ETpedia Management 500 ideas for managing an English Language school

Fiona Dunlop, Keith Harding and Robert McLarty
Pavilion Publishing 2019
ISBN: 978-1-912755-27-1

This review starts with a double disclaimer. First, the reviewer has had a prior professional relationship with one of the authors, not that that colours any opinions. Secondly, given it’s the reviewer’s first attempt at a book review, undertaken somewhat hastily, the quality may not be up to the usual quality of this section! Nevertheless, let us proceed.

They say you should never judge a book by its cover, but that’s exactly where I’m going to start. 500 ideas for managing an English Language school is A4 size and held together by a ring binder, very much in the style of an English File or Cutting Edge teacher’s book. This makes it very easy to flick through, photocopy or make notes on, because it’s always flat and so doesn’t lead to wrangling with the book and wrestling with the photocopier.

The authors’ stated aim is to rectify the absence of ‘one resource which brings all the key advice together in one place ...’ in terms of ELT management and to provide a collection of resources for easy consultation. Does it succeed in this aim? Broadly speaking, yes, and I think rather well.

It’s organised into eight sections and 50 units with 10 tips in each unit, plus an appendix of resources. The labelling is clear, too, so it’s easy to find a unit containing what you want. Why 10 tips? Why not 7 or 12, or different numbers for each section? Essentially, the rationale given is that 10 things to know about each area will help. That’s fine, but I suspect it’s really another manifestation of the human obsession with 10s because of our 10 fingers and toes colouring our entire conceptual map and that we feel more comfortable with ‘Top 10s’. Would the book have suffered from being 437 or 528 ideas or another ‘messy’ number? I doubt it. It would be a shame to let any good advice go unmentioned for the sake of a round number.

The book is designed for anyone interested in management or understanding management. Some, like myself, buy the book as a practical aid at work and others will purchase it to help with certificates and diplomas of academic management. Having never yet done one, I can only say that I suspect the book would prove most useful in this regard. The writing is clear and concise, and I can find nothing in the tips with which I disagree.

The sections include: getting started; strategic management and communication; human resources, administration and finance; marketing and finance; quality assurance and quality improvement; academic management; professional development; and positive working environments. It’s fair to say that it’s pretty comprehensive.

There are some reflective tasks in a number of the units which are a good way of clarifying thought and action in a practical way. The appendix contains lots of useful materials, but they are all very linear with lists and boxes. I would suggest thinking outside the boxes and adapting them for the mind mappers and the more organic thinkers in order to maximise their utility.

Are there any flaws? Yes. I think the authors have either not worked for, or forgotten what it’s like to work for dysfunctional organisations. Speaking globally, this industry has a disproportionate share of the ethically-challenged and the organisationally-challenged running outfits. Many of us have first-hand experience of them! A unit on working for such outfits would be welcome because they are infinitely more challenging. For my money, it would need only one tip: if you’re in such a place and you cannot push through positive change, leave. There is a default assumption by the authors that you will be working in a school where things are organised and considered – not every school has set timetables with teachers having a coffee break at the same time. Some of us don’t even have a coffee machine or water cooler at work; some of us don’t even have a teachers’ room!

Is there anything missing from the book? Yes. Something on different people types and personalities and how to deal with them might come in useful, whether it’s your Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or something else. It’s not just teaching that involves psychology. All management requires dealing with a range of personalities and almost every aspect of the job requires interaction. There are excellent managers who are more task-oriented than people-oriented and succeed brilliantly at getting the job done but can struggle with the less robust personality types. Often schools discard or overlook these types in favour of more touchy-feely types who are less effective as leaders and managers. People who set demanding expectations and are change drivers tend to be demanding people!

I think the book is excellent and would recommend it to both the aspiring and the experienced manager.

Matthew Hallett
Matthew Hallett has taught English for nine years and is now Director of Studies at a school in Italy.