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All for one and one for all? Fostering teamwork among your teaching staff

Group of teachers working togetherKaren Capel, an Academic Coordinator and teacher trainer, returns with another post for Coordinators and Directors of Study, sharing her tips for encouraging teamwork among teaching staff.

Teamwork must be at the core of any organisation’s corporate culture. Needless to say, it plays a crucial role in educational institutions, since it is teachers who represent their values and principles before students, in addition to building trust and respect.

In order for this relationship to be successful, we need to ensure teachers are acquainted with the philosophy behind our school, as well as any news or decisions that have been taken and may affect either them or their students. It is essential to bear in mind that even if students know us as coordinators and resort to us sometimes, this happens only in certain circumstances. Otherwise, it is their teacher who acts as the main source of confidence and information, and who consequently needs to be well-informed at all times.

It goes without saying that teaching can be lonely at times. We are always surrounded by students but the actual work is done solo: planning, doing research, creating materials, evaluating our performance after a lesson and even the delivery of the lesson itself. It is therefore the coordinator’s responsibility to make sure all teachers receive the necessary support and guidance so as to feel part of a team and supported.

Below you will find some tips which may help you achieve this not-so-easy task:

  1. Set common objectives and make sure everybody is fully aware of what these are and what they entail for each member of the team. It is vital for you to believe in these goals in order for the rest of your staff to believe in them as well.
  2. Roles need to be clear for everyone to do their job right, so let people know what their responsibilities are and how they fit into the organisation. This will help avoid misunderstandings, tasks which do not get done and overlapping of roles.
  3. Show your team a confident attitude. You need to show staff that if you pool your efforts, you will be able to achieve your goals.
  4. Share your knowledge and expertise when appropriate, especially with new or less experienced teachers who may need more guidance. Remember to always be careful that your suggestions are expressed in a non-patronising way. Staff should be encouraged to pop in whenever they feel they would benefit from some support.
  5. Leave your office doors open for teachers to share any concerns and/or suggestions they may have. Remember they are the ones in direct contact with students and therefore have access to first-hand information, which may prove of paramount importance to making the right decisions regarding courses, coursebooks, methodology used, etc.; all key elements to successful coodination. Being fully informed and keeping a close relationship with your staff paves the way to proactivity and, as a result, success.
  6. Be accessible and dependable. Leaving the door open should be an attitude rather than just an action. You ought to be a good listener and really pay attention to teachers’ ideas, suggestions or preoccupations. Follow-up on the different issues that may arise and make sure you answer their queries and provide them with the information they require. Adopt a democratic leadership style, asking for their feedback on any decisions taken and letting them have a say – even if the final decision will always be yours. Praise contributions and ideas and listen to constructive criticism. It takes courage to let the coordinator know you don’t agree with something, so value this as proof of motivation and a desire to work towards common goals.
  7. Communicate with staff on a regular basis, be it by email or face-to-face, before or after lessons, or at formal meetings. Make sure communication is two-way and that the necessary channels exist for staff to not only receive information but also share it, both with you and with other teachers. This can be done, for example, by having Google Drive groups where you can share links and materials found online or created by the members of the group. You can also organise events where teachers can share and present their ideas and materials to one another. Although this could be seen as time-consuming and difficult to organise, it has proven to be extremely useful for my teachers, due to the fact that it provides them with the chance to see ‘materials in action’ and get acquainted with their rationale.

What do you do to promote teamwork within your institution?


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Got a minute? Learn how to manage your time effectively

Man checking his watchDo you find yourself running out of time during your working day? Karen Capel, an Academic Coordinator and teacher trainer, shares her tips for managing your time effectively.

I have never met a Coordinator or Director of Studies who had time to spare. Our duties seem to multiply every minute, but of course the time we have to tackle them does not. So how can we do so much in so little time? Here are some ideas you may find useful:

1. Prioritise

How many times have you found yourself immersed in tasks which are, of course, important but which could have waited for other more urgent matters to be resolved first? I have to admit that happens to me many times. Why? Sometimes because unconsciously I choose to deal with issues or tasks I enjoy before undertaking activities I find tedious or which require more time to be done. Some other times because of lack of proper planning or because urgent matters like solving an emergent problem or answering a phone call prevent me from getting the ‘actual work’ done. It’s therefore necessary for us to take a minute and consciously analyse our ‘to do lists’ to rank activities in order of importance and urgency so that we work on those which are both important and urgent first, then on those which are urgent and maybe not that important – just because of their unwanted consequences – and finally on those which are important but not that pressing – the ones actually linked to professional growth and personal objectives. If not dealt with in time, these can become urgent as well and can also lead us to become reactive instead of proactive, as we’ll only be focusing on what’s already imperative and not on creating new projects or coming up with new ideas.

More tips can also be found at: http://www.wikihow.com/Manage-Your-Time.

2. Delegate

I know how hard this is and sometimes we all get the feeling that nobody will do things the way we would, but let’s face it, we have an endless list of tasks waiting to be carried out and very scarce time, so it’s only logical to delegate those activities that someone else can do, be it administrative duties or paperwork, searching for information on a given topic, or correcting tests or mock exams. Keep only those tasks which require your knowledge and expertise for yourself – which are surely enough to keep you busy!

3. Plan as much as possible

Whenever possible, plan ahead in order to make the most of your time. Needless to say, there will be unexpected meetings, phone calls and so on and so forth, but the more organised your routine activities are the better you’ll be able to cope with these eventualities.

4. Don’t multitask

We tend to fall into this trap too often and reckon that if we do many things at once we’ll be more efficient and finish more in less time. Actually, it’s the total opposite. The amount of time required is exactly the same but we also run the risk of making far more mistakes due to not being properly focused on each task. Research has shown that multitasking can actually lead to our wasting 20-40% of our time, depending on what we’re trying to achieve. Multitasking prevents us from being ‘in flow’, i.e. fully focused on a particular thing. Being ‘in flow’ actually results in higher satisfaction levels and a higher chance of achieving goals faster.

5. Be organised

Disorganisation can only lead to wasting time. Think of how much time you spend looking for papers or files you cannot find or how you can forget about an important matter just because you forgot to write it down or you fail to find the piece of paper where you did! Organisation is key to management and can prevent disasters from happening.

6. Minimise distractions

It’s worth pointing out that by this I don’t mean breaks, as these are necessary from time to time in order to recharge our batteries and focus once again on what we are doing. Nobody can be focused for eight hours non-stop – and it’s not healthy either. What I mean by this is that, for example, if you leave your email programme open and visible all day, it’s highly plausible that you interrupt whatever you’re doing in order to answer emails – important or not – every time you receive one. It goes without saying that this can impact on the quality of the work being undertaken.

7. Set realistic goals for your day

If you have endless to-do lists that you’ll never tick off, you’ll always feel frustrated. It’s alright to have a long list of pending tasks, but it’s also a good idea to use daily lists which reflect what you can really tackle in a day. This will allow you to make the most of the time you have and tackle as much as possible since you can choose to work on different tasks depending on the periods of time available. Let me illustrate this with an example: say you start work at 8 and have a meeting at 9. Think of which tasks from your list you would be able to start and finish in an hour and deal with one of those. Do the same with every period you have and by the end of the day you will have taken care of many issues that otherwise would still be waiting on your list. Doing this will help you to set realistic goals for each day and therefore leave the office with the sense of achievement you deserve!

Do you have any tips to add?