Of course the best thing about being a Director of Studies is that you get to sit – mostly undisturbed – at the top of a majestic tower (mine is made of ivory). Occasionally a faceless teacher will scratch pathetically at the heavy wooden door- Ha! The fools! My manservant quickly escorts them away and I am left alone to contemplate ideas worthy of the loftiness of my office. Yes, indeed. It’s tough at the top.

Anyway… back to the real world. When I became DoS I realised one thing about teachers – there’s just no escaping them. I’ve tried many a cunning ruse to avoid them. For example, coming in before dawn and sitting in my office with the lights out  – but there’s always someone who pops their head round the door – “Morning, Mike! have you got a minute?” One week I dressed up as Batman and any time anyone came into my office asking me where I’d hidden the workbook for Headway Intermediate, I’d reply ‘I’m not Mike. I’m Batman.” –  “Yes, Mike. And I’m Robin. Now – where’s the workbook?” – Tunnels; secret passageways; time machines. I’ve tried them all – but the teachers still manage to find me.

Of course that’s the point, isn’t it? For even as I want to yell out ‘I don’t have time!’ whenever a teacher asks me something, the key thing I’ve forgotten is –

It’s all about them.

At the moment I’m reading The Little Big Things by Tom Peters. I can’t help picturing Tom frothing at the mouth and waving his hammer round in the wilderness of management (in a good way, Tom!). The thing is he has an uncanny knack of hitting the nail on the head. Not far into the book’s introduction he underlines the importance of spending time with your team…and the importance of listening attentively to what they say.

Oh My God, Tom! Do you really want me to listen attentively to my team? Isn’t that a bit nutty? I have forms to file and reports to write, dammit!

But – of course -he’s right. And he’s not being soft. Think about it. I might speak to a new student for 10 minutes. The teacher, however, is going to spend 60 hours with that student – that client. That’s 360 times the amount of time I will spend with the client. All that time to make an impact. Who do you think is more important to the student?

The teachers are the talent. It’s vital that we listen to them. Attentively. It makes good business sense if nothing else.

‘I don’t have time’ is a thought we often have – but remember that figure – 360! – We’d better find the time to listen to that teacher. We can’t afford not too.

So now I leave the Batman costume to the weekends.

For more on Tom Peters check out tompeters! website

As a boy, whenever I was asked the perennial question –‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ – The answer for me was obvious – “The Incredible Hulk” – What else could a young lad growing up in the seventies say?

It’s still the answer I give now.

I spent hours watching the TV show – the great Bill Bixby played David Banner – the forlorn alter ego of Lou Ferrigno’s eponymous green giant. It was a show full of excitement and mystery too. For example, how come Bill Bixby’s purple cords didn’t split round the waist? Why didn’t the Hulk have David Banner’s hairstyle? The biggest mystery of all was, of course, Bill Bixby’s reluctance to take full advantage of his powers. “Don’t make me angry,” he repeated, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” Ever the drifter,  David Banner’s sole life mission – in which he failed to a staggering degree – was to avoid situations that might lead him to lose his temper – (my favourite was when David found himself at the controls of a pilot-less plane – as you do – he spends three excruciating minutes in mid-change fighting the demon raging within whilst also trying to land the plane. TV gold!)

But why the reluctance? Can you imagine if every time you got angry you turned into a six-foot eight raging green monster? Why would you ever want to remain calm? I’d wind myself up for fun! The next time a teacher came to my door with the intention of upsetting me, I’d look up (possibly throw in a wink) and say “Come on – make me angry! I dare you!” – I’d probably make that high-pitched sound effect they used during the TV show and flash the lights – “Come on…look I feel my blood pressure rising already. Oh, is that a ripping sound?” I mean that’s power for you! The teachers would quickly become self-policing – “Don’t make him angry,” they’d whisper. Brilliant!

So this month’s tip – Let’s get angry!

Well, actually, no. It’s not.

I’ve had my hulk-like moments –I’ve shouted, thrown books off shelves, even kicked my own office door. It’s understandable – management is a high-pressure job – lots of stress, problem solving, people constantly demanding your attention. But getting angry never solves anything and usually makes you look a complete…idiot.

Your responsibility is to help people do their jobs effectively. The only way to do this is to have effective communication with all your team.  You can’t have effective communication if you lose your temper – it produces days, weeks, months of rebuilding the relationship.

So my real tip is this – It’s Ok to feel angry. But it’s not OK to express your anger. So no matter how great the temptation – Don’t throw things at teachers. Don’t lose your temper.

Somebody once declared that all great management decisions come from love. Turning green, ripping your purple cords and smashing up the staffroom doesn’t say ‘I love you.’

Next time you feel angry go outside, take a walk, count to ten and come back and show the teachers that you love them…because you do, don’t you?

Do you want to get organised? Do you want to be successful? Do you want to be both those things whilst actually working less? Do you want to do all those things with the help of zombies and Oreo ice-cream cake? Well Stever Robbins is at hand with a great new book – Get-it-Done Guy’s 9 steps to Work Less and Do More

You might know Stever Robbins as the Get-it-Done guy from the Quick and Dirty tips Podcast. His book, Get-It-Done Guy’s 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More,  is a playful, yet serious guide to working less and doing more. In other words, creating a more productive life. It lays out nine skills that apply anywhere you want to get greater results with less work.

Stever was kind enough to agree to do an interview for this blog – Hope you enjoy it – Don’t forget to subscribe to Stever’s great podcast at http://getitdone.quickanddirtytips.com/

…and why not buy all of your friends a copy of Stever’s book for Christmas? Why not buy each of your friends 10 copies?…Stever asked me to say that. I’m not on commission…honest.


Welcome to the blog, Stever – Just in case there’s anyone out there who hasn’t come across you yet, could you give us a brief description of who you are and what you’re passionate about?

I’m a serial entrepreneur and self-professed personal organization geek who helps people get things done with humor and fun. At the moment, I help people streamline their lives and increase their personal productivity. What I really do is help them become better at creating the whole life they want, not just at work.
I’m currently working on my 10th startup, which is oriented around helping people create a life that works for them.
My fantasy career involves more communications work. I’m quite good at making complex things simple to understand and communicating them well. My favorite side project is a one-man musical based on my book, which I’m co-writing for me to perform. It will have all the information, tips, and excitement of a normal business keynote, but with singing, drama, zombies, and Oreo ice cream cake.

Book me tickets for the Milan show! Your Get-It-Done-Guy podcast has really helped me work less and do more – which of the many episodes are you most proud of?

For some reason, I’m extremely fond of one of my first episodes, “How to Say No.”It’s a skill I’m not very good at, and I had a woman who’s a master at the skill do a demo. I still listen to that episode so I can practice the skill myself.

Now, as well as the podcast you have a new book out – The Get-It-Done Guy’s 9 Steps To Work Less and Do More. What’s in there to help make life easier for people – like me – working in educational management?

The nine steps are designed to cover the major areas I’ve seen people work without getting results. Working on Purpose is good for keeping your work oriented towards what’s most important. Step 5: Staying Organized is probably especially helpful in education management since you have events that repeat and are coordinating programs that may involve hundreds of students, instructors, and classes all having similar issues. It covers how to organize your thinking and keep straight lots of little details. I wrote it when working at Babson College and several of the tips in it came from systems I developed to help manage student teams. Step 7: Optimize is also especially well-suited for educational management, since it details how to create systems that learn as you use them.

That sounds great. Stever, I know how much you love meetings… – any tips for anyone out there struggling to run effective meetings?

Think long and hard about what a given meeting is trying to accomplish: share information, make decisions, build morale, etc. Then brainstorm for any other way to accomplish the same goal. If you must have a meeting, have a clear goal, an agenda, a time keeper, and a “parking lot” for issues that come up that are tangential but should be addressed later. Then stick to the agenda as if your life depended on it. End promptly at the stated finishing time.

Just one last question – This blog is for people working in education – Who have you learnt most from in your life?

My book is dedicated to seven people who have taught me life-changing lessons, whether through lifelong relationships or through one-time comments that were exactly what I needed to hear at pivotal moments in my life. Three have been ongoing influences in my life. First and foremost is my college professor, field study advisor, boss, friend, and now President of Babson College, Len Schlesinger. He’s one of the sharpest business minds I’ve ever met, as well as one of the most approachable. He also dreams big. Very, very big. I like that. Other big influences include Richard Bandler, who taught me ways of understanding interpersonal behavior, and my friend Tamin Pechet, who is one of the best brainstorming partners I’ve had; I can barely keep up with his good ideas and insights.

I’d like to thank Stever for taking the time to do the interview – I’m sure you’ll all buy the book – http://www.steverrobbins.com/the-book/ I’d love to know which tips you find most useful – please leave a comment!

Anyone who has ever worked with me speaks fondly of my love of story-telling. There’s nothing my colleagues like more than hearing me reminisce. They often beg me to tell them one of my long, meandering, carefully crafted jokes. Well, actually that’s not entirely true. People have been known to wrestle me to the ground and punch me until I surrender my desire to share my jolly tales.

Some people just have no taste.

I am, however, convinced of the power of the story as a tool for teaching and helping people learn. Some stories just arouse curiosity and interest  – E.g., here’s a  true story from my own school –

Last week I popped into the staffroom in the vain hope that someone might want to buy me a coffee, when I was greeted with an unusual sight – two teachers were lying on the floor under the table. One of them was holding  a glass of water. The other – a roll of masking tape. And between them both sat a small, slightly worried lizard. Now, I’m not  going to tell you why they were there – believe me, you don’t want to know. But you have to admit it  – you’re curious, aren’t you?

Good managers should be story-tellers. People are inspired by stories. Inspired by narrative. Not by statistics. Not by procedures. I am sometimes asked to give trainee teachers tips on how to behave in interviews. Instead of giving them a list of dos-and-don’ts , I prefer to tell them true tales of nightmare interviews I have sat through – E.g., the teacher who told me she loved everything about teaching except ‘those bits in the classroom.’ Just as we all – thanks to Little Red Riding Hood – learnt not to trust grandmothers with snouts and whiskers, so they too can learn what not to say in an interview thanks to the power of the story.

Next time you have a teachers’ meeting, try inspiring the troops with great stories rather than dry facts or procedures.

Speaking of stories, the Reinvention Summit  – a two-week virtual conference focusing on best practices for creating and delivering stories that can help individuals and organisations to reinvent – is currently underway. It’s a gathering of a new tribe of storytellers: change-makers, marketers, entrepreneurs, and creatives who see storytelling as critical to their work and mission.

There’s a star-studded line-up of 25+ speakers with diverse backgrounds to lead teleseminars, interviews, and panel discussions that relate to the future of storytelling as our world goes through reinvention. All sessions are recorded for playback. The online summit includes lots of social networking, collaboration, and crowd-sourcing for those who feel inspired to play. Entry-level pricing starts at just $11.11. To learn more: visit www.reinventionsummit.com

  • As a reader of this blog, www.getstoried.com – the organisers of the Reinvention summit –  are kindly offering you two great deals
  • – A coupon for $25 OFF an Activators or Explorers Pass. Use code: REINVENTION
  • “Believe Me: a Storytelling Manifesto for Change-makers and Innovators”. An 88-page gift to you! Complimentary download is available at http://www.believemethebook.com

Enjoy the summit and keep telling stories!

In a previous incarnation I worked in a sales office. We were a venue that hosted staff parties, etc. (commonly know as a bowling alley). My finest moment came with a booking for over 200 people – That’s 200 people! Show me the money! I was flavour of the month – for days people high-fived me as I walked into work and strangers hugged me and said things like “way to go, Tiger!”

I deserved no less.

We drafted in extra staff for the big event – stocked the bar so that the fridges were bulging – turned away groups of potential customers, kids and their distraught families sent crying from our door. We didn’t need them – we had my 200 people coming in! Ten minutes before their arrival, Mike – my general manager – put on his best tie and brushed his hair. We headed for the main entrance trying to hide the pound signs in our eyes and we waited.

And we waited.

And waited.

It soon became apparent that I had written the booking down on the wrong day. The 200 weren’t coming.  Mike – my long-suffering boss – looked around at the venue that was devoid of customers but full of staff. Lots of staff. All on overtime. As his shoulders dropped I took the opportunity to leg it through the front doors.

I bought myself a can of beer on the way home. I sat on my bed- a lonely figure (where were the high-fives? where were the hugs?) – and there was only one thing I could do.

I slapped my hand to my forehead and shouted “Doh!”

What else could I do?

Proof – as if any were needed – that Homer Simpson is indeed the world’s greatest teacher.

On Monday morning my boss was waiting for me at the door. His hair was a little messy. There was no sign of his best tie. He sat me down in his office and watched me whimper for a while.

“Not your greatest moment ever, eh, Mike?” he said to me.

And then he added – “Don’t worry. Nobody’s perfect.”

And that was it.

What a great lesson he (and Homer) taught me – Everyone makes mistakes. EVERYONE.

As managers – I believe – not only do we NOT need to be perfect but that it’s unrealistic to always aim to be so. We just don’t have the time. If we haven’t made a few mistakes by lunchtime it probably means we’re not working hard enough.

So if you do make a mistake you should welcome it. I love this quotation from boxing legend Muhammad Ali –

“It’s just a job. Grass grows. Birds fly. Waves pound the sand. I beat people up.”

If we don’t reach perfection, so what? If you make a mistake, slap your head and shout ‘Doh!’ and get on with your life. It’s just a job. Be kind to yourself…

…And let others make mistakes too – What a great lesson Mike taught me – Thanks, Mr Crane!

Do you agree? Please leave a comment.

The last time I cried in public I was sitting on a bus in Leicester. It was 19th May 1997. My tears dripped onto the pages of my newspaper that was open on the sports pages. My hero – Eric Cantona – had quit football. It was difficult to contemplate life without Eric, and indeed there have been many dark Cantona-free days since his departure.

Ken Loach recently made a great film about Manchester United’s maverick French genius – Looking for Eric. Cantona plays himself. During the film he gives the main character – a Mancunian postman going through a mid-life crisis – some advice. It’s a piece of wisdom that all us DoSes and education managers should take to heart. The secret of Eric’s phenomenal success? Simple –

  • You must trust your team mates. Always.

Just as Eric would not have been able to fill his personal trophy cabinet if he had stood on the pitch as a lone individual, so we too have to rely on others to bring success to our schools.

The advice is so simple yet it’s really hard. It means taking risks. It means giving up some control. Yes, people might let you down. Yes, you might have to deal with problems when teachers abuse that trust. However, if you don’t give your teachers that trust then they will never feel autonomous and never reach great heights.

So what does this mean? This trusting people?

Well, it’s simple –

  • Don’t micromanage – Do you really have to get teachers to sign for everything?
  • Don’t limit them – Does this teacher really need another year’s experience before she can take on that Advanced class?
  • Don’t overwhelm them – Do you really have to send them three email reminders for every task they have to do?
  • Don’t beat them when they slip up – let them make mistakes.
  • Treat them like adults – even when they are unable to find the copy of the book they need despite the fact that it’s right in front of their faces.

Sometimes they will let you down. Sometimes you may be left with egg on your face. But your best teachers will repay that trust ten times over. At the very least you’ll sleep better.

Do you have any specific examples of the importance of trusting your team mates?

Here are some links –



No sniggering at the back now, but I think being a DoS is quite a difficult job…

Ok, you can stop laughing now. It’s true.

One major problem is that you only see your team when they’re not working. Teachers may tolerate the odd DoS incursion into their territory – they’ll let us play the observation game once or twice a year. But for 99% of their lessons, teachers usher their students in and slam the door behind them with a loud ‘DoS-Keep out!’ bang. So when we see them they may be doing lots of interesting and exciting things – but we rarely see them actually teaching.

So how do we find out what’s going on behind those closed doors?

Anguished cries, muffled sobs and rivulets of blood trickling under the classroom door may help us spot particularly poor teaching methods. But things are not usually quite so obvious.

The key – as ever – is communication. It’s vital to maintain regular contact with your teachers. The Manager Tools podcast have a very simple tip that – if applied – can help you do that and give you a much greater sense of what’s going on in the classrooms –

Have regular one-to-one meetings with all members of your team.

When I first heard this idea I recoiled – Where was I going to find the time to do that? However I was feeling frustrated  – I had teachers who did most of their lessons off-site – it was very difficult keeping up to date with their performance and needs.

I bit the bullet and set up monthly meetings with each teacher. Those thirty minutes slots are now the most precious moments on my calendar.

During the meeting the teachers give me feedback on their students. I can give them advice or feedback. Over time you build up a real understanding of the courses and the teachers.

A few tips if you want to introduce them –

  • Keep the meetings as positive as possible
  • Take notes – it’s invaluable when it comes to planning the next meeting
  • Respond to what you hear – if a teacher has a problem and you can help – do so. It will encourage the teacher to come to you with more issues in later meetings.

Teachers seem to appreciate the chance to talk about their courses and teachers. The meetings are a great way to build rapport. It also makes you a more effective manager. Give it a try for the next academic year!

Here’s a link to the Manager Tools podcast – http://www.manager-tools.com/

Does anyone have any tips on how to make these meetings more effective?

Podcasts are a great resource for management development.

For ‘quick and dirty tips on how to work less and do more’ look no further than Stever Robbins’s Get-It-Done Guy



The podcasts are short, funny and full of good advice. Recent topics include –

  • How to be assertive
  • How to write better emails
  • How to start a project

You can download the podcasts from iTunes

Let me know what you think

One of my management her0es is Dilbert. He teaches us the one key thing that managers must remember at all times

  • Management is pretty silly

What’s true in other industries is true in EFL. Few teachers believe they need to work harder or that they are paid enough for the work they do.

The DoS’s job is to convince them that they are in fact amply rewarded for the work they do and  indeed should work harder. It’s a no-win situation. Why do we do it?

It’s therefore unlikely that the manager will ever be warmly embraced or loved for the work she does – perhaps the best we can hope for is polite toleration.

We can, however, make our lives easier by not adding fuel to the fire. We can try to limit the absurdity of our requests and eliminate those things we do just because ‘that’s what managers are supposed to do.’

I was amazed at just how much paperwork is involved in the job. Forms to fill in, forms to process, forms to wave in teachers’ faces, forms to file, forms to gleefully parade in front of the Director.

I showed the mountain of paperwork to a friend of mine who was visiting the school and I asked him what I should do. ‘Get rid of it,’ he said.

I blinked. ‘Sorry?’

‘Get rid of it.’

I think I blubbered on for half an hour about why I couldn’t possibly get rid of the paperwork. But he was right. I went through every form and asked myself three times if I really needed it. Surprise, surprise many – I discovered – were useless. I got rid of them and I have to say no-one misses ‘CD sign-out sheet’ or ‘Copy of the teacher’s book request form’. We’ve cut out lots of unnecessary pre-observation forms and self-analysis sheets that just seem to burden teachers.

Forms – for some reason – make us feel important and make us feel that we’re managing. In my opinion, forms have little to do with management (well certainly not the management of people). And no-one ever (or at least hardly ever) checks them. We’ve tried our best to get rid of what we can and the school hasn’t collapsed (so far). Dilbert would be proud…maybe.

Let me know what you think!

In preparation for the launch of his new book Little Big Things, management guru Tom Peters has released a series of short videos on You Tube.


Tom’s opinions on management are always colourful and provocative. He covers various topics in these short clips –

  • Reacting to problems
  • The importance of goals
  • The role of thoughtfulness in values statements
  • The curse of standardized forms

I think it’s great to see what managers outside the ELT world are thinking and doing.

I would love to know what you think of Tom’s forthright views! Can his ideas be adapted by us DoSes?