Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Richard Branson, “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you are not sure you can do it, say yes. Then learn how to do it later.”

I saw this quote on Jane Cohen’s blog a few days ago, and feel like it sums up my job at IH Bydgoszcz pretty perfectly, as well as being from one of the managers I admire most.

When my predecessor, Tim, first mentioned the possibility of taking over from him as Director of Studies (DoS) managing a team of 18-20 teachers, I really wasn’t sure I could do it. After all, I’d only finished Delta a year or so earlier, and had done very little teaching since then to see if I could apply what I’d learnt. I was a fledgling CELTA tutor with only four courses under my belt, and still very much felt like I was learning how to do that job. Although I’d worked as the DoS at IH Sevastopol, it was a very different school with a much smaller team of only 3-6 teachers, and where I was still teaching 18-24 hours a week. Thankfully Tim talked me into visiting the school to see what the job really involved.

Less than a month later I spent four days in Bydgoszcz and Torun, visiting the school and the surrounding area and shadowing Tim at school for two days. I spent the first day continuing to think there was no way I could possibly do this job, and it took a couple of conversations with some of the teachers on the second day to persuade me that I would manage it. Thank you – you know who you are!

The result was that when the end of August 2015 rolled around, I found myself moving to Bydgoszcz, and entering a near-empty school just waking up from the summer break for the best induction I could possibly have hoped for. Tim spent nearly three weeks with me, introducing me to various procedures at the school and helping me get a handle on many of the things I’d need to do the job. He’s always been on call to help me throughout the year, and I’m immensely grateful for his help.

At the beginning of September, the senior teachers arrived and together, with Tim’s help, we planned the induction week for new and returning teachers. Throughout the year Luke, Sam and I have worked well as a team (in my opinion!) to support the teachers and keep everything running smoothly. I have relied on their prior knowledge of systems at the school to help me work out what needed doing, when and how. This is also true of the admin staff, and especially of the school Director, who is amazingly supportive, and one of the best bosses I have ever had the pleasure to work with.

Together, we have:

  • placement tested new students and organised the timetable
  • done drop in and formal observations to help our teachers develop
  • provided weekly professional development workshops
  • run collaborative level planning meetings covering about half of the groups at the school
  • had weekly meetings and senior meetings to keep everybody up-to-date
  • organised a teacher training day, two adult social events and two young learner socials
  • run a day of Cambridge mock exams
  • coordinated and checked reports for students
  • organised tutorials and parents’ meetings
  • recruited new staff and organised accommodation for them
  • dealt with problems that teachers, students and parents have had
  • chosen new course books for the next school year
  • and probably many other things which I’ve forgotten!

Needless to say, I had no idea how to do a lot of those things before I started the job! I was lucky to have inherited a lot of systems which I’ve been able to build on, making the whole thing a lot easier for me. A selection of the skills I think I’ve learnt or developed over the past year include:

  • using many features of Excel I had no idea even existed before!
  • how to use Outlook (something I’d thankfully managed to escape before – I hate it!)
  • communication skills: when to listen, what to ask, when to talk, what to say, how to say it
  • awareness of relationships around the school and how they impact on people
  • recruitment
  • balancing timetables fairly and taking into account the needs of teachers, students and the school
  • helping teachers fresh off the CELTA to build on what they’ve learnt
  • classroom management with teen classes (I had my own teen group for most of the year)
  • time management, and knowing how to manage my office door
  • balancing school work and out-of-school activities (I’d say ‘life’, but a lot of it has still been work this year – already have plans afoot to change this next year!)

Of course, there’s still a lot I need to work on, including many of the areas mentioned above. To help me with this, I’d like to get some more formal management training, as like many people I’ve been learning on the job. So far I’ve been relying on a combination of instinct, past conversations with my mum when she was managing a large organisation, Business Studies from school, management books I mostly read as a teenager, and asking for help from my ever-supportive network.

As I enter my second year at IH Bydgoszcz and am now more aware of the background I’m working with, I’m starting to make deeper changes, beyond the occasional rewriting of a document or update of a system. These include modifying the already very strong professional development structure, changing the way registers are set up with the aim of making them easier to fill in, and introducing some shared groups. Watch this space to find out what works and what doesn’t!

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Comments on: "My first year as a full-time DoS" (10)

  1. Rather you than me! Congrats on a very successful first year, I’m sure you will shine equally brightly (if not more so) as you make your way through year 2. Enjoy! 🙂 (And have some time off occasionally… :-p ) xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Congratulations on a good first year. it’s been wonderful to see you spread your wings and progress up the organisation: you should be really proud of yourself. Keep up the good work!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Tyson Seburn said:

    Congratulations, Sandy. It sounds like a year full of growth, learning, and validation. We should all be so fortunate.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It sounds like a fab year, and I’m sure you’re a wonderful DoS to all those teachers 🙂 As other people have said, it’s also great to have been able to add so many new skills to your already extensive collection. My only comment is how can you hate Outlook?! I need to give you a lesson, I love it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Outlook does my head in – it never reloads properly (though probably due to the age of my computer), you can only put things in one folder at a time, the interface is clunky… I’ve been using gmail for years, and it’s so much smoother! I’m sure you could teach me how to use it more effectively though!
      Thanks for the nice comments 🙂

      Like

  5. I have also been using outlook for the first time this year and I am also not a fan… (especially as my last employer had all the school domain addresses running through gmail!)

    It’s good that you still ave your own class(es) though – I think solely focusing on the office side of the job would become a chore otherwise.

    Like

  6. Really appreciate your list, this has helped us as a growing new academy, and by us I mean “me” 🙂

    Like

  7. Just starting an academic management role myself, so it’s nice to hear from someone already into their first year as a DoS, good work! I think I’ll be performing a lot similar duties here so I’ll be bothering you for advice soon enough! Any pointers towards useful training/resources would also be very much appreciated 🙂

    Like

    • Hi Jessica,
      Are you working for an IH or someone else? IH have a DoS course – I haven’t done it yet, but have heard good things about it, and it’s much cheaper for people working for IH. I’ve been planning to put together some links for DoSes, but have no idea when I’ll find time to do it! in the meantime, take a look at Josh Round’s blog http://bethedos.wordpress.com and The Secret DoS to start you off.
      Good luck, and feel free to ask for advice whenever you like!
      Sandy

      Like

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