Sunday, 8 January 2017

Just About Managing - IH London's Certificate in Academic Management

Image from http://www.ihlondon.com/
A nice surprise awaited on the first day at work in the New Year - my Certificate in Academic Management had arrived during the holidays. Less than a year into my ICT Coordinator role with the British Council and I already have an extra line to add to my CV under 'Qualifications'.

When I passed my Trinity Diploma, I honestly thought I was done with courses and assignments. I had the top level qualification for EFL teachers and that was backed with by my MA. I was set.

But that wasn't really the case. During my time as Language School Coordinator at ERV in Gabon, I struggled at times with the management side of things. I was used to designing courses, creating placement tests and assessments and mentoring individual teachers but having a cohesive, long-term development and training plan in place, reviewing and managing performance, and running an observation programme were all new challenges for me. I haven't even mentioned marketing the school, pitching our courses to corporate clients and managing the budget yet!

I came to Bahrain having gained valuable experience in many of those areas - my Trinity Diploma in particular had prepared me to be an observer - but I felt I had been just about managing in Gabon and more training on the management side of things was needed, especially with my new management responsibilities within the British Council's internal structure. One curiosity about ELT is that the Trinity Dip/DELTA are often seen as qualifications that lead into management positions when they are in fact teaching courses (as was highlighted in Shirley Norton and Karen Chambers' IATEFL session last year) so, despite having previously decided "that's it" when my Dip was complete, I found myself taking one more course - the IH Cerificate in Academic Management.

This is an entirely online course divided into three eight-week modules. The modules focus on:
  • an introduction to academic management and managing teacher performance
  • conducting observations and giving feedback
  • setting up and running INSETTs
After each module, there is an assignment of 2,500 words focusing on how you are applying/will apply the learning to your context.

The modules are all delivered through Moodle with new topics on a weekly basis. Each week there are set tasks to do. These generally involve forum discussions with the tutor and coursemates, 'group work' tasks conducted through private messages with summaries posted on the forum afterwards, and reflective journal tasks which are only seen by the tutor.

In my previous online experiences for my MA and Dip, the discussions and interactions were at times hampered by a lack of consistent participation with each programme eventually dwindled down to 3 or 4 regular contributors. In a refreshing change, that is avoided on this course as participation is compulsory. Each candidate must complete at least 80% of the online tasks to pass. As someone who generally participates actively, I welcomed this stipulation and it worked as during my course, everybody was online and interacting over each of the three modules.

This course also differs from my previous experiences in that there is no 'live' component - no weekly webinar or Skype chat as had been done on my MA and Dip. At first, I thought this was strange and that I would miss that element of synchronicity. However, that did not prove to be the case. Our new topics went up every Sunday and my Monday evening, almost everyone would have posted. I didn't miss the webinars at all - although that element of direct contact was not there, there was also no frustration as that week's webinar was scheduled for a time I was not free or we lost 15 minutes to connectivity issues. The content of the course (input from the tutor, articles to read, video interviews, discussion with coursemates) was all more than enough to prepare me for the assignments.

In general, this course is also more low key than the Dip or an MA. The workload is not as heavy and weekly tasks can often be completed in 3-4 hours per week. Spread out over 5-6 days (as is recommended by the course providers) it is really not that much extra work at all. As participants are likely to be Dip/DELTA qualified teachers with several years' experience, a lot of the content will be familiar. That is not to say there is nothing new but rather that the concepts and issues presented are easy to get to grips with and you never feel out of your depth when undertaking the tasks. It is pleasant to be able to enjoy a course without the constant feeling of being under pressure or being rushed.

So that is the course, but what about its impact on my work? On reflection, has it helped me improve as a coordinator?

Well, one of the strengths of the course is that it is just about managing (unlike the DELTA/Dip which only have a limited focus on this area). You can also do it 'on the job'. Being able to immediately apply and evaluate some of the ideas discussed by adapting them to your immediate context really helps enhance the learning that takes place. I was able to support a colleague on my teaching team who was applying to take the DELTA while doing the module on performance management. This experience then formed the basis of my assignment. The ideas discussed for observation went far beyond the typical 'quality control' default and explored a number of different options for conducting the observation and giving feedback - all very much focused on the teacher and not going along with the 'box ticking' that often takes place. As we enter the New Year, I find myself preparing a series of training sessions for using iPads in the classroom and the final module and assignment have proven very useful for that.

My main takeaways from the course are:

  • the importance of communication - it sounds like an obvious one but I think we have all worked in places where unclear communication has caused issues in the teachers' room. Teachers and other admin staff need to be in the loop to avoid any unwanted surprises.
  • avoiding box-ticking - there needs to be a purpose behind what we do, especially when we are asking the teaching staff to do an extra task. Both managers and teachers should always know that there is a purpose behind what they are doing other than 'because it has to be done'.
  • seeing the teacher as a customer - we shouldn't simply view teachers as people who work for the school. We need to view them as another kind of customer who has come here with expectations. We should be focused on helping them develop and feel valued, which in turn will help the school offer better lessons to the student customers.
  • not just focusing on the teaching team - this does not just apply to teaching staff of course. Our admin team and any other employees within the school need to be included and vlaued.
  • being direct especially when saying no - although meeting teachers' needs and staff needs is important, there are times when refusals are necessary. A direct 'no' will usually be more effective than a "well, I can see where you're coming from and ideally we'd like to.... but..."

If you have finished your Dip/DELTA and are about to embark on or have already begun a more senior role, I would recommend the course. It will provide you with specialist training that your previous qualifications perhaps haven't. The workload is manageable and can easily become part of your weekly routine. You potentially get Shaun Wilden as a tutor. The topics covered are likely to be relevant even at the first rung on the academic management ladder and you get the chance to immediately apply ideas and reflect on your own context. I certainly feel more comfortable in my role now than I did a few months ago.

Have you taken the Certificate in Academic Management? Or are you thinking of taking it? Please share your experiences and thoughts in the comments.

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