Ok, first of all I stole the name of my presentation from Josh Round’s brilliant blog, Be the DOS! It’s catchy and a bit of publicity for him over here on the Emerald Isle, and Josh kindly gave me permission!
Second, in the midst of moving house that very weekend – luckily to a location within a ten minute walk of the conference and with my mum over from the UK to help me unpack and mind the toddler – I gave my very first talk at an Irish ELT conference. And what a great first conference it was.
Now, we have had events here – IATEFL even set up camp here in 2000 for their incredible annual conference. Some of the SIGS have workshops, events and training here. Publishers haven’t forgotten about us and fly over regularly to host talks. Somehow related organisations such as ELSTA, other state school organisations etc all hold excellent events, and I have presented papers at a few. But, I have mostly had to travel to the UK or further afield to speak to a gang of teachers in the private EFL sector. And, it’s always worth it – of course! It’s always a great buzz to get together with EFL professionals and share ideas. Such events definitely breathe life into daily practice, allow you to feel part of the bigger picture, connect and network, and offer better value to your students.
Last Saturday as the first annual conference of ELT Ireland, the first conference set up by an Irish organisation and for Irish ELT professionals (though those from further afield were warmly welcomed too!). The first in a long, long time dedicated solely to this sector. And very much needed.
What ELT Ireland have done in the short time since their establishment only 1 year ago is incredible – an invaluable service to the ELT industry in Ireland and a support to ELT professionals. We have long needed something local just for us, for many reasons, and Lou, Peter, Jane and Daniel have got it just right. THANK YOU!
It was an incredible privilege to present at the event. Especially because it was a management specialist strand and we have been much neglected (sob!). Any previous workshops etc. have been mainly for teachers. In the UK there are many organisations and events especially for academic managers, which are hugely beneficial to all involved. Allowing managers to share best practice means schools, teachers, students all benefit. We can learn from each other’s’ mistakes. We can get a broader perspective of what is happening outside of the four walls of our own workspace (so essential in any walk of life, especially anything within the educational sphere). Academic managers often do teach and very much need to keep up to date with the latest teaching methodologies, SLA research, exams and publishers…but there is the darker side of the role (ahem!) which deals with people management, HR issues (can be very disheartening), making difficult decisions, keeping one eye on the strategic while not losing touch with the operational, keeping in mind the ever expanding and intricate connections concerned with running a school…as well as (as I mentioned to much nodding and agreeing during my presentation) spending a fair bit of time lugging furniture from room to room and fixing the photocopier. Teachers, quite rightly, do not need to concern themselves with keeping all of this in mind – they have enough on their plate within the classroom. Teachers are front facing to up to 15 students – all looking at them, full of expectation, all the time! At least I can hide in my office sometimes! But teachers can vent – to each other, to the more frequently offered teacher workshops and events. Some degree of venting in important – best to get work stress out! As the manager, you can’t vent, you can’t ask for advice to another teacher. So, a management strand for the Irish ELT managers will help us feel supported, a little less isolated and help us do our job better, therefore supporting teachers and students.
My presentation covered about 1% of the tip of the iceberg of what being a DOS is all about! I loads of discarded material for another talk! I began with a brainstorm of daily tasks, and again with lots of nodding and agreement we came to the conclusion very quickly that the list is endless. As an Academic manager in a busy (or even not busy) school, you have to have your finger in many pies. All of them, in fact. It’s so important to have that overview (but…how to you prioritise, maintain balance, avoid burn-out…that’s all for my next talk!). We shared anecdotes about how we ended up as DOS, often a case of being told first thing on a Monday morning – you’re the new DOS! Or you applied for the job, not knowing any better!
I looked at the highs of the job – and we all agreed we enjoy the job and there are many positive aspects to it. Career progress, supporting the jobs of others, promoting development, creating a great working and learning environment….But we all know that and enjoy that and don’t need help with enjoying those bits! Everyone was interested ‘venting’ about the lows…
Often the lows stem from the fact that there is one of you and 30+ teachers. Teachers are concerned with one job – their own. You are concerned with 30+ jobs, 30+ teachers’ needs and wants and requests, 30+ interconnected spheres of work….. These opposing perspectives can often lead to conflict. Ultimately, unhappy teachers = unhappy schools and students. So, as a DOS, being able to share and vent about this conflict can make a significant difference in our ability to foster happier schools.
One of the most difficult tasks a manager faces is instigating change. My presentation included a mini “presentation within a presentation” about managing change. The Sigmoid Curve explains why change is so difficult, and here change can mean a new classroom, a new teacher, a new syllabus, new ICT, new policies…You have to make change at point A, when things are on the up and no one sees any reason to change. But, replying on experience you foresee what’s going to happen. So you go ahead and introduce the change. You know it’s a good time, as when things are on the up that’s exactly the time when you have all the necessary resources to make the change. If you wait until point B you are almost beyond the point of repair – though at least then people will be able to see the need! After many mistakes of over preparing to make a change, going too slowly, backpedalling because of an initial negative reaction…I have found that it takes between 3 days and 3 weeks for a change to become accepted as the norm, and there’s no need for any initial panic! Listen to and respond to but don’t REACT to the initial drama. Allow people to go through the defined stages of acceptance.
I closed my talk with some big goals, which are helpful to keep in mind when negotiating daily tasks and long to do list. I find keeping in mind how everything is interconnected, and how short term investment in well-being and balance can have positive long term effects guides my decisions and enables me to draw everything together in a more coherent way towards my stated targets. I suggested we all keep in touch, meet and I left the audience with some reading suggestions from our UK or further afield counterparts.
Looking forward to the next talk (ELT Ireland run mini-versions of this conference in different locations in Ireland and throughout the year – snappily titled ELTed Talks!). And Irish EFL teachers and managers – if you haven’t joined ELT Ireland, or participated in their fortnightly #ELTchinwag on Twitter, please do so.
You’ll be happy you did. For many reasons!