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Tips for ELT managers

Average: 3.6 (41 votes)

Like many others, I rather fell into ELT management.

Jenny Johnson - February 2009

One moment I was in the classroom, the next I was sorting out teaching materials into files for the staffroom and the next I knew I had stepped into a substitution job for the absent DoS (Director of studies). Since then it has been an upward learning curve, and I have picked up and stored away a few tips along the way, which may come in useful for any of you who find yourselves in the same boat. Here, then, are 13 top tips for teachers who become managers:

Size matters

Whether you come into your organisation from the outside or are promoted from the ranks within it, look at your organisation, observe its growth pattern. Is it small, medium sized or large? If it is small – ten teachers or so, and unless the boss is a despot, it is likely to be an organically growing affair, with a clear hierarchy, from director to director of studies to teachers, and a small admin team. Communications then will be easy, meetings small and involving everybody. There will be collaborative decision-making, and plenty of room for good people to shine and step into positions which open up through natural need. Responsibilities will be evident, and who to go to for what will be clear. Duties will be shared and if the culture is healthy, no-one will mind mucking in.
If it is a large organisation, patterns will already be set. Departments will exist and there will be a larger number of heads. Responsibilities and the chain of command may be less clear and communications tricky, making double-checking and monitoring a must, to ensure that everyone knows who does what and what they should be doing. Decision-making may be done through committee, allowing the ‘lack of consultation’ virus to fester and multiply. If you are aware of the characteristics and therefore the culture of your organisation it will be easier not to make mistakes when ordering, delegating or organising.


Get to know and understand your people! Without stereotyping too much, teachers (like all teams) fall into certain ‘types’ and if you can recognise them it will make it easier to work out how to deal with them.

  • Movers and shakers
    These are the ambitious ones. Loads of ideas and willing, mainly with their own agendas in mind rather than anything altruistic. They will be with you as long as there is something in it for them; as soon as they think there isn’t they will be off to make their mark elsewhere. Need cosseting.
  • Keen bees
    These are a delight, though often not very experienced at this stage. They will help with anything and you need to keep them busy so they don’t get disillusioned.
  • Advocates
    These love the school and everything in it, and will shout its praises wherever they go, though that is not to say they will never complain. Keep them on your side and listen to them, they may well be right.
  • Detractors, complainers and long-sufferers
    These are difficult, nothing ever seems to be right and they are a lot of work to keep on side. Don’t give in to them; even if you put things right for them, they will almost always find something else to complain about.
  • Stuck in the muds
    These are comfortable and won’t move even if you put a rocket behind them.
  • Bring it on-ers
    Nothing is too much for these guys, the more difficult an assignment the happier they are. Give them a tough job and they will relish it.


Decide which courses to run according to your target market; ask your receptionists to do the research, they know everything about your customers. Make sure there is more than enough demand, through market research, before launching a new product.


Believe in the importance and benefits of CPD (continuous professional development), emphasise the links between quality and success. Forget performance management by numbers: students leaving often has nothing to do with the teacher. Set up a useful appraisal system where the teacher sets the criteria for their development.

The annual plan

When does what happen and when do you need to start the process timeline for each part of the plan? This is cyclical and each year is as good as identical to the last: make notes on everything and when you have been there a year look back in your diary and you will see the next year’s plan emerge.


Get your head around budgeting and profit and loss. Insist on a budgeted allowance for resource replenishment, premises refurbishment and staff training, with, to a degree, staff involvement in how to spend it. This is all good investment to ensure returning students.


The DoS nightmare!
Manage student expectations; convince them of the benefits of having different teachers and combining classes, embed this in the organisational ethos: it’s good to change! But make sure there is good documentation and records to ensure seamless continuity.

Clients and customers

Who are the stake-holders in the business? The school has both external and internal customers: customer service and client care apply to both. How can you care and show you care?


The success of the school is down to the owners, so make sure every staff member is an ‘owner’, through shared responsibility, decision-making and consultation, plans and ideas. The teacher needs to be aware they are front of house staff and marketing representatives of the school.

Mission and vision

Is there one? Whose is it? Start again, involve everyone and come up with new ones. This will encourage ownership, and help everyone see why the organisation exists and why everyone counts in making it successful.

Social responsibility

What part does the organisation play in the local environment? It should be a hub of activity everyone local knows about. Reach out tentacles to neighbours and nearby businesses. Create a scholarship, offer empty spaces for community activities. Indirectly, this will lead to more business, and make the staff feel they belong and are useful members of society.

Environmental responsibility

Mounds of paper and ink are wasted and other unsustainable practices are rife in most schools. Insist on an ecological approach to the business. Invest in green matters, educate in more than languages, do all you can for the planet.

Your own training

Whether you have worked for years in the business or just a few months: you need professional development too. Workshops, modules, conferences, professional bodies, periodicals, make sure you get your hands on them, make your learning lifelong.