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!

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

John Wooden is a retired American basketball coach. The 99-year-old has written several books on life, coaching and his pyramid of success.

His official website is a thing of beauty and contains some great maxims and practical advice, such as ‘make everyday your masterpiece’ and ‘the carrot is mightier than the stick’.

Managing teachers may not be the same as managing athletes but there is much to learn from John Wooden  –http://www.coachwooden.com/

Let me know what you think.