There is often very little time to train up the incoming manager, in fact 'One of the major issues in ELT Management is how professionals in this field receive appropriate training and development. Many individuals start their managerial careers without any formal management training or qualifications and learn on the job…' (www.teachingenglish.org.uk)
This article explores how teachers get into management and what training they receive - or do not receive - before they start their jobs, and what training they think they need - or do not need - both before they take up the position and when they are in the job.
To collect information around this area I designed a survey which was answered by 135 respondents from around the world. The largest number of respondents (30%) were in Australia (thanks to Kath Brandon from English Australia, and Steve Heap for sending around the survey link!), many of whom were doing or had done the IDLTM (International Diploma in Language Teaching Management) training course. Thanks to everyone who answered the survey.
The manager role
My sample is not restricted to people whose job title is ‘manager’. The range of job titles of my respondents shows that management is an aspect of many job roles in language teaching organisations. My respondents included:
- academic managers: 25%
- directors of studies: 36%
- teacher trainers: 29%
- heads of department: 13%
- administrative managers: 10%
Other job titles included director, programme manager, principal, co-ordinator, head teacher and more, with many instances of combined roles. As one respondent said: 'It's not very clear if I am an academic manager, because at the same time I am the director of studies, the teacher trainer and the administrative manager. However, that is my job title', which echoes many people’s sense of the multi-tasking nature of management roles.
Where they work
The respondents were based all over the world, including:
- UK: 16%
- Spain: 5%
- Vietnam: 4%
- ‘various’ or ‘worldwide’: 4%
- Other countries: 26%, including Latvia, Nicaragua, Argentina, North Cyprus, China and Northern Ireland
Length of experience
This ranged from 6 months in a DoS role to 29 years as a teacher/teacher trainer. Unsurprisingly, at least a third had been in academic management for more than 10 years, with only 12% for under two years. 60% of Directors of Studies had been in place for less than five years.
Places of work
The managers worked in large language teaching operations, small private language schools, universities, English medium schools, with one or two ‘freelance’ and ‘consultants’.
The decision to manage
Nearly half of the language school managers in my survey had not taken a conscious decision to become a manager. This was fewer than I had expected.
'The previous DoS resigned and I had been in the company for over ten years and I was asked if I would like to "take the job".'
'Found myself filling in when people left the company and this gradually became a full time position: I never consciously applied!'
Just over half of my respondents (53%) had consciously decided to go into management.
'I decided that I wanted to move into management as I needed a new challenge. I also wanted to find a job which would provide me with more stability and pay.'
'I always thought as a teacher that "I could do this better" - decided I could either leave, or work to improve the place. When the opportunity came up, I applied.'
Training for managers can take many forms. My survey asked about:
- A handover period: a predecessor doing the job you are going to do, passing on the systems, procedures, documentation and information about how the organization works and its culture.
- A mentor: someone who has done the job or a similar job who you can go to with questions and doubts and receive advice and suggestions.
- A management training course: gives comprehensive covers of all areas of ELT management, such as the IDLTM (International Diploma in Language Teaching Management), one of the few courses of this type I have come across.
- Workshops and sessions: at conferences, online or brought in to the organization, in a peer-group, giving one-off help with specific management areas.
My survey did not support the view that managers get very little training before they start. In fact, almost two thirds had had some kind of training before their jobs began. Of these, 36% had had a handover period, 33% had had a mentor, 17% had done a management training course and 13% had attended sessions or workshops. However, 35% had not had any training before they started and commented:
'Even though I have taken several courses on teaching, and possibly that was why I was given the post as a manager, I had never, ever taken a course on management, not even training sessions. Everything I have done has been empirical.'
'I had no training before my first management post (apart from my own observations as a teacher), and learnt a lot on the job with no formal training.'
'I have attended some workshops along the way, but there was nothing specifically aimed at management on offer when I started.'
'I was doing a lot of my line manager's job unofficially for quite a while before she retired.'
'It was an extremely short period indeed and with little support materials or documentation. I cannot call it "training" at all.'
'This is the main problem in my school and in the whole university...teachers jump into management positions without any training at all! "Where there is the wish there is the will".'
Ideal pre-service training
51% viewed a management training course as being the ideal training before starting the post. 47% said sessions or workshops, 41% said a mentor, and only 34% said a handover period, which was the training most of them had in fact received.
Ideally, before they started my respondents would have received:
'I've never had to manage projects before or be responsible for anything but my own students. A management training course would have helped me realize systems that exist and use them to facilitate my job - instead I learn by trial and error on the job.'
'I am currently taking the IDLTM course - and this is something that I would have liked to have done before - in my first year or second year of management. I also think a DoS course would have been useful - for basic ways/ideas of carrying out tasks and dealing with problems related to being a DoS.'
One-off sessions or workshops:
'A general briefing on the role of a manager with a hefty dose of general principles, theory and objectives would have been useful - together with a recommended reading list.'
'Something about moving from being just one of the teachers to their supervisor would have been good - especially since some teachers were older and more experienced that I was at the time.'
'There definitely needed to be a handover period of a week or two. And while the idea of a training camp was great, the workshops really needed to be more practical (i.e. doing actual tasks that the job involved rather than talking about them; having mock conversations with employees and customers, etc).'
'Training that specifically looked at solving ELT management issues such as balancing the philanthropic aspects of teaching with finance and business constraints.'
Asked what training they would like now, as practising managers, 58% said sessions or workshops, 35% said a management training course, 26% mentoring and 11% none.
Sessions or workshops:
'I feel that regular, PRACTICAL, training workshops would be most effective. The problem is finding the time.'
'I think refresher sessions in different areas of management would always be useful. Even time set aside for professional reading.'
'Specific training in finance and/or marketing - people skills training - always - e.g. HR Mgt in general, assertiveness training, how to delegate efficiently, customer care, handling conflict/discipline, giving+ receiving feedback, interviewing skills, etc'
There were comments about a mix being the best approach:
'I personally find short conferences and workshops, plus some online collaborative communities, to be the most inspiring and helpful. And I often prefer distance or blended learning solutions rather than long face to face courses.'
'I think there are things to be learned from all kinds of training. Personally, I would particularly like to experience a mentoring situation, in addition to a formal training course.'
Some said discussion and sharing with peers is what is needed:
'Not training as such but it would be good to have a forum with people in similar positions, where people share experiences and challenges, discuss issues or simply listen to each other without necessarily feeling the need to suggest something…. Sometimes all you need is for someone to listen to you.'
Some recognised that professional development can come without specific training:
'At this stage, I don't feel I need training, but for academic satisfaction if nothing else, I do feel the need for ongoing professional development.'
'From an academic point of view, in a busy position one can become a bit detached from ESOL developments, new materials etc. I'd appreciate more time to get up to speed on things, attend workshops etc.'
There is a general feeling that management training, both pre-service and on the job, is desirable. The recruitment circumstances and the pressures of the job - particularly time constraints - can conspire to make it difficult. There is a feeling that money is invested in teacher training and development but none is provided for management training and development:
'This is an area where EFL lags behind most industries in professionalism. Employers won’t invest in management training for their staff in all too many instances.'
'I think EFL has long used a "learn from what you experience approach". If you had a good DOS as a model, then that helps but specific training would be of enormous benefit. A lot of money is poured into making us better teachers but not better managers.'
Wherever possible, efforts should be made to facilitate training, both to improve managers’ performance and also to provide a model which shows teachers that training is universally valuable and to encourage teachers to take up any opportunities which are provided for them to engage in training and development activities themselves.
Where it is not possible to receive training, managers and would–be managers can ‘do-it-themselves’:
- Join the IATEFL Management Special Interest Group: http://eltm.iatefl.org/
- Join the ELT management group yahoo discussion list (non-IATEFL members can sign up for this too) http://groups.yahoo.com/group/managersELT/
- Read From Teacher to Manager: Managing Language Teaching Organizations by Ron White, Andrew Hockley, Melissa S. Laughner , Julie van der Horst Jansen Cambridge University Press (2008)
Other books I enjoyed:
- Mullins L J Management and Organisational Behaviour - Pitman Publishing, London
- Handy C Understanding Organizations, Penguin Business Management, London
- Belbin R M Team Roles at Work - Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford