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Directing your school

EARLY BIRD NEWSLETTER


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The dictionary (www.oxforddictionaries.com) defines director as a person who is in charge of an activity, department or organisation. A second definition adds the aspect of the manager of business affairs, while the third one turns to arts, but diminishes the main person behind the staging of a play to a ‘’person who supervises actors’’. I really do not believe that the great directors of plays and films would be excited with this particular part of the definition. Jokes aside, to turn to the etymology of the word, directors are not followers, but leaders. Their main task is to give a sense of direction to their company (school) and their staff. In this article, we are going to explore why a sense of direction is related with growth and why. We will also discuss what may pose threat to this sense of direction. Finally, we will outline the necessary elements of articulating this new direction in a meaninful way for all.

 

Why is a renewing our sense of direction crucial?

Directors, much like captains, are at the helm of their ship so they need to be in command and take charge (Templar 2005). Without their input and the secure knowledge that they are ahead of the rest of the staff, receiving and analysing diverse feedback and seeing which are the necessary steps to remain competitive, no business can keep growing.

To play the devil’s advocate, one could argue that there is one true North, one sense of direction per company and this constact ‘’corporate soul-searching’’ is too bureaucratic and time-wasting to afford any return on the company’s investment. In the past, when businesses were less digital, less visible and less competitive, that may have been the way to go about running a company. In the meantime, we know that unless we become proactive, we cannot expect company growth.

To look at this situation from a more educational aspect, FLS run the risk of never diversifying, never making the necessary investment to stand out in the market or even realising how they can stand out.  Revisiting and redefining our sense of direction shows considerable and active interest in the future growth of our school and takes into consideration any and all data collected from clients, associates and stakeholders. It is equally important for directors to make new direction, ‘’user-friendly’’ by explaining how it will be implemented. Finally, in our quantitative times it is vital to measure the effects any change has had and how it has contributed to growth.  FLS which are run in this way, avoid stagnation or ugly surprises when a new direction is urgently needed and there is not enough time to customise this new direction.

 

 A sense of direction and the staff of the FLS.

In our times, being a team-player is a coveted characteristic. Think-tanks and cross-discipline teams of experts seem to be producing great results in diverse fields. In those ‘’team’’ times, being the only one to hold the helm and take crucial decisions which can steer the company to new (uncharted) waters can be both unlifting and dangerous. Directors might fear being seen as less democratic and more authoritarian (Templar 2005), but we need to bear in mind that there are decisions which can only be taken by one. The longer we postpone those decisions, the more we run the risk of missing the appropriate time to turn to our new direction.

Staff members, both academic and administrative, need to see directors who have specialised knowledge of the field as well as a bird’s-eye view of the school’s history to make decisions based on facts, not opinions. The clarity of the message, the rhetoric of the director and his/her ability to translate the ‘’global’’ to the ‘’individual’’ (namely, to articulate why this new direction is necessary for each one of the professionals on staff as well as the clients of the school), ensures a more positive acceptance of the change. Having said that, directors need to remember that if ships change course too soon, for no good reason they seem to be either lost or groping in the dark. In the absence of true leadership and true direction, staff members, clients and competitors will improvise and …create their own.

 

What if the director is not the founder of the FLS?

FLS in Greece in our days are usually family-owned businesses and in the 21st century we are already in the second generation of school owners. Growth of a family-owned business by the second (or the third generation) can be challenging for a multitude of reasons (Ward,1997), the most important of which are the fact that the second generation may not have the same ‘’hunger’’ to succeed (or to paraphrase Ward, they may not ‘’own’’ neither the essence, nor the helm of the school) and the fact that the actual founders of the FLS, might not be in actual charge, but they are seen as the leaders and their presence sends a kind of mixed message. Even staff loyalty to the previous generation of directors can make the school idolise its past practices, become too esoteric in its understanding of business, to the point of defying even blatantly obvious changes ‘’in the way we do things’’. Finally, one needs to wonder how soon a ship can be steered to a new direction in a limited period of time, without running the risk of permanent damage. It was not due to badly-handled ambition that the Titanic sank, but also because of too sudden, rushed and uniformed changes in the course of its direction.

 




What can be done to ensure continuity?

Maintaining some of the core characteristics that formed the basis of setting up this particular FLS is a key difference between changing directions and rebranding. Secondly, making the message the director sends clear (Moris 2013), relevant and meaningful to all seems to be one of the skills directors need to hone so as to ensure that staff and stakeholders share a common understanding of the change. Additionally, the singificant others of the FLS need to have a personal understanding of how this change in direction is to benefit them personally.  Ambiguity feeds fear and allows various, individual interpretations to exist.  Clarity is necessary in order to boost productivity and create a non-threatening evnironment in which staff members know why the FLS is changing direction and what that entails in terms of retraining and job decriptions. Finally, the message of the director has to be encoded in a non-threatening way so as to be all-inclusive and not centred on the interests of the director.

 

A final thought

This article began by pointing out that a sense of direction is necessary for all involved in the running of the FLS and it can constitute the one thing that gives FLS a competitive edge. We also humorously pointed out that direction dennotes purpose, mission and assertive decision-taking, as well as supervising actors in a play. It seems that social media and the visibility all businesses have right now, have confused managers who prefer ‘’directing’’ the desired image of their school on Facebook but do not clearly define this ‘’direction’’ in their everyday practices. The more a school grows, diversifies its course-content and target audience, the more branches it opens and the more staff it hires, the harder it is to maintain clear focus. Breadth of activity threatens focus, which results in FLS having a very different everyday reality from what they show as their reality on social media.

Perhaps it’s time for ELT managers to become directors who give a sense of direction, instead of directors who stage plays online.

 

References

Morris, B., (2013). To set direction, your message must be clear. Globe and Mail Inc. [online].  [Viewed 9th June 2019]. Available from: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/careers/careers-leadership/to-set-direction-your-message-must-be-clear/article11945224/

Templar, R.,(2005). The Rules of Management, Harlow: Pearson, Prentice Hall Business

Ward, J. L.,(1997). Growing the Family Business: Special Challenges and Best                Practices’, Family Business Review, 10(4), pp. 323–337. [Viewed 9th June 2019] Available from: doi: 10.1111/j.1741-6248.1997.00323.x.

 

Maria Sachpazian BA education / RSA dip/tefl (hons)  is the Academic and Managing Director of Input on Education a company which provides academic, business support and consultancy to Foreign Language Schools. Maria is also a part-time lecturer at CITY College, the International Faculty of the University of Sheffield and an EFL teacher at the Straight Up Markoyannopoulou schools. Since March 2016 she is also the Chairperson of TESOL Macedonia-Thrace, Northern Greece.  www.input.edu.gr           This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.    

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