is not a surprise).

Effective feedback is feedback which is heard by the receiver. Meaning they don’t get defensive (if it is perceived as “negative” feedback), and genuinely hear the message that is being delivered. It is effective if the channels of communication and the relationship between giver and receiver are unaffected by the feedback (or even possibly improved).  It is effective if feedback is not avoided in the future (from either side – if you find yourselves avoiding each other in the corridor after some feedback has been given, then the feedback was ineffective).  Once again, go back to the classroom – for most classroom feedback this is definitely the case. Is it so outside the class?

One of my favourite articles about feedback is by Larry Porter and is entitled “Giving and Receiving Feedback: It will never be easy, but it can be better”.  I have found it reproduced on the web here.  It’s definitely worth reading in full as, for me, it really cuts to the heart of many of the problems with feedback, and in a short space manages to sum up many of the truths about feedback, and also provides a very good “how to” guide.

I won’t repeat it all here, but in it, Porter gives 13 criteria for effective feedback.  Two of them in particular stand out for me (though all are very important)

Number 2 …Effective feedback…”Comes as soon as appropriate after the behaviour“. Imagine how useful your students would find it if at the end of the course you told them they had been repeatedly making mistakes with their use of the present perfect. Immediate feedback gives people the chance to improve and act on the feedback. It ensures that any “appraisal” or evaluation is not a surprise, and crucially it keeps the channels of communication open. Obviously it can’t always be totally immediate, and there may be good reasons why it needs to wait for a short time, but it ought to be offered as soon as possible.

Number 9, for me, is the really key one. Effective feedback…”Is solicited or at least to some extent desired by the receiver.

Going back to the language classroom – our students (usually) desire feedback. They understand how useful it is for their progress and they want to know if they’ve (for example) said something correctly or made an error. They may even want more feedback than you, the teacher, are prepared to give them.  How can we make this the case outside the classroom?  How can we make people actively seek out feedback, how can we create an environment where people want to know what’s going well, what’s going badly, and how they are being perceived?

I like to think that just as a classroom has an understood “culture of feedback”, so can the organisation as a whole. Communication in general is utterly vital in the learning organisation, and feedback forms an essential part of that communication. And, I believe, this culture of feedback has to begin with the manager. By being open to feedback (and indeed by seeking it out) we are more likely to keep those channels of communication open and ensure that communication is ongoing and multidirectional. And by offering feedback (both in the form of praise and “constructive criticism) whenever it is merited, we can take those first small steps in instilling such a culture.

Finally, a last word on praise (since we tend to focus on negative feedback in our worrying about this issue – and that certainly is where much of Porter’s article comes from). There seems to be a concern that we might offer too much praise. However, in workshops, presentations and plenaries in many different countries and to many different groups of people I have asked people to tell me if they get too much praise from their line manager.  In all I have asked (literally) hundreds of people this question, and not once have I had a single person telling me that they do. I’ve had two people in that time tell me they think they get enough, but nobody who thinks they get too much. So let’s stop worrying about overpraising people – it’s just not happening. If it starts to be a problem we can address it when it comes up. And for now, we can even go ahead and start trying to overpraise – if you are throwing darts and consistently miss the treble 20 to the left, then aim to the right a little. It might feel wrong, but you are actually more likely to hit the target. Likewise with praise. Just try it. You might struggle a little at first with the sense that it sounds fake, but as long as it is honest and real praise, then go ahead and offer it. Once again, think of the classroom – do you worry that you’re praising your students too much if they come out with well-constructed utterances? I’m guessing you don’t.

So go ahead, experiment. Offer praise where praise is due (and in all cases where praise is due), and other forms of constructive feedback as and when it arises. And ask people to give you feedback. As often as you can. You’re very unlikely to overdo it. Honestly.

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.

Thoughts?

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.

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.