UK ELT needs to be constantly aware of people power to remain competitive, delegates at English UK's Academic Conference will be told.
"It's not what you sell to the student but how much it evolves and adapts to their expectations when they're with you. This is an increasing expectation of customer behaviour that what you buy is malleable and if it doesn't meet your needs your service provider will change it. This puts enormous pressure on satisfying customers," says Loraine Kennedy, who will speak on People Power: Changing Personas of Students, Employees and Leaders on Friday 19 January, the management-focused day of the London conference. Saturday 20 January is focused more on teachers, and you can book for either or both days.
Loraine, an experienced ELT coach, trainer and consultant, believes this must have an impact on the organisational culture of centres, and that good leadership is key to success. "There's this idea that the culture of your organisation is the brand you are selling: because of the number of online communications everything you do is transparent to competitors, current and future students. There is this right to express opinions about things, and people find fault quite easily and this is threatening for organisations. There is a need for connection and sharing a common message around values and efficiency. Customers expect more and don't expect problems to be passed from one person to another – they expect them to be solved really quickly.
"So there have to be seamless communications from leaders to teachers to customer services staff, to students both current and future with people singing from the same song sheet. This is a big ask in an educational context where teachers tend to think what happens in their class is their business. Students will jump ship and go to another provider in a blink of an eye if they don't feel schools are meeting their expectations."
In a system where teachers can be part-time, working in more than one place or on zero hours contracts, this can be tricky to manage – though easier in smaller schools, and says, Loraine, comes down to good leadership. And then it's all about good customer service.
"Students have so many options now they don't have to make the effort to come to your school – what are you offering them? These are the questions we have to keep on revisiting. You have to sit with your teams, and ask what are the skills we need now, what are the messages, what are the conversations we need to have with consumers? There's a lot of people power out there and you can't just tell people what to do anymore, you have to really engage them – and that starts with listening to them."
She plans to get delegates considering some of these points in groups during the session, with some practical pointers to take back to their schools. And centres will be urged to consider how much they are focused on what students actually want, rather than what they think they want – and be reminded that change is coming so fast that even if they are doing well now, that could change by the end of the year.
"For me the absolute key is leadership and employee engagement. You have to think - as a school leader, as a manager - how are you building teachers and staff who face those students with just such an eagerness to share the school values?"
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