Introducing the New Management Column

by Maureen McGarvey

It’s never a good idea to get too pally with people at the IHWO Academic Managers and Trainers’ Conference, is it? Had I managed to remain more aloof, I’m sure Chris Ożόg would never have contacted me asking me if I would write a management column for the IHWO Journal. Had he been less charming and persuasive, it would have been easier to say ‘no’. But I didn’t, so here I am. And I’m here with a bit of trepidation, really, because the question that keeps going through my head is this: what is the point of a management column? What can I write that will be helpful to you, in your role as an academic manager?

Let me introduce myself, first of all. My current role is Programme Manager – eLearning at International House in London. This means as well as directly line managing teachers/trainers here,  I am responsible for all our existing online programmes, most particularly the online academic management programmes we offer; the Certificate in Academic Management, Diploma in Academic Management, and the single module Young Learner Centre Management. That’s a lot of management, and I read a lot of books and articles before and while I was writing these programmes. Of course, I’m still reading now, more than 15 years later. I discovered fairly quickly that there is little written specifically about Language Teaching Organisation [LTO] management, apart from Ron White and Andy Hockley’s excellent book ‘Making the Transition from teacher to Manager’. However, there is an awful lot written about management, much of it American, and much of it with very dodgy titles [‘Who Moved My Cheese?’/ ‘The Art of Thinking Without Thinking’] and many with numbers in the titles, [‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’/’The 6 Habits That Will Transform Your Life Before 8.00 am’] implying that once you have mastered the 5/6/7 maxims in the book, that’s it, you are sorted. You are Mega-Manager. Choose your Superpower!

I can’t think of a single DoS in an IH school who doesn’t want to be the best DoS they can be. The trouble is, we seem to have a very imperfect understanding of what that actually means. The issue is further clouded by the different perceptions of those around you.  I often think of a DoS being a kind of buffer state, between two nations [not necessarily warring nations, but on occasion, not all that friendly.] You spend half your time interpreting your teachers to your Director, and half your time interpreting your Director to your teachers, and you sometimes feel you don’t speak either language well enough. Throw the admin staff you work with into the mix, and it can get even more confusing.

Josh Round, Academic manager at St Giles, and IATEFL Leadership and Management SIG Committee member, has an excellent session called ‘Be the DoS You Want To Be’. You can see his Prezi here . The starting point is to consider what sort of DoS you want to be. Do you want to be popular? Respected? Fun fun fun? What is called, in IHWO parlance, a ‘sweetie’? Or all of these?  Your teachers might want you to be one person, your director another, and your admin team another. It’s exhausting trying to be so many people to so many people; also, it’s eventually ineffective.

For me, there are two key qualities we need to develop as an academic manager, and these are consistency and even-handedness. If we are consistent, we have worked out what our principles are and we articulate them in the way we behave. If we are even-handed, all our staff know that we treat everyone the same [hopefully, treating them well.] Most of us manage against models; ‘I want to be a DoS like X’ versus ‘I never want to be a DoS like X’, and this can be helpful, particularly at the beginning of our career as an academic manager. But, ultimately, we will never be X, so we might as well be the best version of ourselves. Those of you who have heard me speak at the Academic Managers and Trainers’ conferences may remember that one thing I think academic managers need is one you never see in job descriptions; a good memory. It’s important to remember what helped you as a teacher and what annoyed you as a teacher, and to keep checking in with your staff, to ensure that you are tackling the issues which annoy them.

My initial question was ‘what is the point of a management column?’, and this would be easy to answer if every situation had the same solution; in other words, if one size really did fit all. However, my experienced teacher is not your experienced teacher, my Director is not your Director. I have certain issues which I’m struggling with as an academic manager, and perhaps this column is the place for me to throw them out there, and see what you think. At the moment, issues I’m thinking about are:

  • Motivating experienced members of staff
  • Dealing with competing priorities – which comes first and which gets dumped?
  • Managing upwards [sometimes called ‘managing your boss’] – do I want to develop this skill?
  • “For heavens’ sake, why can’t you just……” – how can I avoid using this phrase, and what makes me use it?

I’d be interested to know if these are issues you, too, are working on and would be interested in reading about, and whether there are other issues you would like this column to explore. Not to ‘give the answer’, because I’m already fairly sure I won’t be able to do that, but rather to consider topics which affect us as academic managers in LTOs. You can either email me directly, or let the IH Journal editorial team know. My email address is in my bio information.

Author’s Bio: Maureen is Programme Manager eLearning at IH London. She has been involved in online training and management training for the past 15 years, running a range of distance, face to face, and online training programmes for academic managers. She wrote the management module for the MSc in TESOL offered by Aston University, and was subject tutor and dissertation supervisor for that module for several years. She has also tutored the management module for the MA in TESOL offered by Westminster University. She is a frequent conference speaker on topics related to academic management and online training.
Maureen has worked in ELT for longer than she cares to remember, and has taught in the UK, Spain and Hungary as well as on short training contracts in other locations. She has been a committee member on the Leadership and Management Special Interest Group for IATEFL, and is Co-ordinator for the IATEFL Scholarship Working Party, responsible for managing the IATEFL scholarship scheme. She line manages academic staff in IH London and also manage a team of online tutors working remotely in a variety of locations. She lives in North London with her daughter and their dog. She has a guilty addiction to reality TV programmes. Her email is