Welcome to my summary of the #ELTchat discussion that took place at 12.00 British time (18.00 Indonesian time!) on Wednesday 18th May 2011.
The topic for our discussion was, “What makes a good Director of Studies? What should DoS’s be doing (And indeed not doing) to promote a “good” ethos in a language centre?” As usual, opinions were aired and discussed at high speed (certainly too fast for my tweetdeck to handle without jamming once or twice!) and between us all, we came up with a blue print for that mythical beast, the “good” Director of Studies. Some tweeters even claimed actual sightings of this rare species, much to the wonder and envy of the majority! We also thoroughly investigated where it all goes wrong for DoS’s, leading to them becoming (or simply never getting beyond being!) your garden variety waste of space.
Before beginning this brain-gym process of synthesizing the transcript, I fed it all into Wordle (www.wordle.net) to see which words came up most frequently. This failed somewhat as it mainly consisted of tweeters’ handles that had been re-tweeted and, of course, the biggest word was #eltchat!! However, once these were removed, the highest frequency words along with “DoS” (Director of Studies) were “teachers”, “school”, “think” and “teaching”, followed closely by “support”, “training” and “skills” amongst others.
So, on to the blueprint of the ideal DoS:
One of the difficulties in pinpointing what qualities and skills a DoS needs lies in the differences seen in the role’s duty framework, across different schools and centres. How can we map the ideal DoS if such a wide range of job descriptions can exist under this heading? The #eltchat had a jolly good go at it, nevertheless.
Firstly, quote of the discussion goes to pjgallantry, who sums it up thus: “A good DOS has: The ears of a bat, eagle eyes, a heart of gold, nerves of steel,the hide of a rhinoceros and the drinking capacity of a concrete elephant.” If there were a programme into which you could feed descriptions and get an image in return (so, a wordle that created images instead of word clouds!), I would really love to see what it would make of this! A gold-centred, steel-reinforced, bat-eared elephant. That would cause a stir in any school, language centre or university!
We could not agree, perhaps as a result of the issue of wide-ranging differences present in the job across different institutions, whether it was essential for a DoS to have taught before or to continue teaching while being a DoS. @Shaunwilden suggested that “it depends on the actual role – are they academic manager or administration manager” and @Adhockley mentioned having worked with good DoS’s and directors who were not teachers. Meanwhile, @Rilberni argued that it is fine for directors not to be teachers but that DoS’s should be, as they have curriculum responsibilities. A lot of us agreed that past experience in the classroom is key for the necessary “insight into the core activity” (@Rilberni)
@Cerirhiannon postulated that a DoS should lead by example and this should include teaching, especially the less popular classes, but @Adhockley was not convinced that they need to teach in order to be a good model professional. Some tweeters suggested that the size of the school has a role to play in all this, as the role of DoS in a large school is more managerial than developmental, while in a small school, a DoS needs to be able to switch between a larger number of “hats”, as @Marisa_C put it. Either way, be it in a smaller school, or a larger one, DoS’s are faced with the unenviable task of managing TEFL’rs, which @pjgallantry likened to “herding drunken cats”!
There were some qualities that were unanimously agreed upon as essential, regardless of role specifics. We believe that a DoS should be a motivator, able to encourage all teachers. Simply put, a DoS must be someone that inspires. In addition to this, a DoS should want to keep up with the fast-changing world of ELT and support their teachers to do the same. We tweeters may be a little biased but we also believe DoS’s should know about Twitter and other free resources available to be used by teachers, that can aid their development. As JoshSRound puts it, it is his responsibility, to “understand what is ‘latest’ in ELT, then try to feed back in to teaching and learning; Twitter helps!” @Cherrymp reminded us that, “ELT is such a diverse and dynamic field, so a DoS should make use of all the available means to catch up with it” as well.
Teacher development should be a high priority. DoS’s should facilitate this development (run workshops, send teachers to conferences and have them feed back to the rest of the staff etc) and motivate the staff to make full use of any such opportunities that arise. @Stephchbeach71 describes this nicely: “A good DoS encourages teachers to develop, by creating an atmosphere of trust and inspiration, and does not go on a power trip!”
Another important element of the “good” DoS skill set is that of communication. This skill must also be well-honed, both spoken and written, and the importance of really listening must not be underestimated. As @Hartle put it, “a DOS must be thick-skinned but sensitive, good with email, and an excellent communicator.” A DoS should also look for solutions rather than problems, not take things personally and a ready smile is also thought to help!
So where does it all go wrong? This can be looked at from two broad angles, which our opinions spread between: Extrinsic factors and intrinsic factors.
Firstly, then, a look at some extrinsic factors: DoS are inevitably to be found in “the middle of the teacher/manager sandwich” (@mk_elt), dealing with conflicting pressures from above and below. In fact, conflict was a recurring theme when it came to extrinsic factors. As @Gkknight put forward, a DoS has to assure academic values while adhering to corporate strategy. Meanwhile @Barbsaka reminded us of the necessity for a DoS to “serve as a buffer or a bridge between management, teachers and parents” and JoshSRound pointed out the often clashing business and pedagogical interests that must be balanced. This is quite a “juggling act”, as @LizziePinard described it!
Moving on to intrinsic factors: It was widely agreed that a DoS who takes the role in a bid to escape being in the classroom was unlikely to make that step to becoming a “good” DoS. A motivation such as career progress might also be at odds with what was described by @yearinthelifeof as a “move diagonally” rather than an upwards move. Yet, being a DoS is one of the few routes of progression open to a TEFL’er. Things could also get tricky if the DoS just isn’t a “people person”, as @yitzha_sarwono pointed out, because this would make them rather difficult to work with! Similarly, the DoS’s described by @teacher_prix, who had “management skills but no teaching knowledge or awareness” might flounder in a smaller school where flexibility and ability to wear many hats are key to the role but thrive in a larger school where the emphasis of the role lies in business and management rather than including strong elements of pedagogy and teacher development. On the other hand, a DoS like @teflerinha, who “loved helping people develop but ultimately didn’t enjoy paperwork and middle management stuff”, might find it hard to be successful in a purely business and management-oriented DoS role at a larger school.
We thought it interesting that in contrast to our high expectations and hopes for a DoS, most people “fall” into the role or get “promoted above their competence” and training prior to taking on the role is thin on the ground. We also feel that the big increase in responsibilities, duties and pressures represented by the role is not reflected in the salary increase commanded by it. As is the usual story in the world of EFL, a lot is demanded but the financial reward is small: According to @Marisa_C, a lot of the lack of motivation in teachers is the direct result of low pay and lack of recognition. I imagine the same lack of motivation may make itself felt in DoS’s as well.
Now, we have gone through the qualities of a good DoS, explored the myriad of problems that can face a DoS, making it difficult for them to be a good DoS, and acknowledged the paucity of the financial gain associated with the role. The next question is, given the difficulties and poor financial reward, why would anybody be a DoS?! Well, @Marisa_C pointed out that “being DoS gives you the power to make changes that you can’t as a teacher.” This allows you to influence strategies regarding the development of the school and its teachers. @Sandymillin sees it as a natural development in the path that will hopefully lead her to having her own school. @timjulian60 loves the stimulation and variety that being a DoS offers. @Chucksandy claims to have “learned more from being a DOS than at any other point in life really: about teaching, change, people, curriculum” and according to @Vickysaumell, “working with the teachers and improving learning is a great experience”. So it’s not all doom and gloom!!
Finally, some recommendations for DoS’s, or those thinking of becoming DoS’s: Marisa_C encouraged involvement with the LTA (Local Teachers Association) and @Barbsaka spoke of a DoS who invited the local JALT (IATEFL/TESOL) to meet at their school, making it easy for teachers to attend. @Cherrymp thinks it is important to think beyond professional development issues and encourage teachers to bond by organising social events, which @Sandymillin exemplified by citing weekend trips away organised by her school, in which both native and non-native speakers take part. @JoshSRound spoke in favour of DELTM training, that is available for those interested in DoS-ing, but this is only applicable in the U.K. @Sandymillin also points out that usually a DoS undertakes this training after being in the role for about a year. Perhaps this anomaly might explain some of the difficulties faced by a DoS: they must learn by doing, so there are bound to be teething difficulties. The trick must be to minimise the time needed to pass through these, and develop the necessary skills to successfully carry out the DoS role, using whatever means are available to do this.
In conclusion, then, being a good DoS requires a varied skill set and is not easy, nor well paid. The demands of the role vary greatly across institutions. This is often related to size, with the business and management aspect heavily emphasised in larger institutions while pedagogy and teacher development are equally important elements in smaller centres. Despite this, the role of DoS can be very rewarding and allow one to change the face of ELT where one works. And of course, If herding drunken cats comes naturally to you, then being a good DoS might be just up your street!
Thank you all for a stimulating discussion!
@adhockley directed us to this blog post: http://bit.ly/iSqrMc about ELT management and motivation.