“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.

11 things! (and 7 others)

Where has this 11 thing come from? It’s suddenly all over the place and Josh Round has very considerately! tagged me on his 11 things nobody knew about him. I actually really enjoyed reading his post and finding more about a person I only know on social networks. It’s funny how you build up an idea of someone from the snippets of information you get from tweets and blog posts …. I remember wondering how Josh knew about Catalan human towers but I now think the Spanish wife might have something to do with that. Congratulations Josh, on your 1st blogging anniversary by the way.

So here you go, for those of you interested :-S, here are 11 things that you probably don’t know about me:

1. One of the most frightening experiences of my life was being caught in a 7.9 earthquake in 2007 in Pisco, Peru.

2. I am an unashamed wildlife junkie

3. One of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had is coming face to face with wild mountain gorillas in Uganda.Mountain Gorilla

4. I’m not very fond of snakes and tend to see proportionately more snakes in the wild than anyone else!

5. The most useful course I have ever done was the Advanced Diploma in Language Teaching Management (now called the IDLTM) – highly recommended for anyone working in or wanting to move into management.

6. I love trekking – favourite piece of equipment: my crampons 🙂

7. I go birdwatching all around the world but I don’t twitch.

8. The 3 women I most admire most are: Jane Goodall, Diana Fossey and Biruté Mary Galdikas (notice a pattern?)

9. I have spent more years of my life living outside Britain (mostly in Catalonia) which gives rise to interesting questions about identity.

10. Most useful book I read in 2013 is To Sell is Human, by Daniel Pink

Shoebill11. The shoebill has to be the most incredible bird I’ve ever seen.

I have been saved from answering 11 questions because Josh didn’t post any. However, I will post 7 of my own and tag 7 interesting and very talented EFL technical or management people in case they feel like rising to the challenge (no pressure).

7 questions

1. What’s the best thing about blogging?

2. What’s the worst?

3. If you no longer teach, what do you miss most about not being in the classroom?

4. If you could turn the clock back, would you have done anything different in your professional career?

5. Who is the person who has had most of an impact on your professional career in the EFL world?

6. If you could only access one blog, which blog would that be?

7. What language would you most like to be able to speak?

And my tagged targets are:

Tom Walton @Tom_IHBCN

Nick Robinson @nmkrobinson

Shaun Wilden @Shaunwilden

Rachel Appleby @rapple18

Pete Sharma @Petesharma

Chris Moore @mr_chrismoore

Paul Braddock @bcnpaul1

Happy 2014!!

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 

Project Manager – Online courses

6268544037_8aab1dc1fd_n[1]I deal with a few conventional language schools which sell and run online courses very effectively but unfortunately, they are among the minority. So recently I have spent a lot of time thinking about why so few conventional language schools offer online courses as part of their range of products and why many of those that do don’t seem to sell very many of them or be very comfortable about doing so. In my experience the most successful organisations that sell and run online language materials tend to be training organisations specialising in online learning rather than conventional language schools. Which begs the question, are the skills required to manage online courses so different from those required to manage face-to-face classes that most organisations can only do one or the other?

I think there are many reasons why conventional language schools feel uncomfortable about including online courses in their product catalogue and why they struggle to make them work. None of these issues though are impossible to overcome or justify language schools not taking part in what is a rapidly expanding market.

One important factor is the importance of the presence of a project manager in running online courses. Setting up and running an online language course is, to all intents and purposes, project management and requires the associated skills. And although language schools characteristically have directors, academic managers, directors of studies and administration managers, it seems to me that the position of project manager does not slot comfortably into any of these positions.  While there is obviously a certain amount of project management in the setting up and running of face-to-face classes especially ESP classes, these skills don’t seem to be easily transferred to the online world. Indeed at a recent DoS conference, many DoSes commented on how the idea of setting up and running online language courses took them way out of their comfort zone.

As each school is different and the role and scope of managers will vary depending on the institution, it seems most practical to briefly outline what the role of a project manager would be in managing online courses so that organisations that are contemplating broadening their offer to include online courses can reflect on how to best fill this role.

The project manager, in broad terms, will be the person who oversees the setting up and running of the course from start to finish. She will be the one person who has a vision of everything that is involved in the process. She will decide the support the client will need both before and during the course in order for the course to be a success. She will understand the structure and content of the course material. She will timetable and monitor tracking and reporting services. She will ensure that administrative and technical support is provided.  She will make sure that suitable teachers are contracted, trained and supported. She will implement quality control measures and ensure that effective feedback procedures are in place to evaluate the success of the course. And, most importantly, she will manage client expectations to bring them in line with the course they will be doing.

A successful project manager will have great people skills.  She will be organised, enthusiastic and capable of transmitting the belief in the project to clients, tutors and support staff alike. She needs to be prepared to deal with a certain amount of resistance from both within the school and possibly amongst the clients. Moving from face-to-face classes into the online world involves significant changes and inevitably change generates resistance. As a result, it is important she is flexible and is prepared to adapt and learn as the project progresses.

To a greater or lesser extent a lot the tasks a project manager needs to carry out already happen in a face-to-face environment. However, in many cases these tasks are carried out by and are the responsibility of different management figures rather than one person. In the case of online courses, it is initially very important to have one figure overseeing and managing all these components and bringing them all together. In many ways managing online courses is analogous to performing a symphony, it requires a conductor who can bring everything together, somebody who both understands and is sensitive to the music to be played, the musicians who will play it and the audience who will partake in the experience.