Developing managers in the digital age

8 10 2014



I am very excited to be involved in organising an event in late November to mark the 25th anniversaries of the IATEFL Leadership and Management SIG and the London DoS Association.

The theme is managers and technology and we have a great line-up of speakers.

Here is the big sell:

Developing managers in the digital age

As the role of technology in education becomes more central, and the range and capability of online teaching & learning resources grow; as the expectations of EFL students and agents become more demanding, and the need to stand out in a crowded market place becomes more urgent; how can we as managers in Language Teaching Organisations ready ourselves to face the challenges of the digital age?

What role should technology play in ELT, and what are the best strategies to implement it in our schools?

And what are the digital literacies we need to develop to ensure we are at the forefront of education both as managers and educators?

The Iatefl Leadership and Management SIG and the London DoS Association have joined forces to mark their 25th anniversaries with an event to allow school owners, principals, academic managers, teacher trainers and teachers to explore these questions together.

Plenary Speakers:

Nicky Hockly, Fiona Thomas, Nik Peachey, Shaun Wilden & Philip Kerr

Friday November 28th

16.30 – 19.30 then drinks reception sponsored by Pearson

Saturday November 29th

09.00 – 17.00

Venue: St Giles International, 154 Southampton Row, London WC1B 5JX





The first 90 days

3 08 2014
Every cloud has a silver lining - @cgoodey #eltpics

Photo by @cgoodey #eltpics


If we decide to offer you the role, what would you aim to achieve in your first 90 days?

This was one of the questions I thought I might be asked when preparing for the interviews I had to undergo for my new DOS job.

In the event, it wasn’t one I was asked, but, having got the job, and now that I have passed that mini milestone, I thought I’d look back at my notes to see how I am doing so far, and how closely I have followed my scribbled plans.

To put my notes into context, it is worth pointing out that I was interviewing for a school that had recently been rated a centre of excellence after their BC inspection, and rated Outstanding by ISI.

I was going to be in the ELT equivalent of David Moyes’s shoes, taking over from a ‘title-winning’ Director of Studies. And it didn’t turn out so well for Moyes!

So, taking over a team which has been assessed as excellent – how do you make your mark whilst at the same time ensuring the level of quality at least stays the same, if not improves? And coming back to the hypothetical interview question – what to do in my first 90 days?

These are my pre-interview notes:
[screen pic of my evernote]



A smooth transition was my first goal – keep the school running as seamlessly as I could.

The scale of a larger school can be initially daunting – the number of students, classes, teachers, classrooms, the timetable spreading over multiple pages; everything much bigger than my old school. And with weekly enrolment, that’s a lot of balls to keep in the air, and I felt it was really important to make sure there were no operational cock-ups.

I also knew that previous senior appointments in the school had come internally, so having an outsider take on the DOS role would be a significant change for everyone. I wanted to quickly reassure and build confidence in me as the new DOS.

Getting to know the team – the next main goal.

It was going to be so important to get to know my new team as quickly as possible – line manager, academic management team, teachers, and registration team. It is a lot of people, and the opportunities for getting to know everyone are not always apparent.

I knew there would be regular management meetings; it would be relatively straightforward to get to know the Principal and his management and communication style.

I would be working in an office together with the ADOS – we would have to establish a close working relationship quickly, and thankfully that has been very easy to do.

There would be weekly teacher meetings; a chance for teachers to get to know me – and I made a point to prepare a short introductory presentation of me and my background, my first impressions of the school, and my beliefs and goals, for the teachers meeting at the end of my first week.

But getting to know a large team of teachers individually – over 40 of them – has been harder. As etched out in my pre-interview notes above, I knew I would need to be visible and approachable. The DOS office is great for concentrated work, but a too-easy hide-away, and I knew I would have to make an effort to get out and be around the staffroom – ‘MWBA’ as I’ve heard George Pickering call it, Management By Walking About. So, lunches taken with the teachers in the staffroom, milling around with them in coffee breaks, little chats and small talk here and there – all have been ways to gradually get to know the teachers.

Another key strategy for really getting to know your team is having a regular one-to-one chat with them; I call these ‘catch-up chats’ and tried at my last school to ensure I had a 121 every 8 weeks or so with each teacher. It is a great way to find out more about ‘the person behind the teacher’ – what their motivations are, their interests outside of EFL, their hidden talents. This part of my plan has been harder to achieve; I’ve managed to have chats with some but not all, including some of the senior teachers who I intended to prioritize – I need to find a better way for scheduling these catch-ups at times convenient for them and me.

Of course, another great way to get to know your new teaching team is to observe them in the classroom – and, as planned in my notes,  I quickly organized rounds of buzz observations (also called drop-ins) to see teachers in their teaching context. Although you don’t get to see the full arc of a lesson in a 15-20 minute buzz obs, you can still gain a good idea of how each teacher works in the classroom, and an overall sense of the strengths of the team; and as long as you let them know more or less when you will be dropping in, then I think this kind of observation is less daunting for teachers, and also perhaps less artificial – which more ‘formal’ observations can sometimes be.

I also felt it would be important to get to know the students in the school, or at least for them to know who I was. I made sure that I went round to every class in the first week and introduce myself, and ask the students a few questions. I also wanted to ensure I was able to meet and greet new students each Monday, and be visible where possible during orientation.

Other goals at the start

If I were to get the job, I knew the first big event wouldn’t be too far away – and so getting started on planning for the summer would also be an important initial objective. Recruitment can be so time consuming, and is so critical that I knew I would need to devote time and energy on this; I felt that the first few appointments I made would reflect strongly on me, so it has been important to get them right.

The new school is part of a group, and I thought that I might find benefits from becoming part of a team of other DOSes, so finding ways to get to know new colleagues at sister schools, and explore ways to collaborate was also an objective for the first three months. I have managed to achieve this with the DOS at the closest school, and it is really reassuring to know there is someone from the group I can contact to ask questions and share ideas with.

Finally, a welcome drink also seemed a good idea to organize within the first 90 days. A social event is a great way to show yourself outside of the role, and can help to ‘demystify’ the manager.

Photo by @fionamau #eltpics

Photo by @fionamau #eltpics

Being new

These first 90 days have whizzed by. There has been lots to learn and learn quickly; it has been refreshing to see new ways of doing things, and to bring fresh eyes and perspectives on things; it has also been good to establish new norms in the way I work – things I wanted to introduce before in my old school but found the norms there hard to break.

The goals I imagined before my interview were fairly obvious; the school hasn’t needed a dramatic and immediate sea change, and I have been lucky in that respect. A DOS taking on a failing academic team would have needed more radical objectives in the first three months.

But I’d be interested to know of other experiences or suggestions for the initial goals of a new team manager. What else could I have planned for?



It’s good to talk, isn’t it?

18 03 2014

English UK Management Conference 2014

It is becoming a commonly stated view that among all the possible forms of teacher development, having a good chat about teaching, with both colleagues and teachers elsewhere, is perhaps the most effective. Schools should be providing spaces, and academic managers looking for opportunities, to facilitate this. And beyond the school walls, the last couple of years have seen an explosion of teacher communities online – on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter – where weekly discussions on teaching best practice, materials-sharing and problem-solving abound.

But what about this kind of activity for managers? Do similar opportunities exist? If they do, where are they? And if they don’t, what’s stopping us? If having a good chat is good for teacher development, shouldn’t it also be good for manager development?

This session will look at ways for academic managers and directors of studies to get beyond their solitary existence! We’ll share some burning issues, consider what makes a successful community of practice, and see how we can join the ELT management conversation.

Questions to consider (please post thoughts in the Comments section):

  1. What opportunities exist for ELT managers to meet and chat?
  2. Do these opportunities meet our needs?
  3. Would ELT managers in the UK benefit from being part of a CoP?

Is teaching a team game?

19 01 2014


To what extent is teaching a team game?

Is the teachers’ room filled with individuals?

When and how does this group of individuals become a team?

These questions, among others, came up in a recent talk given by Loraine Kennedy to the London Directors of Studies Association (Londosa). I found them interesting questions because I like to see myself as a team player, and when recruiting for teachers, I tend to look for team players. But why?

When it comes down to it, teachers in a school don’t necessarily operate as a team. The DOS allocates them a class or two and off they go, on their own…to teach. Their primary company function is inherently individual – the classroom door is closed, and for the the next hour or two, what happens is between them and their students (the employee working alone with their customers), and so long as the students leave happy, there is very little impact on anyone else.

So why were we all there at the LONDOSA meeting, 25 directors of studies, focused on gaining new insights into team work and managing teams?

Well, it is because when we are able to build a sense of teamwork, to mould our group of individual teachers into a teaching team, then we – the school, the teachers, and the DoS – can all start to achieve something greater than we could otherwise:

  • greater standards of excellence in the classroom
  • greater learner experience
  • greater individual and organisational development and learning
  • greater adaptability to change
  • greater ability to innovate
  • greater sense of harmony and morale

Is that all true? Maybe. Some teams win the Champions League, others fail and fall to the bottom of the league.


So how do we shape our group of teachers into a successful all-achieving team?

Simply put, you need to give them cause to work together.

Loraine used an analogy in her session which made me smile (because this happened to me once): “A group of people gets into a lift. A team occurs when the lift gets stuck.” A team is more than a group. They have a common goal.

One simple way to give teachers a common goal is to timetable classes with co-teachers. In other words, a three hour class is split into two sessions with teacher A and teacher B. This will inevitably lead to discussions between the co-teachers about their learners’ strengths and weaknesses, about material and task type preferences, and involve them in problem solving. You may need to prompt or facilitate this kind of liaising between co-teachers, but a co-taught class provides such a classic information gap between colleagues that they are more likely to discuss the class than not. We have always done it this way in my school, and I think it is fairly common practice – but if not, perhaps explore ways to tweak your timetable to allow for co-teachers. It is great way for new teachers to get to know new colleagues, and gradually over time it helps teachers develop a strong sense of trust – and this is a vital component of a great team.

Providing opportunities for teachers to collaborate on projects and developmental initiatives is another way of getting the team working together. The Food Issues Month in October (promoted by the IATEFL Global Issues SIG) was a perfect chance to set up a project for the team to explore a common theme, and share ideas with each other – outlined in this blog here. It resulted in two pairs of teachers team-teaching; shared resources and ideas; a video conference lesson between one of our classes in London and a class in Russia; and a good degree of experimentation and reflection.

And making this kind of project part of a common goal, part of a grander vision – to foster a culture of learning and of continuous improvement – helps raise the interaction to a higher level. Peer observations and mentoring, for example, then become more than an activity between two individuals working together but part of the team drive to keep learning and to keep improving standards.

A shared vision is important for a team and you need to be transparent about it. State it as an explicit goal in appraisals, for both you and your teachers, and then make continual reference to it in meetings and in communication face to face or by email. And then get buy-in from your team – by leading by example, by sharing successes, and by giving recognition to those who put the vision into action.

Challenging, stressful situations may test the spirit of a team, but can also be used to strengthen a team bond. Preparing for an inspection is a good example of this. Look together at what the last inspection report said, debate whether you agree, which comments are true, and which comments miss the mark; highlight what the reality is; discuss how you are going to respond, and what action you can take. The inspection becomes a team challenge – ‘we’re in this together’ – and the pride of achieving success can be something you all share in.

Finally, a great team has different characters and personalities. You have to get to know your teachers, and identify their team roles. Who are the captains in your team, who are the ones who keep morale up, and who will go that extra mile to help and support others? And, how do you fit into the team? The DOS is the leader – all teams need one – and you play the key role in setting the tone for the team. Practice what you preach. Be demanding but fair, transparent and flexible, listen, and know the capabilities of your team. And if the tone you set is right, then there will be a sense of belonging, people will want to be part of the team, and the individuals performing the individual function of teaching can become and can achieve something greater.


It’s a beautiful life! (in response to Tyson’s challenge)

19 12 2013
1st bday cake

From photo by @mkofab #eltpics

To celebrate this blog’s 1st birthday (whoop whoop!), Tyson Seburn suggested I respond to a blog chain challenge, in which bloggers share 11 random facts about themselves and nominate others to do the same (why 11, no-one seems to know). Tyson’s response is here, he was prompted to do this by Carol Goodey’s post here and she was in turn tagged to do the challenge by Rachael Roberts.

The idea has a fun, festive, end of year feel to it, and is a nice way for me to finish off this first year of (occasional) blogging. I should be able to rattle it off quite quickly as well, which is another good reason to give it a go 🙂

So, here we are, 11 random things to discover about me!

1. I love a good boogie!

2. I sing in an acappella group, I’m a tenor. I have always loved a sing-song, at home, and whenever karaoke opportunities come up, but I only recently joined this group; we meet once a week, and I realise I love the process of learning and creating a dynamic song.

3. I am a retired actor. It was my job for around 10 years, I had small roles in TV and film, and did quite a lot of commercials in the UK and Europe. The most fun I had was working on new plays in theatres on the fringe. It is such an unpredictable career path that it was a relief when I finally hung up my acting boots.

4. I studied French and German to degree level. Then met my wife, who is Spanish.

5. I don’t like feeling closed-in. This has become more of an intense feeling in the last few years, so…I have to have an aisle seat on the plane and at the cinema, and sit in the front seat of a car. I am wary of packed tube trains.

6. I love playing football, swimming, and cycling. I swim once a week with my 2 boys, I cycle to work (when it’s not raining or too cold!), and would like to play footy more than I do.

7. A couple of years ago, almost suddenly, I developed a passion / obsession / strong interest in the zombie genre. Not sure why. But I now love watching zombie films (most recently the Cuban ‘Juan of the Dead’), and the TV series ‘The Walking Dead’, and I even read zombie fiction (most of which is awful, but The Remaining by D.J. Molles is a good series).

8. I would love to play the piano – and if I could, I’d play jazz.

9. I’m a terrible one for snacking; I can’t just drink a cup of coffee, I have to have something with it (biscuits, cake, bagel, muffin, flapjack…)

10. Before the term ‘Gamer’ was around, I was a gamer. I can still remember the intense emotions I experienced when I first played Goldeneye on a friend’s N64. I spent too many hours playing that; and other games like Resident Evil and Grand Theft Auto. Now I dabble from time to time on my iPad, while my kids have started getting into Minecraft (it’s creative and collaborative so I think that’s all right).

11. I am a sucker for Apple products. I love them! My first computer, as an adult, was a strawberry Apple iMac. Since then, with my wife, I have had 2 Macbook Pros, an iPad 2, an iPhone 4 and 5, and an iPad Mini.


The other part of the challenge is to tag other bloggers to prompt them to participate. So here is my nudge to a few bloggers I know and admire; Laura is a great colleague at SGI, James I’ve met at several IATEFL conferences and is an all round good guy, and the others are fellow ELT management folk, just to show that we too can have a bit of fun – come on guys, we can, can’t we?!

Laura Patsko 

James Taylor

The Secret DoS (this really is a challenge!)

Rachael Fionda

Fiona Thomas

Andy Hockley

Launching a team project

10 10 2013
Food glorious food

Food glorious food

Cross posted at TESOL Training blog

How many times have you taught a ‘Food’ lesson? Too many times to remember, no? Lessons around topics like this, perhaps:

  • Your favourite/worst meal
  • Ingredients and cooking
  • Traditional food in your country
  • Recipes (good one this – maybe a student will come to the next lesson bearing culinary gifts!)
  • Eating manners and customs
  • Food idioms
  • Weird and wonderful dishes around the world

Food is universal to the human condition, and makes for a popular topic, for teachers and students alike. But how often have you taught a lesson about one of the big issues surrounding food? Issues such as food scarcity, food waste, hunger, or obesity, for example?

This is a question posed by the IATEFL Global Issues Special Interest Group (GISIG), who are inviting teachers during the month of October to contribute and share ideas on how ‘we can teach “food” with a conscience’.

GISIGThis month-long event will be co-ordinated online via the GISIG website and a special Facebook event page.

When I heard about this event, it immediately caught my attention. For me, as a Director of Studies, I could see the potential for it to work as a school project, a ‘theme’ to really stimulate student engagement on the one hand, and teacher development on the other, and so it ticks a lot of boxes.

For our students, being in central London is one of the key ingredients (sorry, no pun intended!) to their course with us, and we have a great social programme which helps them to make the most of their time in this amazing city. And we have an excellent team of teachers who are, I think, incredibly creative and engaging, and they regularly challenge their learners to reflect on big global issues – but in their own individual lessons. This Food Issues project gives us a cohesive ‘theme’ for a month, and with it the opportunity for teachers of different classes and courses to do things together – it would be interesting for example to get Business English students interviewing a group of General English students, and then putting together a business-style presentation of what they found out – and vice versa.

For our teachers, we offer a lot of different things to promote and stimulate ongoing professional development, such as our internal & external workshop sessions  but I am particularly interested in collaborative learning: teachers trying out new ideas in their teaching, and sharing ideas with colleagues – and tapping into personal interests.  The GISIG Food Issues month clearly lends itself to experimenting with new topics, creating new materials and trying out new activities, and I have a feeling that most teachers will be engaged by the many possible food issues which could be explored, and will want to share their ideas with each other. I am also really interested to see to what extent our teachers will interact with the online event, and share ideas with teachers around the world.

So, last Thursday, I attempted to launch this as a team project for our school.

As part of our staff meeting, I asked everyone to look at two images and discuss their reactions to them:




[Images credit: Adbusters]

There was interest, much comment, and it was easy to elicit Food as the underlying theme, and what the potential related issues were.

I then introduced everyone to the GISIG project idea, and we discussed how we could get involved as a school.  Some initial suggestions were made, and overall I was really happy with the response.

I followed up the meeting with an email giving everyone the GISIG links, a reminder of the suggested Food Issues, and some initial ideas for how to explore them in class, as follows:

Is there a topic which catches your attention? Which might engage your students? How could you explore it with them?

A reading followed by a debate

Design some spoof ads of your own

Create a survey to ask other students? To ask Londoners? To interview students elsewhere?

Presentations of a solution to a problem

Design a poster

Create a digital poster? ( )

Film a news report summarizing an article

Put together a class magazine

Create a radio programme

Of course I know that suggesting something in a meeting and an email will not necessarily get buy-in from everyone. And I will not oblige any teacher to teach Food Issues lessons – a ‘command and control’ approach never works effectively when it comes to collaborative learning. But the idea has been ‘launched’. The seed has been planted. I will try to facilitate now – nudge, prompt, suggest – and will try to keep the idea bubbling away and see if it takes off.

I am excited to see how much we can get involved as a team, and a school, and what we can all learn from the project.







A midsummer DOS Day-dream

4 08 2013

Where I am?

I’m walking into a room filled with students.

What’s happening?

I have some scribbled notes, cut-up materials, a coursebook, a class register and some board pens.

Am I dreaming? Am I really about to teach again? Aaaaaggghhhhhhh!!

This was mid-last week, in the midst of the ELT midsummer madness.

To be honest, it’s been great to be busy again in July in London! Last year, the Olympics – the so-called global advert for our city – persuaded 100s of English language students, and 1000s of tourists to stay away from the capital during July and August. Apart from the sports fans crowding the east side of London and all the Olympic venues, everywhere else was like a ghost town. Bizarre. So it really has been a relief to be spending July with lots of students, having lots of courses to plan for, as well as lots of summer teachers to find, recruit and manage.

The busy summer is always fun, but also a tough period of managerial tests. Summer madness, as we all seem to call it.

The goal is for it to feel like everything is happening seamlessly. The arrivals,  the testing and placement, the inductions, the timetabling, the lessons, the extra rooms, the facilities, the audio equipment, the technology, the ventilation, the social activities – all of it falling smoothly into place. Of course as a continuous enrolment school, we are used to dealing with this every week, but in the summer, the system is put to its greatest test with a tripling of student numbers or more.

Behind the scenes, the puppet-master – the Director of Studies – is working furiously away.


Photo by @ij64 #eltpics

Photo by @ij64 #eltpics

And because we can’t really say no to new course enquiries (‘make hay while the sun shines’ says my boss – and he’s right because a good summer can fund the investment back into the school for the rest of the year), and because we can generally get the extra rooms if required, and because we offer and run a lot of intensive group and one-to-one courses, the biggest test for the DOS – for me at least – is to get the summer teacher recruitment right.

It’s a hard thing to forecast. You want to have just enough, but not too many, good and willing teachers.

Last year was drastic. I had spent more time than usual carefully scanning CVs, and interviewing, and offering work, until when it became clear the summer rush wasn’t going to happen – that Olympics effect – I had to withdraw employment from several teachers right at the last minute, including a couple who were travelling back to London to work for the summer. That was awful. At least I was able to find interviews for them with summer schools outside London.

Anyway, this year, I have been cautious in my recruitment of summer teachers. We’ve been fine, more or less, with a couple of excellent teachers coming in, but also with quite a few squeaky bum moments when I haven’t known who would be teaching certain courses until the last minute.

The planning for the week of July 15th was one such example. It had all been looking ok, but then turned into a bit of crisis. First, a former teacher who was coming back from abroad for a few weeks teaching and due to start that Monday asked to delay by a week to have some time visiting family. A current teacher then revealed she had flights booked for a week’s holiday. Bookings for courses that week kept coming in. Emails from other London DOSes started to circulate: ‘If by a miracle you know of any teachers looking for work, please ask them to get in touch…’. I too was going to be short of a teacher, maybe two. But in such situations I use a teacher agency, who tend to supply reasonably good teachers, and usually at the last minute; the reply to my emailed request: ‘It’s just a maybe, and we won’t know until tomorrow’. Tomorrow was Friday, so time and my options were running out.

I took a throw of the dice:







A lucky throw, it turned out. I got a reply from a very experienced teacher, trainer, writer – someone who I had briefly shared a taxi with at the IATEFL conference back in April, a PLN / Facebook friend, but still a great surprise to have him respond. A few messages later, we had it sorted out, and my potential teacher crisis was averted.

Last week also proved to be tricky.

I had taken on a new teacher who’d just completed our Trinity Certificate training course – just for 1 week before she went on holiday. It’s great to have this option – to be able to ‘cherry pick’ the best trainees who can then get some real classroom experience among the ongoing support of their trainers, who become colleagues.

But in my desire to staff all the coming courses, I probably tend to over-emphasize the positives for the ex-trainee of being employed by the training institution and forget the pressures some may feel of being thrown in at the deep end of a ‘mad’ summer teaching schedule.

It was too much for the new teacher – mostly due to exhaustion at the end of an intensive training course. After two days of teaching, she was too run down to continue. A casualty of this crazy season.

So, that was the reason I was walking back into the classroom again, to teach for the first time in a couple of years. I tend to resist it as long as I can – I’m just too busy! But in the end – it was great, I really enjoyed it.

Another four weeks to go.

The summer madness will continue. But hopefully, only I, behind the scenes, will know about it…