“Change” from a different perspective


In my last post I went on about how difficult if not impossible it is to get people to change. But people can and do change so in this post I want to look what it is that makes people change and how we as managers can bring about the right conditions to encourage positive change to take place.

I have been reading a lot recently about emotional intelligence and leadership skills (especially Dr. Richard Boyatzis). And as a natural extension to this about how to create the right conditions for positive change to take place. Neurological and behavioural research carried out in this field has shown that people don’t change because people tell them to change or because they think they ought to change, people change when the following series of conditions are present:

Feeling good about yourself

According to the theories of emotional intelligence we are only in the right mind-set to consider change when we are feeling good about ourselves. When we feel good about ourselves, we relax and open ourselves up to options and new ideas. In this state the possibility of change is seen as a good thing.

However, most of the time change is proposed when somebody tells us (or at least insinuates) that we didn’t do something very well. This happens all too often in our context during observations and appraisals. The result is the person on the receiving end of the appraisal naturally goes into defensive mode in which they immediately and naturally block out options of change. They tend to tense up and move into a state in which the acceptance of the need for change is virtually impossible. So, in this state, even if the person says they recognise the need to change, this recognition tends to be on a very superficial level and means that significant and lasting change is highly unlikely to happen.

The ideal self

The second important point is that people only change when they aspire to things they really want to do, when they respond to their personal agendas or to things that form part of their ideal self. This is opposed to things that they think they ought to do or things that they are told they should do, often known as our “ought self”. So even though we can recognise that there are things that we could do with improving, unless they form part of our ideal self, it is unlikely that we will ever get enough motivation to get round to working on them.

The real self

However, in order to map a pathway to our ideal self we need to first take stock of our “real self”. This is particularly difficult because it is very difficult for anybody to have an objective view of who we really are in terms of our strengths and weaknesses and how we come across to others. How we see ourselves is not necessarily how other people see us but unless we form a realistic picture of the effect we have on other people, it will be difficult for us to change in significant ways.

According to research women tend to underestimate their strengths and men overestimate themselves. Either way, we don’t tend to see ourselves in a truly realistic light. However, if we have access to a supportive group of colleagues, friends and family who can help us to see ourselves for who we are, this can make a significant difference.

Formulating a plan

Once a person has a vision of who they want to be and who they are now, they can select a specific aspect of their ideal self and plan how they are going to try to work on that aspect. The development and success of this plan depends very much on the person involved coming up with a plan which is appealing and practical. It has to work around their personal requirements and context in terms of time, expense, commitment, planning and learning styles.


Once the plan is under way, a very important part of change involves experimenting with these new skills in a safe environment. People need to be able to experiment freely and receive non-threatening feedback so that they can fine-tune and generally work out what works and what doesn’t.


And of course practice makes perfect. Whatever skill or area of expertise we try to develop, we will need to practise and practise again until it becomes second nature constantly reflecting on how well we are doing and adapting according to what we learn.

So, from my perspective, the challenge for LTO managers is to create the right environment in which positive change can blossom. This is an environment where people have fun, where people feel optimistic, where people feel that people care about each other and in which people are mindful. If we can create this environment, then we need to try to channel the energy for change into something which will benefit not only the individual but also the language teaching organisation.


Managing people we don’t recruit



Most LTO (Language Teaching Organisation) managers work very hard at trying to build a team of enthusiastic, professional and hardworking people. This team will usually be formed of people who we have actively recruited and people who we have had no say in recruiting. Managing this second group of people can be particularly tricky.

This group is made up of people we have either inherited or people who are imposed on us for one reason or another. Often they are people who have been working in our LTOs (Language Teaching Organisation) longer than us, they will have set ways of working which we don’t necessarily agree with, they may feel some resentment that we have the job we have, they are often very resistant to change, and if they want, they can make our lives very difficult.

But, we need to somehow work with these people and form a team of sorts that functions at least an operational level, and one which preferably also becomes engaged and participates at a strategic level.  If, as managers, we are to move our LTOs in the direction we think they should be going, then learning to manage effectively the human resources available to us is a must.

One of the first mistakes I made as a manager was thinking that I could change people. In fact it has taken me a long time to learn that we cannot change people. People don’t change, at least not significantly so. And normally the longer somebody works for the same LTO, the more set they tend to get in their ways and the more unlikely it is that they will change.

This is not a whinge; it is a reality check because I find that many managers are often not good at remembering this. We tend to try to change people, consistently fail and end up getting exasperated!!  So … enough! It’s not the way to go.

So here are few things I have learnt:

This first thing it’s useful to remember is that everybody has their own personal and professional agendas and it is highly unlikely that they are the same as ours, especially if we have not recruited them. So, get to know these people, listen to them and try to find out what those personal and professional agendas are. If we don’t know what they are, it will be very difficult to use them to our or our LTO’s advantage.

Second, stop fighting these people and getting frustrated by their negativity or indifference. They probably have good reason for feeling as they do. The better we get to know them, the easier it will be to understand where they are coming from and the more we will be able to empathise with them. However brilliant and enlightened our ideas are, the baggage they carry with them will colour their reaction to these ideas. It is only when we have an insight into where they are coming from that we will be able to understand and manage these reactions better.

Third, try to find ways of engaging these people at an operational and strategic level in a way which plays to their agendas and naturally brings them on board. This means again listening better and it also means being flexible as a manager. Don’t develop such a strict game plan that you can’t adapt it to work for the individuals you need to get involved.

I once read that a LTO is not a democracy, and I think, unless you work for a cooperative, this is true.  The managers / directors will make most decisions at the end of the day. But, even if we come up with a brilliant plan, if we don’t get the people that work with and for us on board, if we don’t adapt it to work for the people who need to be involved, and if we end up imposing change on these people, we will cause significant resistance and it won’t work.  To be successful we need to listen better; to try to understand where any resistance to proposals is coming from by understanding the agendas of the people we work with; and to be prepared to be flexible. If we manage to do this, the likelihood is that we will get more of our team on board and stand a better chance of creating a team which will move in the direction you think your LTO needs to move.

Managing Education in the Digital Age

My rather long absence from posting anything on my blog is hopefully justified by my news that Andy Hockley and myself have finally published our ebook: Managing Education in the Digital Age – Choosing, Setting up and Running Successful Online Courses with the-round


It’s now available on Amazon:




Here’s some information about it. We hope you like it and find it useful. Please let us know what you think.

Increasingly, education is moving into the online world, and a growing body of literature reflects this from the teaching perspective. Online teaching and learning is now being written about and researched at great length, and this existing work provides valuable support for the educational community that is practising teaching and learning online.

However, very little has been written on the subject of managing this new online educational world.

This book attempts to address this gap from the perspective of academic (or other) managers in education institutions. It follows the process from the first decision to go online, and pursues that through planning, building, marketing, dealing with teachers, and finally, monitoring the whole.

In the first part of the book, we focus on the initial decision to go online; we consider what might be involved, note possible pitfalls to watch out for, and look at various other issues that need to be borne in mind.

We then take you through the process of laying the foundations for your online presence, including:

• choosing the type of course that is right for your, and your students’, needs

• defining the role of the online teacher

• setting up the administrative infrastructure including, but not limited to, technical support

• looking at the finances of online course delivery

• marketing your courses

• setting up quality control mechanisms.


Next, we look at the practicalities: keeping everything running, and monitoring the courses to ensure that they are progressing as planned. We also look at the best ways of obtaining teacher and student feedback, and, if necessary, how to act on it.

Each chapter includes a lively mixture of suggestions, advice, lessons from experience and quotes from participants of such courses.

We hope you find this book useful and engaging, and that it helps you make informed decisions about taking this step in your institution.

Co-opetition and Language Teaching Organisations

200px-3d10_fm_de_vilafrancaOver the last year I have noticed a shift in how some EFL publishing companies  and other EFL groups are moving away from just talking about what they are doing and how wonderful their products, services and authors are to sharing interesting blog posts, discussions and information generated by other publishing companies and EFL professionals. This current climate on EFL social networks is refreshingly energising and is a great forum for growth at both individual and industry levels.

To a certain extent this is an example of co-opetition, a concept I was first introduced to back in 1999. For those of you not familiar with the term it is a mixture of cooperation and competition which arguably leads to a supportive, innovative, and pro-development work culture and climate. However, although at an industry level EFL co-opetition is on the up and publishing companies and individuals are reaping the benefits, few language schools seem to be fostering this sort of climate within their organisations.

A lot of language schools either seem to be very cooperative or very competitive but few seem to bring the two forces together. Few recognise the benefits of nurturing a sharing, collaborative environment a long with stimulating and rewarding individual excellence. Being competitive is part of human nature and so encouraging a certain amount of competitiveness is healthy I feel in any organisation. This is why we love playing games and one of the reasons why the concept of gamification is so popular in the EFL industry at the moment. We rise to the challenge of trying to beat out opponents and strive to win. A competitive environment, therefore, provides us with an incentive to do things faster, better, cheaper, etc. with corresponding benefits for our organisation where we work.

But, a highly competitive environment can lead to winning at the expense of others and therefore at the expense of the organisation where we work. This competitive culture can become a problem especially in larger organisations. Let’s take the example of a language school with different departments, different branches and even different schools. Each part of the language organisation will probably work with different markets and therefore have characteristics and objectives which are unlikely to be the same. On the whole specialist groups exist for strategic reasons and not as money-making ventures in themselves (probably covering costs and small profit margins is all that is expected). However, in some competitive environments these groups are pitted against each other in terms of turnover and profit. While this policy can occasionally help to spur people to react to poor results, on the whole it is not conducive to encouraging beneficial synergic relationships between the groups.

Language organisations which cultivate a culture of cooperation on the other hand, tend to lead to a happier sharing work-environment and a strong institutional identity and interest in the welfare of the school as a whole. Indeed Peter Senge in his book “The fifth Discipline, the learning organisation” (1990) argues that this culture is necessary for organisations to learn and grow in the right direction. He questions why a company with managers with an average IQ of 120, functions at a collective IQ of 63? Lots of brilliant individuals do not mean a brilliant team. So fostering a cooperative culture would seem to be beneficial.

A cooperative culture naturally arises in smaller and newer language schools where most people working there tend to have a closer relationship and feel that everything they do plays a part in the success of the school. However, this culture of cooperation stops working well when two things happen, firstly, when only a few people contribute to the greater good and the rest feed off what the few share, and secondly, when no recognition is given to those contributing more or showing excellence. The incentive to continue to contribute to the common good tends to diminish when nobody seems to notice or appreciate these contributions.

So it seems to make sense for  language schools to try a third way and take a digital leaf out of what is happening on the social networks in the EFL community and try to develop a culture of co-opetition. I’m not suggesting that it is easy to create such a culture but if schools strive to cultivate a supportive, dynamic, working culture in which ideas are shared but at the same time encourage individuals to strive to reach their potential as individuals, the result could lead to a happy and thriving environment both for the school and for the individuals working there.


Senge, Peter M. (1990) The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization, – Doubleday 

The 3 Rs: Recruitment – Retention – Redeployment

@CinthiaStella http://flickr.com/photos/eltpics

Have you ever had guests outstay their welcome or realised that you’ve outstayed your welcome? It doesn’t feel good either way.  And the longer the situation goes on, the more resentful and uncomfortable everybody feels.

EFL teachers can similarly outstay their welcome in the schools where they work. The result is a less than rewarding experience for both the teacher and the language school. Common symptoms of this phenomenon are managers complaining about inflexible and unenthusiastic teachers and teachers grumbling about unappreciative and disinterested managers.

So, if this is neither beneficial for the teacher nor the language school, why does this situation arise so frequently? And what can managers and schools do prevent this from happening?

The 3 Rs theory is a practice which, in my experience, is rarely implemented seriously, but if it is, can help to encourage teachers to move on when the time is right to the benefit of both teacher and language school.


This is something that all language schools do but with varying degrees of success. Good recruiting is an art which, if performed successfully, means that a school will have a team of like-minded teachers who fit into the culture of the school. These teachers will normally be more receptive to different initiatives and direction than a teacher who does not identify with the school culture so it is well worth spending time perfecting recruitment procedures.

Good recruitment practices require careful thought being given to the sort of person who will fit into the school culture, thinking beyond qualifications and experience. With this in mind, corresponding job descriptions and person specifications need to be drawn up which clearly communicate the job being offered and the type of person required. This coupled with effective interview procedures will help to select the applicant who will best integrate into the school.

Once the person has been selected and has accepted the job, managers should not underestimate the importance of a comprehensive induction programme which will help the teacher to settle into the language school quickly. The more thorough the induction programme, the sooner the teacher will become an effective part of the language school team.


When the teacher has settled into the school and knows their way around, how can we as managers, ensure that the teacher’s levels of enthusiasm remain high and benefit the school? It is important that teachers identify with the schools short and mid-term objectives and feel that they can make an important contribution to them. One way of doing this is to define and agree on a personal job plan for the teacher’s development which brings together both the teacher’s personal professional objectives and the school’s short or mid-term aims. By encouraging and supporting the teacher to work on their development in a certain direction and by finding ways of integrating what the teacher learns into school practice via workshops, training sessions etc, both the teacher and the school gain and should view these job plans positively.

Unfortunately, in my experience, it seems that relatively few language schools put into practice serious job development plans. Teacher training often takes the shape of a few token workshops which are on topics which are neither requested by the teachers or part of a larger development plan being followed by the school. If, however, teacher involvement in training programmes is encouraged, recognised and rewarded, and follows a coherent and previously agreed path which benefits both parties, the outcome should be positive for all.


There will come a time though when a teacher outgrows the establishment he or she works for and it is better for both the teacher and the school for the teacher to move on. This can happen sooner or later depending on the integration of the teacher in the school and the opportunities the school can offer the teacher. If a school realises the importance and benefits of helping teachers to leave and integrates a redeployment policy into school practice, fewer teachers will outstay their welcome. What’s more, if the school has carried out a successful retention policy, the investment in this teacher’s development will have been repaid manifold. A happy teacher leaving and being replaced by new, enthusiastic blood should be celebrated as a success.

However, to have the desired effect, incorporating a redeployment policy into a school needs to be more than just sending around a list of available jobs from an international network from time to time. A redeployment policy will encourage teachers to reflect on what they want to do next, the direction they want to move in and how they are going to do this. By providing support for teachers to achieve their objectives, there should be little surprise or upset when a teacher does actually leave. A happy teacher who leaves will be much more cooperative in handing over, and will make their leaving as smooth as possible.

Of course, it is never as easy as this but managers might find it useful to reflect from time to time on their current recruitment, retention and redeployment policies and how they could be improved.

Egg Yolks and Egg Whites (job descriptions)

There is a theory called the “egg yolk, egg white theory” which I was first introduced to when I studied the Advanced Diploma in Language Teaching Management, at ESADE, Spain (now called the International Diploma in Language Teaching Management).

The theory goes like this: all jobs have an element of prescribed tasks (this is the egg yolk) and less defined areas (this is the egg white). The more responsibility you have in your job, the smaller the yolk and the larger the white. So a new teacher with very little experience should, in theory, have a very detailed job description outlining the school’s expectations of the teacher.  This extreme of the spectrum is exemplified by a certain well-known chain of schools (to remain nameless) which offered a type of blended learning solution to students and required their teachers to “follow the script” in the class (all yolk and no white).

As we gain experience and are given roles of responsibility e.g. Level coordinator, ADOS, etc the amount of white increases and the amount of yolk is reduced. The base requirements of this position of responsibility will be outlined and hopefully agreed with the person in question, but the level coordinator will have the freedom to be creative to develop their functions within the constraints of their job description.

If we move further up the scale to Academic Manager, Director of Studies, Director of Teacher Training etc, again theory has it that the yolk reduces in size and the white increases. The white needs to be large to allow for innovation, and give these people the flexibility to deal with the inevitable unexpected issues which arise.

People’s experience, ambition and personality play a fundamental role in how comfortable they feel with the amount of yolk and white in their jobs. For insecure, inexperienced teachers, taking on a job with too much white and not enough yolk can be extremely stressful.

It is also very important that the job description actually matches the job to be carried out. Take the case of a woman who was looking for a low-stress job in which she just had to do what she was told. She didn’t want the sort of job which demands initiative and responsibility.  She applied for and got a job for which the job description, pay and advertisement implied that this would be the case. The reality was far from that. She walked into a job which demanded a high degree of organisation and autonomy. She was very stressed by the job, her colleagues were not happy with her performance, her confidence was undermined and she ended up leaving the company.

At the other end of the spectrum there can be too little definition in job descriptions of positions of responsibility and as a result conflict can arise. When job descriptions are not very defined, a person’s perception of their responsibility and role in an organisation may not correspond to their boss’ perception or to their colleagues’. This is often exacerbated by the fact that jobs evolve over time but job descriptions are not usually re-written, re-negotiated or shared with other members of the organisation.  Added to this is the potential confusion and association connected to job titles. People in positions of responsibility are usually assigned job titles which should communicate effectively and succinctly their role in an organisation. When job titles do not perform this function and cause misunderstanding, it is time for them to be changed.

Underestimating the importance of a clear job title and job definition which corresponds to the correct amount of yolk and white for the position in question, will cause unnecessary stress for all involved. And if the position or job evolves, especially at higher levels of responsibility, re-defining, agreeing and making public these changes, will not only help to make an organisation run more efficiently, but will lead to transparency, acceptance and fewer misunderstandings.

Developing Good Listening Skills (for teachers and managers)

A definition of a good listener (Cambridge Dictionaries Online): “Someone who gives you a lot of attention when you are talking about your problems or things that worry you, and tries to understand and support you”.

There is a lot of literature directed at teachers on how to help students to develop their listening skills, there are course books which take students through carefully staged exercises which help them to work on these skills and, as teachers, we attend workshops and seminars on how to make “listening” easier for our students. We help them to develop techniques to get the gist of a conversation or monologue, we help them to listen out for specific information and we encourage them to respond appropriately to spoken information in different contexts.

However, recently I have been wondering about how effectively we, as teachers, DOSes, school administrators and managers in general, listen to our clients. Do we have and do we practise the effective listening skills we work so hard at getting our students to develop? Are we “demand-high” in our expectations of ourselves in terms of developing and perfecting our listening skills? And if we’re not, shouldn’t we be? (see http://demandhighelt.wordpress.com/ for Jim Scrivener and Adrian Underhill’s blog on Demand-high ELT).

I recently attended an inspiring plenary given by Jim Scrivener on Demand-high ELT. Many of the points he made about their observations of current teaching practises overlapped with my belief that somewhere along the way we have stopped really listening to our clients. There are probably many reasons for this. Picking up on many of Jim Scrivener’s points, maybe this is to do with the fact that we now have access to great course books so why listen to our students’ opinions of them, we know they are good.  Maybe this is because a lot of us work for quality language schools (with quality assurance stamps to boot) which prove that we know what we are doing so why listen to our clients’ opinions of what we are doing (if we’ve ticked all those boxes, we must be doing it right). Maybe it’s because we’ve done our CELTA, DELTA, Masters etc, attended workshops, been in the industry for a long time and just “know” what is best for our students.

If we ignore the importance of having an effective set of listening skills, surely we are missing out on an opportunity to become better teachers, better managers, better schools and in turn have more satisfied customers?

Let’s look at a few examples:

Jim Scrivener brought up the example of organising a discussion activity. The activity is set up, the students talk about the topic together, maybe there is some feedback by the teacher on use of language and possibly a polite: “Did you enjoy that?” “Did you find that useful?” To which a few polite students will answer: “yes, thank you”. I doubt that the teacher no more expected the students to give them a sincere and meaningful answer than did the students expect to truthfully and meaningfully answer it.  But then, what a tragic missed opportunity for meaningful communication which could have given rise to a real awareness of students’ needs and frustrations both in terms of learning and teaching as enjoyment and the fulfilment of expectations of a discussion activity.

Many schools, classes, teachers ask their clients to fill out questionnaires about the school, teacher, classroom, course book etc. Well-designed questionnaires are a great way of getting feedback on our clients’ opinions of the service we offer. But, consider the following:

  1. When are clients typically required to complete questionnaires? At the end of the course, when little can be done to deal with any issues with that client in that class with that teacher.
  2. When we do make changes in line with feedback received, do we ever tell our clients that we are doing this? Maybe we are listening to our clients, but do they know we are listening?

I think there may be an exception with Dogme practitioners. It seems to me that gifted Dogme practitioners by definition have to be great listeners. So, maybe if teachers were allowed and even encouraged to move away from following the syllabus, course books and ticking boxes, this would be a start in helping teachers to develop more effective listening skills and as a consequence be more in tune with their students’ voices (experts in Dogme, please correct me if I am wrong).

If we go back to the definition of a good listener at the beginning of this post, do we  (teachers, DOSes, school administrators and managers) honestly “give our clients a lot of attention when they are talking about their problems or things that worry them, and try to understand and support them”? If our clients don’t perceive we are listening to them (even if we are), then we really aren’t being good listeners and are missing great opportunities for providing customer satisfaction and good public relations.

The following is a true story and hopefully a good example of what I am trying to say:

The result: a very satisfied customer!