That’s it, really. The job definition of a DOS (or of any job I’d want to do…). To add something to a business that increases that business’s value, and add value to your own life (enjoyment as well as remuneration). In a language school environment, creating value can mean many things and I’m thankful that working at Swan gives me the chance to explore and develop them all. To succeed you need to love what you do, all the more true in the ELT industry.
So, how to measure value? Student experience and their language learning are essential. Teacher satisfaction (hard one to measure but maybe the fact that they stay says something…). And, well, this is a business we run here so like it or not, one way to measure value involves money!
One of my goals when I started in this position, straight off the back of a phd so with lots of ideas of theories and best practice in my head, was to learn as much as possible about the business and marketing side of things. I.e., the practical side of things. Reality! This is essential, as often what the research points to as best practice just would not work within the day-to-day running of a busy language school. Our students want to learn English effectively and want to pay an affordable price for that, so balance is key. I think we do a great job at not losing out on quality while being reasonably priced, and we are always learning and getting better at that. So, part of my job is to sustain a balance between practicality and quality.
As DOS you are there to support all of the academic structures in place which in turn support the students who arrive at your school, having paid a substantial amount of money (and I know some students work two or more jobs and save up for years to be here) and want effective language lessons in an environment where they feel respected. A huge part of my time is dedicated to making that happen, so our students leave class each day and feel they are getting a good deal. I put a lot of energy into developing procedures and academic frameworks which are solid, principle based and yet flexible enough to encourage creativity. We care about the student journey through our school. We are always looking at ways to maximise English language learning. We want students to feel at home in our school so they are comfortable enough to learn (you can’t learn if you feel anxious!). This means you can’t often see the immediate financial value of many things we do: of walking around the school saying hello to students, of cutting black edges off photocopies, of giving students information about bus time tables, of laminating posters, of asking teachers to put the chairs back in place at the end of a lesson. But the long term value in making the place look cared for and making the teachers and students feel cared for is immeasurable.
The other strand to my work is to support the teachers. Management is a service and I’m there to pull together a team. I’m there to create (from feedback, experience and the listening/asking/talking cycle) a scaffold of support and procedures which allow teachers to use their creativity and passion while working at or above the high standards we want for the students. I’m there to facilitate the flow of intrinsic motivation while juggling a hundred other factors (which room is best for that course? Should we merge a class – one teacher may lose out short term but the team as a whole will benefit long term? Should I swap these two teachers – they’re both settled but swapping would increase their overall skill set and stop complacency before it sets in? The client demanded this – can we fit that in with our goals for the teaching team? The student numbers are different next week – should we make the change now?…). Overview is the key concept here, and keeping all the plates spinning to maintain quality and value.
In any job you can ask yourself ‘did I just do my job today?’ or ‘did I value both myself and my work by adding value?’