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

Posts tagged ‘Director of Studies’

Staying healthy

I’ve written at length (when don’t I?!) about the fact that I have ulcerative colitis, and how it affects my life.

Having a stress-induced illness means that it’s particularly important that I find ways to manage how stressed I feel to avoid a flare-up of my colitis. September and the beginning of October are by far the busiest times of our school year, and can be very stressful for me at times. For the last two years, I was quite bad for most of this six-week period. Since Christmas last year, I’ve been on immuno-suppresants, which have stopped me from having any flare-ups (yay!) and seem to be keeping me mostly healthy right now (double yay!) I can still feel some of the symptoms though, and I need to look after myself to avoid the other pitfalls of a weak immune system, like catching every cold that passes through the school (!)

Here are some of the things I’ve been trying to do:

  • Making sure I stick to my morning routine as much as possible, doing physio exercises and spending 20 minutes or so doing cross stitch, both relaxing activities in and of themselves. I listen to podcasts at the same time to give me something to think about other than work.
  • Keeping active by aiming for 10,000 steps a day, which equates to about 100 minutes of exercise a day. When you’re sitting a desk doing timetables and setting up electronic registers all day, that’s not always easy!
  • Eating healthy food. I bought a slow cooker a couple of weeks ago, which has helped me to cook in bulk and not have to worry about exactly when the food will be ready. So far I’ve made soup and lasagne, and am happy to get any other suggestions (though I can’t eat anything spicy because of the colitis, so no curries!)
Soup in my new slow cooker

It might not look very appealing, but it tasted delicious!

  • Switching off the computer and blue screens by 9:30, before going to bed at 11pm. Having always been lucky to sleep fairly well, I didn’t think this would make much difference, but I feel much more refreshed by my sleep if I haven’t been using screens late at night.
  • Noticing when I’m stressed, particularly if I’m moving faster than I need to be, taking a deep breath, and consciously slowing down. For example, I realised I was rushing when I was washing my hands this afternoon because my brain was very active and I felt like I needed to get things done. I realised that taking an extra 30 seconds would calm me down a bit and make my work more effective in the end.
  • Blogging 🙂

I’m also really looking forward to my first flamenco class of this year – our lessons restart tomorrow night.

What do you do to stay healthy and to de-stress?

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What are you thinking about?

When I was a full-time teacher, my thoughts went something like this:

  • Why do I have to get up this early?
  • When will I find time to eat?
  • I hope my students are enjoying their lessons.
  • I really hope I’m actually teaching them something!
  • Hmm…that didn’t really work.
  • Oh my god, how could that lesson possibly have gone that badly?
  • This blogging malarkey is fun. I’m learning so much from everyone.
  • I don’t want this year to end because I’ll really miss my students.
  • …and so on.

Now, I’m a Director of Studies, CELTA trainer and materials writer, and my thoughts have (mostly!) moved on.

  • Why can’t I get back to sleep?
  • When will I find time to eat?
  • Where am I going to find the last teacher I need?
  • What teacher development should we offer this year? Is it giving everyone what they need?
  • Will this timetable ever be finished?
  • How can we make sure everyone feels comfortable at school?
  • That was really snappy/short/sharp/angry – apologise now and don’t let it get worse.
  • I wish I had more time in the classroom and to work on my own teaching.
  • I wish I had more time.
  • I really want to work on that CELTA course, but the dates don’t fit.
  • Where will my next CELTA course be? When will I know?
  • How can I encourage people to buy my book?

Richer Speaking cover

  • I’m really excited about this project – I can’t wait to be able to share it!
  • Don’t forget to put in your IATEFL proposal.
  • I need to make sure I still find time to get thoughts out of my head onto my blog.
  • I have too many ideas for my blog and not enough time!
  • Switch your computer off at 9:30. You know you’ll sleep better if you do.
  • Stop it. Look after yourself.
  • …and so on.

What are you thinking?

A timetable metaphor

Last week I started trying to put together the timetable for the new school year. This is the third time I’ve done the timetable for my school, not counting changes that happen through the year. I’ve worked out a few systems for myself now, and as I’ve got to know teachers, students (especially 121s) and what does and doesn’t work, things have got a bit easier, but it’s still an all-consuming task. I have no idea how those who do timetables at schools with continuous enrolment manage it!

What my head feels like right now! (Image from Pixabay)

It’s like you’re trying to do a jigsaw, with people adding random extra pieces all the time, and occasionally taking them away.

There is a deadline, but you know that the picture will still have to change for at least a couple of weeks after the deadline has passed – it’s never truly finished.

The end result has to be a picture that is as pleasing as possible to various different groups of people: students, staff (approximately a third of whom you’ve only had a couple of hours of conversation with during interviews and have never met in person), admin staff, businesses etc. You’ve never seen this picture and have no idea what it’s supposed to look like.

Said people are also looking over your shoulder, offering advice, asking questions, and sometimes telling you that the picture just doesn’t look right that way or that they’re not happy with that particular part of the image.

You go home, sleep on it (or not, as the case may be!), and occasionally wake up in the middle of the night thinking ‘Duh! How could I possibly have forgotten that?’ or ‘Oh yeah – that would be a much better picture.’

You’ve been on the other side of the process as a teacher, and you have a pretty good idea of what is manageable in terms of a timetable. You try as hard as you can to make things as easy as possible for your teachers, a lot of whom have never taught before, while at the same time matching up students and groups to those who you believe will be most likely to teach them successfully. You also try to balance timetables, so that they seem ‘fair’ when the inevitable comparing begins. You also know it could be a lot worse for them.

Three or four weeks later, after many hours of work and countless to-ing and fro-ing, you hand out the timetables to everyone. And then the complaints roll in.

But at the same time, there is a sense of satisfaction. This giant, ever-changing logic puzzle has coalesced into something that looks like it just might work. Now you just have to wait and see…

On leadership and teamwork

Zhenya has just posted her answers to the 11 questions challenge (Thanks! See mine here and here) and posed some of her own, including three which I’d like to respond to here.

Have you ever tried to lead a team of people? If yes, what are your impressions and learning? If no, would you like to (one day)?

I’ve now been working as a Director of Studies for two years in two very different schools. The first was small, with only a handful of part-time teachers and one other full-time teacher (the school Director) besides me. Most of the time I was teaching full-time as well as being the DoS. The second has about 20 teachers, including me, and I only teach for a couple of hours a week. I work in close collaboration with two ADoSes and the school Director.

I had an excellent induction, but have also learnt an incredible amount on the job, not least in the last two weeks. It has not just taught me about what it takes to manage a language school, but also about working with a team of diverse personalities, and about my own personality. It has shown me how I and my team respond to a crisis (or five!), how everybody’s personalities and characters can complement each other to complete a team and also how sometimes there are things I just don’t or can’t notice which I need other people to be willing to share with me.

It’s not an easy job, but it’s not impossible either, and the challenges it throws at me keep me interested and invigorated, if a little tired at times 😉

When do you think someone is ready to be a leader of a team?

Not long after becoming a full-time DoS, I wrote some advice for people considering moving into management. It includes a series of questions you can use to help you decide whether you are ready to be a manager.

For me, it’s important for a leader to have experience of being part of a team or environment similar to the one they are managing in. That way they are much more likely to be able to empathise with their team. If they are ready to learn what it takes to be an effective leader, then they are probably ready to become a leader. If they think they know it all already, then I would probably steer clear!

What’s your best tip on working with people?

Communicate.

And remember that part of communicating is listening.

Listening attentively

Without good channels of communication, it’s impossible to work effectively with people. There will always be rumours, backbiting and negative comments if people don’t understand what is going on and why.

You also need to be willing to listen when members of your team have something they want to tell you, whether it’s positive or negative (and let’s face it, it’s usually negative). Don’t get defensive or be accusatory – let them talk, and find out what they need from you. Sometimes it’s just to let off steam. Sometimes they don’t know what they need, and you need to help them work towards finding out.

Another part of communication is about being open to the world around you. By learning more, you will be able to connect more easily and effectively with more people, which will hopefully benefit both you and them. By being open, team members are also more likely to be willing to share those things with you which you can’t see, as I mentioned above.

How would you answer Zhenya’s questions?

My first year as a full-time DoS

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!

Thoughts on giving feedback to teachers

As both a CELTA trainer and a Director of Studies, a key part of my job is giving feedback to teachers after observations. I was prompted to write this post after listening to Jo Gakonga, a fellow CELTA trainer, talk about feedback on the TEFLology podcast, and looking at her new teacher feedback site. One of the things she said was that after our initial training as managers or tutors, we are normally left to our own devices with feedback, something which I’ve often wondered about. It’s useful to reflect on how we’re giving feedback, and I’d really like to develop this area of my practice more. Here’s a bit about where I am now…

I’ve just finished working on a CELTA at International House Milan, where I had two main development goals for myself as a tutor. I tried to revamp many of my input sessions to make them more practical and to make the handouts more useful and less overwhelming, and I also worked to improve both my written and oral feedback, again to be more practical and less overwhelming.

I have previously been told that sometimes my feedback can come across as negative, and that it’s not always clear whether a lesson has been successful or not. I also catch myself taking over feedback sometimes, and not allowing trainees the time or space for their own reflection or to give each other feedback. Timing can be a problem too. On the CELTA course, you can’t really afford to spend more than 15 minutes on oral feedback for each trainee, as there are other things which need to be fitted in to the day. The positive response I got from trainees at the end of the Milan course in response to changes I’ve made means I think (hope!) I’m heading in the right direction.

We had 45-60 minutes for feedback after each TP (teaching practice). By the end of the course, we were breaking it down into 15-20 minutes of peer feedback, with trainees working in pairs for five minutes at a time to give individual feedback to each of the three teachers from that day’s TP, with the person who taught reflecting on their lesson first. I then summarised the feedback and added my own for another 10-15 minutes, and answered any questions they had about the lessons. This was based on three positives and three areas to work on for each trainee, and I tried to make sure that they were given equal weight. The last section of the feedback involved taking an area I felt the trainees needed to work on and doing some mini input, either demonstrating something like how to give instructions to pre-intermediate students or drawing their attention to the good work of their fellow trainees, for example by analysing a successful lesson plan to show what they might be aiming for themselves. Where possible, I also referred back to handouts from input sessions to strengthen the link between input and TP. This seemed to work, and is a structure I’d like to use again.

Other feedback activities I’ve used successfully are:

  • a ‘kiss’ and a ‘kick’ (thanks for teaching me this Olga!): trainees share one positive thing from the lesson, and one thing the teacher should work on. This is done as a whole group, and everybody should share different things. The person who taught should speak first.
  • board-based feedback: divide the board into +/- sections for each trainee. The group should fill the board with as many things as they noticed from the lessons as possible, which then form the basis for discussion. The teacher can’t write on their own section.

Another thing I’ve been trying to do is make the links between the skill of teaching and that of learning a foreign language as explicit as possible. Reflection on teaching should be balanced between positives and negatives, in the same way that you wouldn’t let a student continue to think that they are the best/worst student ever. During input sessions, I highlighted things that trainees could steal and take into their own lessons, like how to set up particular activities, and also made clear what areas of my own teaching I’m working on, such as giving instructions, and when they were and weren’t successful, to exemplify the nature of being a reflective teacher. Although it’s often quite natural, trainees also shouldn’t beat themselves up for not taking previous feedback or new information from input sessions on board instantly, just like it’s not possible for students to use the present perfect without any problems as soon as they’ve learnt it. One mantra during our feedback sessions was that CELTA tutors are looking for ‘progress, not perfection’.

If you’re a trainer or manager, do you have any other feedback techniques you can share? And as someone who’s being observed, what do you want the observer to do/say in feedback?

Torre Velasca, home of IH Milan, as seen from the roof of the Duomo

Torre Velasca, home of IH Milan

Taking back time: How to do everything you want to (IATEFL Birmingham 2016)

Title slide

At the IATEFL Birmingham 2016 conference my presentation was designed to answer a question I’m asked all the time:

How do you find the time to do everything you do?

At the risk of bragging, here are some of the reasons why I’m asked that question. I’m:

Richer Speaking cover

You’ll probably notice that some things aren’t on that list. I don’t have a partner or a family, which obviously frees up a lot of time for other things. I often joke that the reason I can manage to do so many things is that I have no life, but that’s not strictly true. While a lot of my life does revolve around this career which I love, I also recognise the importance of a work-life balance and endeavour to maintain this. I’ve therefore adopted many strategies to organise my time, which I shared in my presentation at IATEFL. Here is a recording of it which was made by Hanna Zieba for me (thanks Hanna!):

This handout summarises all of the strategies and you can download it via Slideshare.

Alternatively, read on for a fuller account of the strategies and why I use them.

Time turner from Harry Potter

The device in the picture is a Time Turner, used by Hermione Grainger in the Harry Potter films to give herself five extra hours a day. It may feel like we need something similar!

Pictures of wall planner, weekly planner and diaries

Tip number one: Outsource your memory. What I mean by this is that you should write down everything you need to remember as soon as possible. I do this in a variety of places. At work we have an annual year-to-view wall planner with post-it notes which can be moved around if things change. Just before the school year starts we copy over the main events from the previous year. It’s on the wall in my office for teachers to see at any time. Also at work I have a weekly planner, which I will describe in more detail later.

The most organised I have ever been at home was last year. I was given two diaries for Christmas, and decided to use one as a normal dates/appointments diary, for example with flight times, and the other as a to-do list diary. Whenever I thought of something I needed to do I would put it in my diary on or just before the appropriate date, meaning I could then forget about things until I needed to do them. I used to use scraps of paper and discovered this system was much more efficient, so much so that I bought a to-do list diary for work too!

Photo of weekly planner

Tip number two: Refresh every week. I have a weekly planner at work which I write out every Friday before I leave, or on a Monday as soon as I get in. I find it much more motivating than having a single ever-expanding list.

Another benefit is that you can see the shape of your whole week in one place at a glance. If you use a diary or annual planner too, don’t forget to copy things over each week, as well as transferring anything you didn’t finish the previous week. If you copy something more than three times, you either need to stop procrastinating and prioritise it, or drop it from your list because it’s probably not that important. If you drop it, you could put it in your diary for a quieter period of the year, if that’s ever likely to happen for you!

I have just finished this notebook and now have an A4 sheet I print off which already has recurring events and tasks typed onto it.

Weekly planner showing gaps, plus a quote from a teacher using the weekly system: "It's proven invaluable in helping me organise my hours a bit more effectively, and reduces the stress of 'I have so much to do!'"

Tip number three: Leave Gaps. If you have any kind of daily to-do list, whether it be in a weekly planner like the one above or a diary, make sure you leave gaps to add extra things as they come up. They always will.

Another tip is to use small boxes on your planner as it is then harder to overfill them. It helps you to be more realistic about what you can achieve in a given time. I divide my planner into morning and afternoon, highlighting appointments and classes in blue, and highlighting anything which needs to be done urgently in yellow. This makes it faster for me to see when I’m available when people ask “Can you…?”

It took me a while to work out what I can realistically achieve in a morning or afternoon. This has improved with practice, but I still get it very wrong sometimes!

One of the teachers at IH Bydgoszcz started to use this system a few weeks ago and said:

It’s proven invaluable in helping me organise my hours a bit more effectively, and reduces the stress of ‘I have too much to do!’

Despite us both being quite techy people, we prefer to do all of this the old-fashioned way. There’s nothing quite like crossing things off a big piece of paper!

Achievements - showing a weekly planner at the end of a week, and notes made on my calendar

Tip number four: Notice your Achievements. By noticing what you’ve achieved each week, you will hopefully feel less like you’re drowning under the weight of things you ‘need’ to do. I always take a second to admire my weekly planner at the end of the week, and to notice how little needs to be transferred to next week’s plan, even though I know that in seven days my ‘new’ one will look pretty similar!

At home, I make a note of what I’ve done each day on my calendar. I hate seeing crosses on there, and since the beginning of February I’ve put a tick if I’ve managed to do everything – more on exactly what those things are later. I’ve noticed that I’ve completed all six things I want to do much more often since using ticks. This makes me feel a real sense of achievement. 🙂

Two large tasks you might want to break down: observing 19 teachers are your school and marking 30 300-word essays

Tip number five: Not a huge thing. If a task is huge, you’re much more likely to find reasons to procrastinate and avoid starting it. By breaking them down, you can work out how to fit it into your busy timetable, and you will probably find it more manageable. Here are examples of two huge tasks with possible ways that they could be broken down or the workload could be spread. Consider delegating if you’re a manager, but make sure you don’t overload your staff too much. By breaking large tasks into smaller chunks, it’s also easier to find ways to fit them into the gaps mentioned before.

I am important too: flamenco dancer images and '50 ways to take a break' poster

Tip number six: I am important too. Don’t forget to take time for yourself. If you can choose your working hours, aim to keep them as regular as possible (for me it’s 09:30 to about 18:30) and make sure that there are times when you are not available, with your phone switched off if possible. For example, Thursday evenings are my flamenco classes, so I try to avoid scheduling things for that time and staff know that. Make these times sacred so you have time to recharge your batteries.

I have a programme called TimeOut (Mac – I don’t know the Windows equivalent) to remind me to take little breaks to stand up and stretch from the computer. I try to go outside as much as possible, for example, by taking my laptop outside if I really need to complete a project and it’s warm enough, walking to work and paying conscious attention to the parks and people I see. Having the ’50 ways to take a break’ poster on my desktop helps me to think of different things to do, or I can just do a bit of housework, like the washing up. I can also work towards the personal goals I have each day, as described below.

I also try to factor in time for spending time with family and friends, having times in my diary with nothing specific scheduled so I can do what I feel like that day (though these are rare!) and having a holiday to look forward to whenever I can.

Pictures representing the six personal goals I have

Tip number seven: Start small. Don’t try and add every new habit you want to do at the same time, especially in your personal life. Add one new thing, make it a habit, then add the next thing if you can manage it. Too many things at once will probably overwhelm you, and you’ll end up not doing anything.

I started by using a pedometer to aim for 10,000 steps a day because I realised I wasn’t doing enough exercise – at one point during Delta I was doing as little as 1,500 steps a day. When this worked, I realised I was more likely to do my physio exercises if I wrote it down every day. When I was frustrated with my language learning, I started to add Russian practice, and saw a massive increase in my progress. I follow a lot of blogs and started to feel overwhelmed by the amount of blogposts in my reader, so I broke it down and aimed to read three to five posts each day. Now I rarely feel overwhelmed, and blitz it whenever I can. Despite being an ELTpics curator, I wasn’t uploading many ELTpics, so I added that. The final thing I put on there was cross stitch when I had projects to complete. Uploading just one ELTpic or doing just one strand a day of cross stitch is enough to get me my tick, and more is a bonus. I’d really like to learn to play the recorder that’s been sitting on my shelf for about two years now, but I think that’s one habit too many so I haven’t added that. I’m aiming for a sense of achievement, not depression!

A frog kneeling down and holding a bunch of flowers

Tip number eight: Experiment. These are my techniques, but they might not work for you. Keep trying different things until you find something which does. As Nick Tims said at the IATEFL MaWSIG pre-conference event last year, you may have to kiss a few frogs. These techniques have taken me at least five years of development. I started with scraps of paper with to-do lists on them, and these tips are the evolution of that.

ORGANISE stands for Outsource your memory, Refresh every week, Gaps, Achievements, Not a big thing, I am important too, Start small, Experiment

In summary, if you ORGANISE your time using some or all of the eight techniques listed above, you will hopefully be much less likely to need a time turner! I hope you find these techniques useful, and if you have any others, why not share them in the comments below?

Finally, thank you to LAM SIG (Leadership and Management Special Interest Group), who chose to feature my presentation as part of their day.

Sandy doing her time management presentation

Photo by Monika Izbaner/Hanna Zieba

IH AMT conference 2016

From Thursday 7th to Saturday 9th January, I had the pleasure of attending my third IH DoS conference, or the AMT conference as it’s now known: Academic Management & Trainers. As always, the conference was a very useful weekend, not least for the networking. It was a great opportunity to meet with representatives from across IH Poland since I started as the Director of Studies at IH Bydgoszcz:

IH Poland contigent at the IH AMT conference 2016

Monica Green‘s presentation about how to maintain positivity and morale in our schools was one of the highlights of the first day. A key point was that the focus should be across the school, including support staff, not just in the staffroom. As she said, “You’re paying the same whether teachers are happy or not, but it’s nicer to work somewhere everyone is happy.” Here are a few of her tips:

  • Morale has to start with managers. If they’re positive, their team is more likely to be.
  • Simple things make a big difference: say ‘Good morning’. Be warm, kind and considerate, show an interest, and listen to people.
  • Be approachable. If you have your own office, leave your door open whenever you can.
  • Make the physical environment pleasant to be in.
  • People who eat together work better together.
  • Make a particular effort with THAT member of staff, rather than avoiding them and hoping they’ll go away.
  • Build relationships based on trust and fairness. Be genuine and believable. Be consistent.
  • Give credit. Show respect. Define your expectations. And avoid micro-management!
  • And if all else fails, great wifi is a good way to increase morale 🙂

The change in name led to a slight change in focus, with two tracks of afternoon sessions for day one, one covering management issues, and one focussing more on training. It was a difficult choice, but I ended up spending all of my time in the training sessions.

It made a pleasant change to hear Paula de Nagy speaking up for pre-service courses, and highlighting all the ways they really do help teachers, rather than focussing on all the problems with these short courses, which is all too often the dialogue we hear.

Magnus Coney shared some of the things he’s learnt from three books. All of them sound interesting, and the first was mentioned a few times during the conference. [These are all affiliate links, so I’ll get a few pennies if you buy through them.]

  • Visible Learning by John Hattie.
    A meta-analysis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement in learning in general, including a ranking of which factors have the most impact on learning. The two excerpts from the list we saw during the conference included some surprises! Hattie has also published a couple of other books following up on the original.
  • Why Don’t Students Like School? by Daniel T. Willingham
    An explanation of how and why students learn, courtesy of a cognitive scientist.
  • Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger and Mark A. McDaniel
    Magnus shared a few interesting tips from here about how to help students remember things. One of the most interesting was that students learn things better if they’ve been tested on them before learning. I assume this is because they notice what they don’t know and are therefore motivated to fill in the gaps – a definite argument for test-teach-test! Another idea which I’ve got personal experience of is that things which are harder to learn stick better because you’ve processed them more.

By far the most useful talk on day two of the conference was by Jon Hird. His title was ‘Reaching every student in the classroom: dyslexia and learning English’. I’d highly recommend heading over to his blog and downloading the handout to find out more about what causes dyslexia, and how you can adapt materials so that they are more accessible for dyslexic students. Spoiler: dyslexia doesn’t just mean problems with reading and writing, and it certainly doesn’t mean that the person is not intelligent.

Day three brought my first experience of an Open Space event, ably coordinated by Josh Round. Here is a brief description of the format. We started by suggesting ideas/posing questions on post-it notes, which were then loosely grouped. I ended up in a group with questions about supporting newly-qualified teachers. Each group had a secretary who summarised the discussion, and all notes were shared on the IH management pages after the conference. It was a fascinating way to deal with issues pertinent to us, and to remind us that we’re not alone, and many other people have had the same problems as us!

Looking forward to next year already!

Alternatives to the Friday afternoon seminar

For the last few months I’ve been considering different ways of offering professional development to teachers within a school. To that end, here is a collection of alternatives/supplements to weekly seminars in no particular order. 

Lesson jamming: get together with a group of people for a couple of hours, take a prompt and come up with a lesson plan or two, which you can then take away and use. Read more about it (the penultimate section of the post) and an example.

Examining principles: consider your beliefs about what happens in the classroom and the materials you use in more depth, perhaps using some of the activities shared by Jill Hadfield in her IATEFL 2015 talk (the second section of the post)

Debate: take a controversial subject in ELT, and have a debate about it, perhaps encouraging teachers to find out more about it before the time. Potential topics could be the use of course books or whether testing is useful.

Webinars: watch a webinar together, then discuss it. Find some here to start you off.

Reading methodology books: but not alone! You could try something like Lizzie Pinard’s ELT Book Challenge or start a reading group as Gemma Lunn did. And it doesn’t have to be books, it could be blogs too.

Using ideas from one of these books about professional development

Action research projects: running workshops on how to identify areas of teaching to research and/or how to make the most of peer observation (or here), sending people off to do their projects, then bringing them back to report on their progress and share their results. Read about examples of projects.

Project-based professional development: as proposed by Mike Harrison, with the idea that teachers do a series of things related to a particular area they would like to investigate. I think it could be seen as a variant on action research.

Reflective practice group: encourage teachers to share reflections on their teaching regularly. Here’s an example from Korea.

Sharing is caring: as an extension, teachers could bring along their current problems in the classroom and the group can brainstorm solutions. This could also lead into more in-depth action research.

Critical incidents: “A critical incident is any unplanned event that occurs during class.” (Farrell in the Jan 2008 ELT Journal) Share an example of a critical incident and discuss different ways of responding to it.

Activity swap-shop: every teacher/four or five teachers bring along activities and share them with the group. They should take about ten minutes, and probably involve a demonstration followed by reflection on which groups it might (not) work with and why.

Video observation: watch part of a lesson together and discuss it.

CPD and a cup of tea: as run at IH Palermo, with teachers working in small groups to discuss various questions related to teaching, with the hot drink of their choice. 🙂

Open Space: a kind of mini conference, as seen at bigger events like IATEFL conference

Scholarship circles: as run at Sheffield University, consisting of a series of teacher-led groups focussing on different areas, as chosen by the teachers involved. You can join in with as many circles as you like.

Professional development groups: a suggestion from Josh Round where teachers take control of their own development.

Exploiting materials: brainstorming as many ideas as you can based on particular materials through the use of post-it notes.

Bite-size reflection: Anthony Gaughan and Phil Wade have put together a free e-book containing twenty 5-minute reflective ideas.

Abstract art on a classroom wall

Working through the maze of professional development (From ELTpics by Carmen Arias Blázquez, used under a CC 3.0 license)

Let me know if you try out any of these ideas or if you have any to add to the list. 

Update

Zhenya Polosotova shared five different types of reflective sessions on her blog back in December 2013.

 

Diary of a new DoS

This is a record of my first three weeks as a Director of Studies at a large school. Although I’ve held a DoS position before, it was at a much smaller school and my job looked very different, consisting mostly of teaching, with some management. Here I’ll only teach one group a week, with the rest of my time focussing on admin and management activities. This diary should give you a taster of the kind of things it involves.

Day 0

I’m on my way to Bydgoszcz, Poland, to start my new job and new life as Director of Studies of the International House school there. The offer to take up the post came when I met the previous incumbent, Tim, at the IH DoS conference in January this year. At the end of January I visited Bydgoszcz for a few days to see the school and decide whether I wanted to work there. I love Central Europe and it seemed like the right step to take, so I accepted after a little persuasion – I wasn’t quite sure I was ready to manage such a big school, but the more I think about it, the more I think I can do it.

It seems like I’ve been waiting forever for this journey, but it’s only been nine months. In preparation for moving I’ve been using memrise to learn Polish vocabulary for a few minutes every day, have listened to a few management podcasts, and have read management blogs with an eye to what I can bring to the school. Really though, I’m not sure exactly what to expect or what else I can do. Luckily I’ll have three weeks before the teachers arrive and four weeks before classes start to try and get my head around everything.

View from Kaminskiego bridge - sculpture of a man on a trapeze wire over the River Brda

Later: I flew from London to Luton to Poznan, and the director of the school, G, was waiting to meet me at the airport – it’s so nice when someone from the school is there to take care of you when you arrive in a new place. It makes you feel so welcomed. Two hours later, we got to my new flat, next to the university’s botanic gardens, and a ten-minute walk from the school. I think I’m going to like it here.f ☺

Day 1

The first job was to brainstorm all the areas Tim and I thought I needed to know about in order to do the job successfully, then work out where to start. Since writing the initial list, it’s pretty much doubled in length and only two things have been crossed off it so far!

We began with looking at the recruitment Tim had done over the summer and deciding whether we would need any more teachers before the beginning of the year. Tim told me about each of the teachers returning from last year, and we looked at the CVs of the new teachers. That gave me an idea of the team I’ll be working with and I’ve already started to think about what classes would and wouldn’t be suitable for each teacher.

I spent the evening unpacking, making my first trip to the supermarket, cooking, and generally settling in at my flat.

Day 2

Following on from discussing recruitment yesterday, Tim showed me how to advertise jobs on the IH website and we put together an advert to fill our last vacancy.

Later in the day, ST1, the senior teacher from last year, came in for a chat. This was a chance for us to get to know each other a bit and decide what we need to focus on when he comes back to school next week. He also showed me the coursebooks and associated materials available for the teachers and talked me through the school’s placement test, ready for us to begin testing new students next week.

In between all of that I’ve been reading various documents on the computer and generally familiarising myself with the files there, which Tim has thankfully left in brilliant order for me – it’s so much easier taking over an organised computer system and knowing what’s relevant!

Day 3

I started off reading more of the files on the computer and asking Tim a long list of questions based on them. We archived a few things and updated a few others.

For lunch I took advantage of the sunshine and the warm weather to eat outside. Tim told me about a park hiding behind the buildings opposite the school – it took me a whole 30 seconds to get there. 🙂 I think I’ll be spending as much time as I can there in my breaks to make sure I get out of school when I can, helping me in my quest for a good work-life balance.

After lunch we met a potential senior teacher (a returner from last year) and talked to him about what the job would involve. He’s going to think about it and come back to us tomorrow.

We then started out on the timetable, which is probably the area I’ve been most worried about because of the number of permutations it involves. Everything revolves around getting the timetable right, and while I’ll inevitably make a mistake with it at some point, I’d like to put that point off for as long as possible! Tim talked me through his timetable spreadsheet and I made notes with codes and tips. He also explained how the 121 system works.

To finish the day we toured the classrooms and he showed me the technology set-up with projectors and provision for laptops.

Day 4

Tim and I spent a large chunk of today working on the timetable. We started by working out who’s probably going to travel to our other two sites, followed by dividing up teen and young learner classes based on preferences and experience. We’ll continue with adult classes tomorrow.

The teacher we offered the senior position to yesterday accepted, and will henceforth be known as ST2 😉 I’m pleased about this because it means there will be more people to share the workload with, and whose experience and knowledge of the school I will be able to draw on more easily. I spoke to him alone, my first individual act as DoS.

I spoke to G about a couple of conferences I’d like to go to this year, and he is willing for me to attend them as long as I make provisions for any days I might miss. It’s wonderful to be working at a school which is so supportive – exactly the kind of ethos I would like be able to offer to my teaching team.

Tim showed me around Outlook, a programme I’ve mostly managed to avoid so far but will now have to get to grips with. The added challenge is that it’s all in Polish! We weeded out messages which are now irrelevant and saved examples of emails which might be useful to me in the future – it’s good to see how certain communications can be worded to make sure I am as clear and diplomatic as possible when it’s called for.

The gaps in the day were filled with general introductions to standby/overtime, ordering books, the young learner classroom management system, and a few other things which I can’t remember now.

Day 5

After being shown how to use Outlook yesterday I was able to weed out a lot of emails from last year which I don’t need any more, save a few examples of useful communications and organise what was left into folders, meaning I reached Inbox Zero 🙂 I don’t expect it to last…

We finished the timetable so far, adding in the final classes that we didn’t manage to do yesterday. Tim helped me to post my first job advert on tefl.com.

Apart from that I finished going through all of the folders on the computer, deleting old files, creating a few templates for future years and blank documents for this academic year and writing a list of questions to ask Tim on Monday.

All in all, it’s been a productive week. I feel like I have a basic handle on a lot of aspects of the job, and feel much more aware of the kind of tasks my working week and year will involve.

Days 6 and 7

To begin my quest to have a healthy work-life balance, I spent a lovely weekend doing lots of relaxing things, with a tiny bit of finishing off some writing work from the summer and a couple of quick journal articles. I visited the forest park on the outskirts of the city by myself, and went to a food and handicrafts fair and explored the old city centre with a new, local, friend who I met through a member of my PLN (personal learning network).

Myslecinek park

I finished the weekend off by enjoying the final ‘River Music’ concert of the summer, a jazz band playing on a boat outside the opera house in perfect weather conditions.

Boat and crowd in front of the Opera Novy for the 'River Music' concert

Day 8

Today was long! The school has come to life with lots of students coming in for placement tests; the senior teachers were there putting everything back into the newly refurbished staffrooms, and the IHCYLT (IH Certificate in Young Learners and Teenagers) started, meaning we have two trainers and eleven trainees here for two weeks, including our first two young learner/teen groups of this academic year.

I went through applications sent in reply to the advert from Friday and made my first steps in solo recruitment, speaking to some of the applicants on the phone. I’ve realised I’m not really a phone person, and really ought to do something about that!

I shadowed Tim on a few placement tests, getting a feel for the way they are similar and different to ones I’ve done before.

At the end of the day I stayed a bit later to reorganise the big pile of paper I’d built up over the previous week. The main thing I wanted to achieve was to salvage useful notes from a double-sided piece of A4 that has so many ideas, plans and crossings out on it that it’s become overwhelming – I feel so much better now that they’re organised between my weekly planner, my academic year diary and a couple of post-it notes. There’s no organisational task you can’t improve with the right stationery. 🙂

Day 9

Today has been in the diary for about two months, so it was good to finally get to it. The DoS and senior teacher from IH Torun joined our senior management team for the day to plan the shape of our year. This was achieved through a large wall planner and a copious amount of post-it notes, with reference to last year’s year plan. We also tried to move things around to avoid bottlenecks that happened last year. I feel much more prepared for the year now I know roughly what’s going to happen when. It was also a great opportunity to identify areas where the two schools can collaborate and ease the workload for all of us. All in all, a very useful day.

Day 10

Now that the year plan has been done, I feel like the year has started properly and I can begin to get my teeth into it. ST1 and I worked out how many teachers’ sets of books we need, particularly of new editions of books which we’ll be using for the first time. The sooner we get them, the sooner we can plan the pacing schedule for each book for the year in order to help teachers stay on track.

Tim showed me how to calculate overtime each month – it’s quite an overwhelming spreadsheet when you first look at it, but you don’t actually have to enter that much information as most of it deals with automatic calculations based on what you put in. After that we finished going through the questions I’d built up through last week based on the computer system – it was a great feeling to throw away the piece of paper with them all on! Meanwhile, the two STs planned the seating arrangements for the staffrooms and checked what stationery we already have. We also all did a few placement tests. It’s great to know that I have so much support as I’m going through this whole process.

Staff room, IH Bydgoszcz

The whole senior management team looked at sessions for induction week and checked what we already have for them to work out how much planning we each need to do to prepare for it. We also started to consider our first teacher development sessions for the year.
Having finalised everything for induction, I dealt with email from today, following up on a few bits of school preparation with the owner and sending out my first email to all of the teachers, including information about induction and start dates so they know what to expect in their first week.

Day 11

We started the day with a chat about fixtures and fittings with the owner, following yesterday’s email. I also dealt with a few job applications left from yesterday.

Tim and I finalised my job description, updating it from his. The bulk of the day was then spent considering teacher development. The STs worked on the workshop programme for the year, while Tim talked me through the observation process. We also looked at student feedback, dealing with student issues and following up on suggestions from teachers at the end of last year. I also did a 1-2-1 placement test for a high-level student who would like medical English. Can anybody recommend good materials for that?

There were lots of bitty things, and I sense this is going to reflect my average working day much more than some of the others I’ve recorded so far!

On a happy side note, I finally managed to get the wifi connected at home. Without it, I’ve managed to go for a walk each evening and keep working on my cross stitch. On my first night with it, having made sure I went for a walk before I tried to connect to the net, I’m already staying up later than normal to spend time on the computer… Definitely need to stop that if the work-life balance is going to be healthily maintained!

Day 12

Timetabling was the order of the morning, returning to the work Tim and I did last week to update it with information from new placement tests. I also continued to work on recruitment. I went through my contract with the school director, made arrangements with a teacher about the very young learner playgroups and wrote out my to-do list ready for next week. Written like that, it doesn’t look like much, but it definitely filled the day!

Day 13 and 14

To continue the process of setting up my new life, I went to a board game shop which was recommended to me, and where I will probably end up spending quite a lot of time and money! Hopefully it will be the source of a few new friends, especially as my Polish improves. You can also borrow games from there, so I’ll see if anyone from school will join me to play them 🙂 I’ve also registered for the bikes which are all over the city, making it easier for me to travel even further under my own steam. I discovered that I can do the 20-minute walk from my flat to the Old Town almost entirely through or next to parks – amazing!

Cathedral of St. Martin and Mikulas and archaeology museum

Day 15

Today was all about two things: recruitment and the timetable. I started by re-reading the school handbook. I first read it in January, when I applied for the DoS job, but had forgotten quite a lot in the interim. Since I was assuming that our interviewees had read it, I thought it was probably a good time to revisit it! I listened in to Tim doing one interview, then did my first one. It was extremely useful to do this because it helped me to notice things I would probably have taken much longer to arrive at if I’d started interviewing alone. The rest of the day was spent beginning to put 121 and business classes into the timetable, a much more challenging process than the groups we started with, as now there are irregular time slots, more preferences, and fuller timetables to juggle with. It’s one big jigsaw puzzle, and we won’t have all of the pieces until late next week, but we have to start somewhere!

Day 16

This was my first day of independence, as Tim won’t be in again until Friday. It gave me a real flavour of what my working days will look like from now on: I planned to do about eight different things, managed about three, and had about six other things added to be done throughout the day. It was actually much more what I was expecting the job to be like when I arrived, so I’ve been grateful for the days when I have managed to do everything I wanted to so far!

I spent a large part of the day with ST1 and ST2, looking at two areas identified as problems last year and coming up with potential solutions for them, resulting in a long email summarising our discussion and a few new tasks for each of us to get the ball rolling. We worked on their training sessions for induction week, and I realised yet again how valuable the experience of being a CELTA tutor for the past year has been, and how much I’ve picked up from my colleagues about what makes a good training session (I hope!)

Other tasks for today included: finalising my contract, interviewing a Polish language teacher, doing a 121 needs analysis, following up on references, playing with the software to accompany one of our course books…and probably a few more things I’ve forgotten!

Day 17

This morning I took part in my first business meeting, when G and I went out to a company to ‘sell’ them the school and tell them what we can offer. Even though I’ve only been at IH Bydgoszcz for a few weeks, having worked for International House for seven years meant I could still contribute evenly to the discussion, something I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do before we went.

The afternoon was dedicated to getting my sessions ready for induction week, and checking that ST1 and ST2 were happy with the revisions they’d made to their sessions. I also started planning a placement testing schedule for next week and replied to a few emails.

Day 18

My last ‘free’ day of no teachers, no students and working on my own priorities! We’d already decided that Tim being back on Friday would mean focussing on the timetable, which meant this was my last day of induction preparation. I made sure that I am comfortable with all of the admin systems that I need to present to the teachers next week, reorganised a few of the relevant documents and put together my session. In between those things I placement tested three students, one of whom had spent six months at primary school in the UK. If you have any suggestions for resources for him, I’d be really grateful! I have a few ideas, but more are always welcome. The two STs got through a lot of their pre-induction things too – it’s a pleasure working with two people who are so professional. 🙂

Day 19

Today was dedicated to the timetable. Tim showed me how to calculate how many teachers we need based on the latest information about business and 121 classes, and we fitted as much information as we could into the paper versions of the timetables we’ve been using as a draft. On Monday I’ll need to put it all on to the computer as soon as possible so that we can confirm it with the students. There is still some information coming in with more students signing up all the time, so it won’t be finalised until next week, but I feel like we’ve broken the back of it. I’m happy with the balance of classes, support groups for teachers, and being able to satisfy the majority of the teachers’ requests. As a result of this, I also did my first full job interview and made my first hiring decision. To round off the day, I finalised the induction week placement testing schedule and timetable, and answered last-minute questions on induction sessions from ST1 and ST2.

Church of St Vincent and St Paul

Reflection

Tim has staged this three-week transition process so well that I feel like I really know what to expect from the job. The support I’ve had from ST1 and ST2 has been invaluable in getting my head around the systems at the school, and we’ve already made some slight changes based on feedback from last year. I’ve learnt so much already, and I know that process will continue.

Before I arrived I wasn’t sure how I would manage to juggle everything at the same time, but having this time to settle in before induction and the students’ arrival has given me the opportunity to put various systems in place which I hope will make my job easier as the year progresses. I’ve also been able to kick-start my social life and make myself feel at home in Bydgoszcz, a very important part of having a healthy work-life balance.

I’m looking forward to what the rest of the year will bring, and to sharing some of that journey with you here (although I promise it won’t normally be this long!)

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