English UK management conference Day 2 (well, some of it..)
8 March 2014

Getting us off to a cheery start on Day 2 was Dianne Tyers, who took us through some of her management ups and downs over 20 years to describe what she'd learned.
The first of these was context, as she discovered on her first management position in Japan where she found herself "hitting invisible walls," praising managers according to good theory. She was then taken to one side and told that in that culture if managers were given positive feedvback they would not put effort into improving their schools.
It was also important to consider the organisational context, she said, outlining what sounded like a nightmare of pulling together private language schools into a publically-traded organisation. "It was a massive lesson for me. In the first year all the systems were stripped down and built up again.. we couldn't get bills paid, we maxed out the corporate credit card because the bills not paid then my credit card, then my savings account, we couldn't get host families paid. We managed to get payroll through most of time but had to strip back HR and customer policies and rebuild them. We were doing 60 or 70 hours a week one year to transition .... it was a massive lesson fror me.
"Understanding context matters as a manager. It was a huge lesson for me. With a new project now the first question I ask is what's the context, cultural, regional and organisational. I won't do any work on the project until I've figured it out otherwise I won't know what I am doing and won't be successful."
The second important lesson was that there are things a manager can't control she said, telling a horrific story of her organisation's school in New York where the sales team were trying to sell a course to a group which desperately wanted dorm-style student accommodation but were coming at a time when there wasn't any available.
The management came up with a plan to cram 3 beds into each dorm, and the sales team were told to explain this to the group. However, the students were so horrified by what they found that they organised a sit-in, Tyers had to fly back from Toronto, and other events in New York meant hotel rooms were impossible to find. Much phoning around eventually found rooms at $390 a night... but then Tyers had nowhere to stay. Then New York flooded thanks to the tail end of a hurricane.
Tyers learned two several things from this: that there are things managers can't control and there is no point stressing out; that people will help when you need it most, and that when other people try to make it personal (as the sales team did over this incident) don't take it personally. "Sometimes the best thing to do is to walk away." When she stopped answering emails blaming her for this, her own managers stepped forward to defend her, and eventually the sales manager apologised.
"I take on a lot of consulting projects but if the client is not treating me respectfully or paying me on time I will make the decision I am going to walk away from this."
Her other advice: break the rules sometimes; it's OK to fire people; sometimes there's no right or wrong decision, just a decision; persistence wins the game, and
"have some fun along the way. If you're not having fun get a new job." Which is why she ran a huge April Fool's day joke by making students take a fake exam and regrading them all entirely randomly.
Finally, she says it's important to celebrate successes. So she created the We Done Good board, which gets filled every month. "It sounds corny but it turned the company around ad turned turned me around. We're having an impact and it's right there on board.
"That's what I've learned in the last 20 years. I'd encourage you to take time to think about your own managment lessons. What have you learned?"
Vic Richardson was also interested in what had been learned, but in this case by rolling enrolment students at Embassy. What he did was simple: get students to describe a picture story at the start and end of 8 weeks. He discovered that they appeared to make little progress. "Do students on our courses progress, and at an acceptable rate? Everyone in this room would say yes but I've done three studies and found the same every time," he said.
He played one student's two tests and said she was "horrified" by the results. "The conclusion seems to be no matter what we do with students on continuous enrolment courses they are not making progress. Why is this mismatch on perception of progress and the test? I think maybe we need to be looking somewhere else.
"Somehow in our profession we behave as if they improve by osmosis. How about starting with where we want to be at the end? How about if she told that picture story, we give her feedback on telling a story and she does another one. If we're focused on the outcome I am almost sure she'll tell a better story."
It's complicated to explain in a blog, but Richardson went on to explain two different types of teaching, with one based on assessment for learning (rather than assessment of learning) which was outcome driven, asking students what they could already do, what they wanted to do, how to narrow the gap and the next steps. This, he said, helped because students knew what success looked like and what their outcomes were, and this fostered student autonomy. It was a virtuous circle.
"They are learning it's about effort and willingness, not ability and cleverness. And the weaker students benefit most from assessment for learning," he said.
At the end of Vic's session, people began pouring into the big conference room for the George Pickering plenary. George has form for dressing up so when he appeared in a panda onesie it wasn't entirely surprising. Find out why in the next blog which I'll file later. To keep an eye on events in the meantime, we're on twitter at #eukmgt14


Susan Young

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