Head Banging at IATEFL

19 06 2013

Early April in Liverpool, down by the docks…it was all very exciting to be once again at an IATEFL Conference. Especially as this year I was presenting for the first time at a PCE – Pre-Conference Event  – for the Leadership and Management Special Interest Group (LAMSIG)  – where the theme for the day was CPD.

There were around 80 attendees who were coming literally from all over the world. School owners, Principals, Academic managers, Directors of Studies, Teacher Managers, all looking for ideas and insights into setting up and maintaining CPD programmes, and most of all (everyone’s deep-down secret quest) – how to engage teachers in professional development.

The PCE Presenting Team consisted of myself and two great, experienced, and genuinely lovely people: Loraine Kennedy and Fiona Dunlop. I was feeling a bit daunted, partly by the international breadth and level of experience of the audience (ie what do I know compared to them?), and partly by the fact that I was taking the second slot which was going to be an hour and a half session (quite a long time to keep people engaged and involved). Also, as I got up that morning and started to get ready for the big day, I realized I’d left at home all my nicely ironed shirts that I was planning to wear at the conference – dah! Moment of panic. Until I realized I had a just-about-decent-casual top which could go with my jacket: presenter’s wardrobe-disaster averted, just!

Shirt did not attend IATEFL

Loraine took the first slot and gave us an overview of broad and current thinking to do with CPD. She is always brilliant – clear and thought-provoking; here are some of the relevant points I noted down from her:

CPD is about learning at work; about skills but also knowledge, about thinking differently. Learning is available everywhere, if your mind is open to it.

CPD benefits the individual, the team, the school and therefore the students.

Research tends to show that training courses are not always effective – people go back to work and carry on in the same way. CPD therefore has to be personalised to tap in to intrinsic motivation.

CPD is about having a positive learning environment; trust, mutual respect, support. What is your staff room like? Is it conducive to people sharing? (good question I thought).

Reflection – everyone says they do it, but may not do it effectively. Evaluation and analysis of reflection is key – Driscoll’s model provides a simple memorable tool – 3 questions:

  • What? (what happened, tell the facts of the situation)
  • So What? (why is this worthy of reflection? what happened against what should have happened?)
  • Now What? (in future how may your practice be different? how will you remember what to do in future?)

Fiona took the third slot and looked at the role of the manager in CPD. Also brilliant, Fiona has a knack of bringing anecdotes and insights from her experience into her sessions which make you both laugh and see things in a new way.

She highlighted 3 key points: to lead by example; to know your staff; to ensure developmental opportunities are integrated into academic systems.

And for the first point, she told us an anecdote about going to a (non-ELT) conference for business people years ago: she felt like a fish out of water, she said, but took away one idea which she followed up on, namely the “250 Achievements Activity” – can you list as many personal achievements as that? She tried it and found that over some time she was able to list that many, the point being that in order to lead a team, you have to be able to recognise your own achievements.

It is something I am now trying myself, and like Fiona said then, as well as making yourself feel good, it also helps you to see CPD in a new way – to realise that we (…and our teachers) are all actually achieving lots of things all the time.

My slot was in the middle of the 3 sessions, and focused on CPD for Teachers. I’m going to blog about it in a separate post (sometime soon…probably!), but broadly it revolved around the ideas of giving teachers choice, promoting collaboration, and how to bring in expertise from outside by connecting with other educators around the world via social media.

Photo by Mike Hogan

Panel Discussion – and getting away without a proper shirt?

The PCE Day finished with a panel discussion, which thankfully turned into more of an audience discussion, with some quite heart-felt questions and urgent-sounding problem-sharing. And this left a lasting impression: there we were, 80 or so academic managers, from schools and institutions all over the world, and the overriding feeling at the end of the day was one of really caring and passionate managers banging their heads against an apparent brick wall of teachers and CPD. We had shared some good ideas and insights and got people thinking in new ways perhaps about CPD. But still, it seemed for some in the room, the million-dollar question remained unanswered – how do we really get our teachers to engage with professional development?


(to be continued…)



Dawn of the Inspection

19 03 2013

This is me on Friday afternoon. It had been a hard day at the end of a hard week. Teachers off sick, fire-fighting, a staff meeting which took an unexpected turn, things which could have been handled better…


Dawn of the (nearly) dead DOS?

Well, OK, I’m exaggerating. I didn’t look exactly like that. But by the end of Friday I did feel a bit brain dead.

As well as being just a bad day at the office, I was also in…The Pre-Inspection Apocalypse Zone.

We’re about to have a school inspection, and an inspection is something that always raises the stress levels.

Funnily enough, the inspector coming to visit us is called Dawn.

Hope she’s OK. I mean, it shouldn’t really matter who the inspector is, should it? Inspectors just follow their checklists of criteria or standards. ‘If we follow The Book (the accreditation handbook, that is),  if we live by it, and love The Book,’ as Mr British Council Inspector said at the English UK Managers Conference a couple of weeks ago, ‘then all will be well.’ He meant us – the school – but he might have meant the inspectors too. Later at the same conference, in fact, in her closing plenary, OFSTED Inspector, Philida Schellekens, wondered aloud if inspectors sometimes had their own, extra set of criteria, their hobby-horses.

Anyway, we’re not having a British Council or OFSTED inspection. We are due to be visited by…YXY, let’s call them, for the time being. If you’re not from the UK, you won’t have heard of them anyway.

[I feel a rant coming on.]

Basically, a year or two ago, the government came up with a new policy (written on the back of an envelope in the back of a cab, no doubt) to DEAL WITH all those dodgy students who come here on visas and pay for English language courses and other things like accommodation and go sight-seeing and boost our economy and terrible things like that. Anyway, because the Government wanted to look tough on immigration, they decided that the British Council (years and years of experience inspecting EFL schools) were no longer up to the job, and gave it to YXY (zero experience of inspecting EFL schools), and let them charge three times as much for the same kind of inspection.

There. Sorry, rant over.

Actually, YXY have certainly given EFL schools in the UK a shake up. It hasn’t been all bad! They’ve made us think in new ways about important stuff, like learning and progress and differentiation. The BC are having to play catch-up.

But our first YXY inspection did not go so well.  Not because we’re no good, you understand! Looking back, I should have been more worried when, on the pre-inspection tour of the school, the inspector made this passing comment: “oh isn’t it nice to see the students aren’t all sitting in rows.” I don’t think any EFL school, at least in The UK, has their students sitting in rows.

Is your EFL classroom like this? Probably not

Probably not an EFL classroom near you

It turned out the inspector knew little about our teaching context. It was a very frustrating experience. The report didn’t capture our strengths, we felt, and its’ recommendations were mostly bland, and hard to fathom how they had been reached.

I'm not bitter

I’m not bitter

Anyway, although we did not like what had been said, I dusted myself down, and got on with responding to the recommendations. And in spite of my bad feeling about that inspection experience, we have gone on to make some great improvements in the school.

So will this inspection be better? Of course, it depends on us. The inspection is a test. A test of our organisation, of our teachers’ teaching, of my management mettle. A lot of energy has gone in to getting everything ready, and I have tried to get the team into an oiled and purring state. The teachers, I know, will be under a lot of pressure, but they’ll be fine – I have every faith in them.

But in the end, does it come down to this: will Dawn of the Inspection see our strengths? Will she be reading from the same script as the last inspector? Will she have her own hobby horses? I want so badly for us to do well, but does it depend on Dawn?

Does the DOS do it for you?

5 02 2013

Stop! Right there.

This is not a post about staff-room titillation. (Sorry!)

No, this is about a different kind of pull – that of motivation and inspiration.

Because, whether you like it or not, when you become a DOS, you become a leader (don’t you?), and one of the jobs of a leader is to motivate and inspire others.



In ELT this is inevitably a pretty tricky thing to do. You’re up against it from the off.

Firstly, before becoming the DOS, you were probably ‘just’ a teacher. Used to inspiring your students on a daily basis, of course!…but your colleagues, your peers? – that’s a different matter.

And since becoming DOS, you’ve probably had little or no ‘leadership‘ training. In Jenny Johnson’s 2009 survey of ELT Managers & Management Training, it was found that in fact a majority of the 135 respondents had received some kind of pre-service training: “…36% had had a handover period, 33% had had a mentor, 17% had done a management training course and 13% had attended sessions or workshops. However, 35% had not had any training before they started [the role].” I had a 4 week handover period but spent most of that time getting to grips with the nuts and bolts of the job, like planning and timetabling, and ordering books! I don’t recall covering the bit about ‘how to become an inspirational leader’ in that time!

And secondly, what about the people you have to motivate and inspire? Many are in the game for a multitude of reasons:

  • A vocational desire to help students learn to communicate in English? – yes, probably 😉
  • Keeping the wolf from the door while other pursuits are pursued (acting, music, writing, film-making, studying)? – also a fair bet. (If our teachers’ true vocational dreams lie elsewhere, can we really motivate and inspire them?)
  • Money? In ELT? No, let’s face it – money isn’t one of them.
  • And nor is promotion – where is the career ladder in ELT I hear you scream?! (there is one by the way, it’s just not very well defined). But anyway, who has ever been inspired by money or promotion?!

So, it can be a tough one.

I thought it would be interesting to see what inspired other people, and I was chatting with some non-ELT friends the other day, and asked what it was that inspired them in their jobs and how they inspired others. The lawyer said that for him and his team, they simply had to realise they were offering a professional service which was highly paid for by their clients and that should be enough to motivate them; the PR exec said it was ‘more about do than say’; the Social Worker said the NHS was also a service but there wasn’t any boss who inspired her, it all came down to her own self-motivation to help others; the Merchandiser said it was her company’s values which inspired her (the Number One Value being the ‘happiness of the employees’!); and the Fashion designer said it was all about the character of her boss – ‘she is amazing, brilliant strategic insight and decisiveness. I want to be like her!’

My friends’ comments seem to chime with those expressed by the ELT practitioners who took part in a recent #ELTchat on Motivating Teachers, summarised here. Namely, that we can be motivated (and de-motivated) by many different things.

So, back to my role as DOS and what I can do, because I definitely have a part to play. Here are some thoughts on motivating and inspiring my team*:

Deal with what Herzberg calls the ‘hygiene factors’:

  • Pay – we’re a long way off from being on a par with the highest earners in society, but fight for competitive pay for your teachers
  • Security – keep a tight ship and make sure everyone has enough work
  • Conditions – do your best to keep the facilities comfortable and provide the right tools for the job
  • Keep the admin to a minimum, and try to ensure it can be simply and efficiently done
  • Get out of the way – avoid prescriptive measures and let the teachers get on with expressing their individual teaching flair
  • Morale – know your teachers, listen to them, build up a good rapport, go out for a drink with them, be happy to make a fool of yourself  (get on the mic at the summer karaoke party 🙂 )

And then focus on the ‘motivating factors’

  • Vary the work by giving teachers different kinds of courses to teach
  • Challenge them with new levels, new courses
  • Give teachers autonomy – create space within the syllabus for choice of materials and resources, for creativity
  • Recognise and ‘reward’ those who go the extra mile
  • And provide plenty of opportunities for growth – a framework and conditions for professional development which I have described here and here


And then the inspirational icing on the cake

  • Practice what you preach – one of my goals is to create and maintain a learning culture at the school, and one way I promote this is by regularly sharing my learning with the team
  • Create a shared vision – whatever the goals are for the school, for the team, for each individual teacher, find ways to build a sense of engagement in that vision
  • Know your stuff – read, tweet, blog, attend webinars & conferences, and keep up with the latest thinking
  • Be innovative – use the latest tech tools in your meetings, or workshops, and once again be a model for others
  • Set compelling goals – tap into the the deep seated desire of all teachers (even those whose dreams lie elsewhere) to do their best to contribute to their learners’ ongoing progress and achievement
  • Be inspired – find what it is that inspires you, and you’ll find it easier to inspire others…

So, if you are a teacher reading this, what do you think? Does your DOS do it for you? What is it about them that inspires you?

And if you are a DOS, stop for a moment; take a deep breath; shut your eyes and with your tongue firmly in your cheek, allow yourself to dream that this song is for you.

The famous song about Directors of Studies: ‘Nobody DOS it better‘ 😉

*disclaimer: this is what I attempt to achieve..but do I? – hey, you gotta try!

What to put in the CPD pot?

21 01 2013
Photo by @purple_steph #eltpics

Photo by @purple_steph #eltpics

As well as everything else, the start of the year also means working on and kicking off a new programme of teacher development sessions.

What elements should a good programme include? Here are some thoughts:

collaboration and interaction / workshops

peer support and inclusiveness / swapshops

shared knowledge and experience / insets and peer observations

relevant input and practical outcomes / instantly useable ideas

outside expertise / invited speakers

challenge for the participants

challenge for the trainers

enquiry, research, reflection

choice of topics and consultation

non-compulsory attendance, but incentive

As mentioned here, I believe in self directed professional development, but as the DOS I need to provide a framework and the conditions for people to develop within, for people to find their own way. At my school, I’d like to say that we are building a learning culture – I think we can always keep developing, and I think that somehow teachers who are learning make better teachers, but more on that in a future post…

So I was thinking about what topics and themes to include in this year’s TD programme, and I thought I’d look back to recap on what we did in 2012.

TD sessions in 2012

  • Putting Reflection into Practice
  • Exploiting and extending materials – with Speak Out author, Antonia Clare
  • Demanding more in Conversation classes
  • IATEFL Report – feedback from 4 colleagues (2 who presented, 2 who attended the conference)
  • Lesson plans and resources Swapshop 1
  • The 3 Rs – Review, Reformulate, Recycle
  • Teaching Unplugged  – with co-author, Luke Meddings
  • Making the most of the coursebook
  • Teaching unplugged in practice
  • Lesson plans and resources Swapshop 2
  • Business English for the uninitiated
  • On the tip of your tongue – pronunciation workshop
  • Using the iPad
  • Using the Flipcam
  • Using the Speak Out Activebook
  • Attending to students with special learner needs
  • Methodology: Putting theory into practice
  • The board: a teacher’s best friend
  • Demand High 1
  • Demand High 2
  • Business English for the initiated

After finishing this list, I thought – hmm, that looks pretty impressive!

But momentarily I wonder – what did it all add up to? what did it achieve? are the teachers teaching better lessons? are the students making better progress? are we achieving a culture of learning?

On balance, I have to believe that we are; better to have these sessions, these opportunities, than not to have any at all. And then the rest should follow.

So, back to 2013…what ingredients to throw in the pot for this year?

What’s going into your CPD pot?

Photo by @ij64 #eltpics

Photo by @ij64 #eltpics

The Challenge of Change

13 01 2013

‘Throw out the old and bring in the new…’

'Old and new' @sandymillin #eltpics

‘Old and new’ @sandymillin #eltpics

Looking ahead at what the new year will bring, one thing for sure is that 2013 at the school where I work will see change. Change because of new students, new courses, and new resources. Change can happen sometimes in unnoticeable and organic ways. Just business as usual.

But the school this year will also see change to operational systems, academic procedures, and teaching routines – change which will have to be introduced, managed and reviewed. And that is where the challenge lies. Because change isn’t always easy.

So why all these changes?

Well, firstly, I’m an aspirational DOS, and aim to create a culture of learning at our school, not only for our students, but also for our teaching team, and myself. We can continuously seek to improve, because generally, things can always be done better, especially in the imperfect world of rolling enrolment.

And secondly, as an accredited school, there are regular nudges and prompts from the bodies who come and visit us – inspectors (lovely people!) and their inspections – and this naturally tends to push re-evaluation and change to the fore.

(shh! secret: I enjoy inspections, and some inspectors actually are lovely people 😉 )

Aspirational changes over recent years have included, among others:

  • A school teaching style:- touches of consistency to glue together our wonderful individual teachers, moments that each week, each lesson, create a sense of team.
  • Professional Development Portfolios, with templates for teachers to record different kinds of CPD, and to guide reflection on what has been learnt and how/when new ideas have been tried out.
  • Introducing technology into classrooms, and integrating it into teaching and learning
  • Launching an eLearning platform with online tutorials and individual learning plans

So if we have a culture of learning and development, where change is not uncommon, why is managing it a challenge?

One of the main reasons is that change leads to moving away from our usual route, from our familiar and comfortable routines. And not everybody likes this. People can be afraid of change, and fear can provoke resentment and negativity.

So what are the key elements to managing change successfully? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Communication. The aims and rationale behind change need to be explained, discussed and agreed by both those responsible for implementing it and those who will be affected by it. An open, two-way channel of communication needs to run through the whole process.
  2. Ownership. If the communication is effective, ideally a sense of ownership can be created among the team, and then the responsibility for change becomes a shared one.
  3. Piloting. When possible, a small group or groups of those affected can spend some time trying out the proposed change and then report back with suggestions for improved implementation.
  4. A champion. Try to identify enthusiastic early adopters who can bring to the process a positivity and a willingness to try change, perhaps led by a ‘champion’ who can help to maintain momentum.
  5. Pace. Change won’t work if rushed or if it happens too slowly – a good sense of timing is needed to achieve the right balance.
  6. Review. And keep reviewing until the change becomes BAU – business as usual.

Sounds quite straightforward, no?

Well, no actually.

If I look back at my attempts at managing change, how have I fared? I would have to say that I have yet to achieve change which has been fully 100% successful. Partial, near successes yes, but reflecting on each of those aspirational changes mentioned above, none have entirely got to the BAU stage.

So where did I go wrong?!

There are probably 2 or 3 overriding reasons.

The first is that as a DOS I am faced with constant demands from multiple directions…students, teachers, timetables, course enquiries, course admin, emails, rooms, books, resources, technology, classroom equipment, wifi and Internet connection, publishers, exams, references, interviews, inductions, and none of these relate to academic strategy…I know it all sounds like an excuse, but if you’re a DOS reading this you’ll know what I mean. To be honest it’s what makes the job fun. But time management is a challenge, and getting on to the strategy work – which for me is the most fun – particularly so.

The second issue is that change will be most successful when part of a greater vision, a clearly planned  strategy or mission, and I would wager that many EFL schools do not have such a thing. Or if they do, it is rarely communicated clearly to all the staff. Our aim is of course to be a successful and competitive provider of quality English language courses – and I’d say we achieve this – but an academic vision or strategy requires more detail and definition than that.

So, I have found that when managing change, new ideas might sometimes take over, or new demands may supersede old priorities.

And perhaps I just haven’t been able to follow the steps above as effectively as I could have. Perhaps my communication could have been more two-way, and more compelling? Perhaps I haven’t created that sense of ownership for change within the team? Perhaps I have not reviewed enough and made change stick? These elements are not straightforward at all, and do require skills which I know I am still developing.

So, as I return to work at the start of the new year, and once again pick up the many balls I have to juggle, and immediately feel a little overwhelmed, I wonder if I will achieve smoother and more effective change in 2013?

Whatever, I know it will be a challenge. At least that is my experience. What about yours?

Why are we still talking about CPD?

18 12 2012

‘Track’ by @cerirhiannon (eltpics)

Or rather, why am I still talking about CPD?

Or rather still – why are people coming to see me talk about CPD?!

I’ll try to answer these questions shortly, but perhaps I should start the first post for this new blog again…


I have had the pleasure of presenting at several conferences and events this year.

Well, it became something pleasurable. The first presentation in March actually filled me with terror! It was my first time giving a conference presentation, and the prospect of presenting at a management conference to a room filled with experienced peers filled my every waking and sleeping thoughts for months leading up to it! But it has been a new challenge for me and one I have in fact relished. It has been part of my own professional development. And it has taken me to Oxford, Glasgow, Moscow, Eger in Hungary and back to London. Great!

I have done evolving versions of the same talk, on the topic of Continuing Professional Development. If you’re interested, here is the link to my prezi 

But why talk about CPD? In 2012, don’t we all see ourselves as professionals in a professional industry where becoming better at what we do is a natural, conscious and inevitable process? Well no, we don’t and it isn’t.

I recall a former Londosa colleague at a conference in 2009 saying that “CPD is the zeitgeist, an idea whose time has come.” But did it all change that year? What has changed since then? Have the minds of ELT professionals been captured by the spirit of CPD?

I happen to think it is changing. But it’s changing slowly, and it is still a struggle sometimes to motivate teachers, colleagues. What we need is to see CPD in a new light.

First of all, we need to realize that CPD is important.

In a great OUP webinar back in July, Catherine Walter from Oxford University presented findings from a  study of evidence-based research into ‘What professional development for teachers works best.’ The first point she made was that ‘Good teaching leads to good learning’ – not rocket science you might think, but what factors lead to good teaching? She found that 3 key variables made the most difference to improved learner outcomes:

  • getting the right people to become teachers
  • ensuring the best possible instruction for every learner

(and the third one…Wait for it…)

  • developing teachers’ ability to teach well

But I suppose we knew this all along, right? Deep down it just makes sense, but on it’s own it is not enough.

Second – we have to realise that professional development is not done to you, but something you do yourself.

Too many teachers believe that their development is the responsibility of the institution where they work, whereas the opposite is true. The trouble is that CPD is too often seen as something big, and feels like a kind of assignment with a deadline. It is thought of as a series of scheduled events, organized by someone else, and covering topics or skills decided by someone else. And in my experience both teachers and managers are guilty of this perception.

Of course a good school (& a good DOS) should try to organize a programme of developmental events. Ideally, there should be some consultation with teachers on the areas of focus.  But INSET sessions are not the only way to develop. What happens in between?

A teacher can develop in many small, and continuous, gradual on-going activities…
CPD Wordle 3

Trying out a new activity or resource – and then evaluating why it worked or didn’t work – is, in my opinion, an example of useful CPD. Many teachers do this all the time. The key is to recognise that you are doing it – and critically, make a note or record it in some way. That reflective moment, when you consider the merits of what you did, and whether or not – and how – to best incorporate it into your teaching repertoire – that is you developing.

Lastly, CPD is the best way to maximise your career opportunities.

As a DOS, you won’t believe how many speculative applications and CVs I get coming into my inbox every week. Loads. And to be honest there is very little which distinguishes one teacher from another:

‘Experienced, qualified teacher…’

‘I have a Masters degree, a CELTA qualification and X years’ experience teaching a broad range of levels, ages and nationalities…’

‘I am a super enthusiastic, self-motivated teacher and I enjoy incorporating a variety of aids in to my lessons to make them more enjoyable for the students…’

And so on. Obviously, the right experience and the right qualifications are relevant when recruiting, but how many teachers do you think highlight the importance of professional development in their cover letters and outline their CPD track record in their CVs?

Hardly any.

So start that reflective record. Keep a teaching diary. Create a portfolio of your work. Show your commitment to your profession, and then you have a great chance of being among the stand-out candidates at the top of the DOS’s shortlist.

And to change perceptions, to help colleagues see it in a new light – let’s keep talking about CPD.