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The DoS Within

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This blog post looks at the Director of Studies role; what it's about, who is suited to it, and how it could be a great way for a teacher to gain a new perspective of the school he or she works in.

It is commonly claimed that teachers are born; not made, but can the same be said of a Director of Studies? Another common claim is that those who get into managerial positions are often the ones least suited to them. That may be because the people who get supervisory roles are more motivated to find ways to achieve a promotion rather than being the best candidate for the position. Of course there are some ambitious people in the TEFL industry; those who see themselves as managers, but I think you’ll agree that most English-language teachers are happiest working alongside others in a team, and do not by nature seek authority over others or have large appetites for administrative work. So, how and why do teachers become Directors of Studies and what makes a good DoS? The role of the DoS depends on the centre’s size, ethos, and overall objectives but we can broadly say that a DoS is charged with maintaining or improving the quality levels within the school. The role often involves recruiting teachers, delivering training sessions, observing teachers and delivering feedback while reporting to a centre manager. The role may also include commercial aspects such as business promotion and strategising on how to reach more students. As is suggested in the introduction, the role of DoS is a supervisory role and therefore usually filled by someone who wants to progress in the the field of teaching. But there is something inherently paradoxical about a teacher stepping into the position, since inevitably a DoS will have less opportunity to teach, as his or her time is filled with other obligations which may appear contrary to the nature of a teacher. If we add to this the implicit responsibility of the job as well as all the spreadsheets and the administration and organisational tasks, and you can see why at first glance the role might hold little appeal to a dyed-in-the-wool teacher. On the contrary, the role of the DoS utilises many of the skills we develop as teachers. It is fundamentally based on building rapport by implementing strong communication skills. Of course the personnel change but the task is the same — giving clear instructions, listening, motivating, and striving for positive change. Working with others in a team is just as essential for a DoS as it is for a teacher. A school is the sum of its parts, and each of those parts need to work in unison. One of the clearest similarities between the Director of Studies and the teaching role is in the central tenet of educating and inspiring those around you. Educating teachers might seem condescending but if we see this through the lens of contemporary teaching as: facilitating others to reach their goals, then we can see how similar they are. And so a teacher can reap a lot of satisfaction from applying these skills in a new context. Of course there are other, more specific skills to develop that may not be standard for TEFL teachers such as leadership and managerial skills, planning and learning how to balance many different needs such including those of the business, those of the the students, and those of the teachers. These skills are all useful skills to develop and if necessary are transferable to other parts of life or work. A good DoS will need to be analytical and organised while being approachable and flexble. Planning and preparation go hand-in-hand and are fundamental to being a DoS. This will include planning events that the school puts on and planning in regards to the staff. It’s necessary to anticipate busy times of the year and ensure you have recruited the right people at the right time. As with teaching you will need to think on you feet and deal with problems as they arise. 'Always have two solutions to every problem' is a phrase I have heard a lot recently. Most of all being a team player and getting the best out of people will determine your success in the job. People around you will expect you to lead from the front, to be worthy of trust, and to be a great communicator. So much of the job is, as with teaching about encouraging people to travel forward with you. Teachers who show they have the potential to develop these skills will be in contention to become a DoS, but I would add to that that becoming a DoS is also a progression in your own education. It is an opportunity to see the school as a whole and this can feed back into one’s teaching and one’s overall professional development. The position requires dedication and flexibility. It requires you to wear many hats in a short space of time. A DoS needs to be comfortable creating spreadsheets one minute, covering for a sick teacher the next, while the next leading a meeting with a sales team. But as with teaching, the most important and consistent thing is that you are dealing with people. The ability to work well with and get the best out of people is what made you a good teacher and what will stand you in good stead to be an excellent DoS too. There are many people who simply love teaching and the idea of doing anything else doesn’t hold any attraction, and then for others becoming a DoS is a great way to grow and to experience the school in a different way. To return to our first two generalisations: are teachers and DoSes born; not made? The answer is: neither; it is a choice we make to improve ourselves and the lives of others. Are those who become DoSes simply ambitious authoritarians? Maybe, but if so they will need to learn to change their expectations of the role because the power in a school is always with the students and the teachers, and both of these groups famously give short shrift to dictators. If you are interested in growing professionally and experiencing the school in a fuller way, then I would wholeheartedly recommend applying yourself to becoming a Director of Studies, and likewise if your ambition lies in being a great teacher then that is an equally noble ambition.