3 tips: How to make your language school REALLY good…

Ok, my SLA part 2 post is still in the drafts folder and is coming soon.  Possibly with a part 3…

In the meantime I turn my attention to overall school efficacy.  During my time as a DOS, and now with the various contacts I have thanks to my work at UCD, I was/am often asked what makes a school a really good school.  What are the markers of quality? How can we be sure the students are being taught to the highest standard. What is a good starting point to improve a school?

Now, we know that schools are incredibly complex organisations (and if you don’t know that just look around).  What works in one school may be wholly inappropriate for another.  As ever, there is no one-size-fits all.  The very good inspection guidelines recognise this.

However, in a lecture I gave on the MA TESOL at UCD recently the lively discussion that formed (as always) part of the session gave me an idea.  Plus, I visit A LOT of schools.  Being in a variety of schools and having the research and the inspection guides in the back of your mind…it gets to the point where you can recognise patterns. Patterns that add up to markers of the really GOOD schools.

And here they are, three quick rules to improve the quality of your language school now, based on those markers. There are many more areas (many more) to be addressed in any school.  These are really the tip of the iceberg, but are three tips that also reach far into the foundation.  And are sort of inspired by Fight Club (a tenuous and rather incongruous link, but a link nonetheless).

Rule number 1: Invest in your teachers.

Facilitating teacher motivation is key and motivated teachers are worth investment.  Motivation is all about “why people decide to do what  they do, how long they are willing to sustain the activity and how hard are they going to pursue it” (Dornyei & Ushioda (2011, p. 4). 


“Teacher motivation is an important concern for educational leaders and managers because teacher motivation has an important effect on student motivation…How much more difficult is it if the teachers themselves are not motivated?”

De Jesus & Lens (2005, p. 120)

Low teacher motivation leads to:

  • low student motivation
  • high staff absenteeism
  • high staff turnover

None of which are signs of a happy school. Tapping into intrinsic motivation is key; “behaviour performed for its own sake in order to experience pleasure and satisfaction” Dornyei & Ushioda (2011, p.23).  This is in contrast to extrinsic motivation; “performing behaviour as a means to some separable end, such as receiving an extrinsic reward” (ibid., p.23). Or see here.  Though both are important.  Development and autonomy help facilitate or inspire intrinsic motivation, and the school environment plus “hygiene factors” can help with extrinsic.

So, investing in teachers can lead to a better school and facilitating motivation is one way to invest in teachers.  What next?

Source here.

Rule number 2: Invest in your teachers.

Another handy tip to improve your school is to invest in your teachers.  This time by providing and encouraging teacher development and teacher autonomy.

Are TD pathways open to and communicated to teachers?  Is there financial investment? Can teachers attend conferences? Is TD a compulsory set of events? Or is TD driven by the teacher, as this talk suggests? Are teachers given recognition for TD?

Keith Harding (2009) suggests the following TD “do’s” list (adapted from here):

  • Continuous: It must be in everything you do
  • Responsibility is on the practitioner
  • Needs driven, not ‘one size fits all’
  • Evaluative, not descriptive

Facilitating teachers’ autonomy in the area of TD means teachers can tap into their intrinsic motivation.  It means higher levels of job satisfaction and engagement. Opportunity for growth, sense of personal achievement and recognition all lead to high levels of motivation, satisfaction and engagement, according to Herzberg’s motivators.

Other ways to encourage autonomy – ask yourself if the teachers’ voices are heard?  Do they have the chance to interpret the syllabus how they feel works best? What kind of TD framework works at your school and how can teachers help build it? If a teacher wants to take an MA or the DELTA how do you support this?

Schools that are serious about providing students with the best quality language teaching invest in teacher development and ensure teachers play an active role in the school.

What next for the third and final tip?

Rule number 3: Invest in your teachers.

While the above are indeed significant factors in school improvement, the third issue deals with the nitty gritty.  Are teachers paid a fair wage, are their contracts secure, are the overall working conditions good?  While sorting out these factors does not necessarily increase motivation it does prevent demotivation.  Think of them as the basics. They are Herzberg’s hygiene factors and the TEFL world is not exactly well known for providing high salaries and fancy contracts.  While no one goes into it expecting that, the basic hygiene factors and overall positive school environment go a long way in showing the teachers, the students and agents that what goes on in the classroom is valued.

In general, schools which are oriented towards the ‘relationship marketing’ end of the scale tend to have a strong relationship between all staff members responsible for the school’s activities.  So we don’t see marketing blame the teachers if something goes wrong.  The good schools know that quality everyone’s responsibility.  And you don’t see teachers at the bottom of the rung in terms of working conditions.


Screenshot of one of my lectures

Before I go…the take home poster


Now, I know this goes two ways.  By teacher I mean an educator, someone who is passionate about their work, who willingly puts in overtime and who never takes a break from their own TD.  That doesn’t include you – the teacher who has not participated any TD in 2 decades, who hasn’t attended a related event outside of the walls of your own school in that time, who hasn’t looked to upskill in a way relateable to the outside world; sitting at home thinking of ways to improve your game is great, but it’s not the same as (and nor does it have the same impact on your career) an event, a documented & shared journey (TD portfolio?) or a course which ends in a certificate you can put on your CV (the DELTA? an MA? Cambridge English Teacher? IH?).

I’ve underlined how schools  can bring quality to the table via investing in teachers – come on teachers!  Bring your A-game and prove wrong any school who thinks you are not worth it.

And schools – if there are any decision makers still not convinced, then think about this:  Investing in your teachers means they carry that message forward, day in and day out, at the chalk face with your customers.  And repeat sales save you a fortune on marketing…


Source here.

Selected references

  • Dörnyei, Z. & Ushioda, E. (2011) Teaching and researching motivation (2nd ed.). Harlow: Longman
  • Dörnyei, Z. (1998). Motivation in second and foreign language learning. Language Teaching, 31, 117-135.
  • de Jesu, S. & Lens, W. (2005) An integrated model for the study of teacher motivation. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 54(1), 119-134


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