Revitalizing coasting teachers

17 09 2015

coasting title

This topic comes up fairly regularly at DOS meetings, with a particular DOS venting their frustration about a particular teacher, asking “how does everyone, ahem, rejuvenate coasting teachers?” Of course what they really mean is ‘how do you manage someone who refuses to develop?’; in fact I specifically recall a tabled question for discussion along the lines of ‘what do you do about the dinosaurs in your staffroom?’  Well, I was recently asked to deliver a training session on the topic, so here are the areas my session covered…

Firstly, I wanted to elaborate on the meaning or perception of ‘coasting’ – how could we define it, or at least describe it? Does it tend to refer to younger or older teachers, or all ages? And if it implies a pejorative connotation, what might be the opposite of coasting?

Here are some responses, both from my session and from PLNers who responded to my question on facebook:

  • Is it when you can’t be bothered to prepare anything so you just play a DVD?
  • Stuck in your comfort zone.
  • Not going to TD sessions because you’ve ‘done it all before’
  • Set in your ways
  • Doing something without putting much effort into it.
  • Reluctant to take on new challenges
  • Stale, jaded, routinized

I think age is irrelevant; any teacher of any age might be ‘coasting’, although it does come into other people’s perceptions (cf the question about dinosaurs).

One colleague shared the link to a fascinating talk given by Tessa Woodward on The Professional Life Cycles of Teachers where she explores the research of Michael Huberman into Teacher Career Cycles; his research looked at how teachers view older/younger colleagues, and whether managers tend to ‘typecast’ their teachers, the suspicion being that they ‘knew which teachers would grow stale’. He also outlined the typical phases that teachers go through if they remain in an institution over a long period. Interesting stuff.

The opposite of coasting? Teachers who are engaged, connected, developing, creative, who approach their work with a sense of enquiry, who go the extra mile. It is probably easy for most of us in this profession to picture past or present colleagues who seem to fit into these opposing ‘categories’.

Next, it is essential to consider the causes – what might cause a teacher to coast? And also consider what are the ‘threats’ for the school – why is it a problem?

There are of course multiple potential causes, summed up here in a slide from my prezi:

coasting causes

These possible causes all point to the need for managers to really know their staff, to find out what is behind the issue, and avoid ‘typecasting’. It might not always be what we think, or what our ‘bias’ might lead us to believe.

And the threats? Why should coasting teachers concern us? If the coasting teacher is popular with good student feedback, is there a problem?

coasting discuss

I think there is.

As managers, we must be consistent. We must expect and ask the same of all our staff, not just the ones who respond positively to our demands. Of course, if a coasting teacher is keeping their students happy, then it is easy to let them off the hook, and avoid dealing with the issue. But the result of this is to turn an issue into a long-term problem, because the more you turn a blind eye, the harder it becomes to deal with; a coasting individual can potentially have a negative impact on students, on other staff members and ultimately on the institution.

So how to manage it?

The first thing is to confront your own perspective: why do you feel bad about asking the coasting teacher to get out of their comfort zone and engage in their work? What are you really asking of them?

Now the institution I work in is accredited by various inspection schemes, we strive for quality, we are continuously aiming to drive standards, and we have a good reputation.

So my perspective on this matter is that all I am asking is for teachers to meet the standards and expectations of the school. This is not some kind of hidden, secret trick; I have not seduced anyone to come and work for me and then sprung something unexpected on them. I don’t think I am asking too much.

To ensure the academic vision is clear, then, there are 3 management headline strategies: Communicate, Lead by example, and Culture.

Communicate your values and expectations consistently – at the recruitment stage (in job descriptions, interviews, contracts, induction), in staff handbooks and teaching guides, in meetings, 121s & appraisals, newsletters, and so on and so forth. In spite of what I said above, I think more could be done to be transparent and consistently clear so that staff know what is expected of them (this LAM SIG event on the theme of Communication could be worth catching…)

Lead by example – be a model for the values of the school, share what inspires you and your own learning and development. (Controversial thought – is the cause of a coasting teacher a coasting DOS?)

And promote a culture of learning, collaboration and development – look to recruit teachers who are engaged, don’t ignore the power of a positive staffroom. And give opportunities to those who shine and go the extra mile, not just to the next longest-serving teacher in line.

Then there is clearly a need to manage performance.

coasting perf mgmt

In appraisals and catch-up chats, you need to address under-performance (coasting), explore the possible causes, (re-)highlight the expectations and standards, and set goals which will improve performance. I know that some managers and teachers feel that measuring teaching performance is too abstract (and for some, too controversial), but there are tools which can help both to do this. The European Profiling Grid is one such tool; it attempts to describe training and qualifications, and teaching competencies and behaviours from entry level to very experienced, and can be used as a reference for discussion between manager and teacher to look at standards and set goals.

And, finally, it is important to understand and manage motivation.

coasting motivate

Deal with the hygiene factors as much as you can – ensure good work conditions and facilities, keep admin and prescriptive policies to a minimum – and really enhance and emphasize the motivators. Set out a relevant and varied teacher development programme with choice and collaboration at its heart, offer job variety and challenge with a range of courses and responsibilities, allow space for autonomy and creativity, share positive feedback, say thank you and offer praise, and give recognition to those who go the extra mile.

Once these areas have been considered, and these management strategies acted upon, and lots of specific and positive support has been given, then you should have managed to set out a clear pathway to revitalize a coasting teacher.

Do you have a success story to share? How did you deal with a coasting teacher?

Or are you in the midst of an on-going saga? Where and how are you getting stuck?


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.


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!