Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Keep people informed and involved

For number 5 on my seven habits list, I am going to point to recent activity in the ELP as an example of the informing and involving I advocate for language program administrators.

One of the main activities was the brainstorming session during the retreat last Saturday when I requested input on the Director's "To Do List". That activity resulted in a long, somewhat messy and often contradictory list of things people wanted me to try to do, which is exactly what I had expected.

The list has been very helpful in providing me with a better overview of issues, conflicts and goals the ELP staff perceive as important. I hope it also helps them feel listened to and that I encourage their involvement in the process of identifying and working on these matters.

After studying the list, I identified several categories that I think provide a reasonable organization for the brainstormed ideas. I also summarized my 'read' of each of those categories and made a brief statement about the fundamental situation I think is represented by the ideas I grouped into each category. Finally, I took all the ideas from the original list in each category and created a few broad objectives that, when accomplished, would mean all of the ideas had been addressed and some sort of resolution established for them. All of this together represents the beginnings of a strategic plan for the ELP. To complete the plan, we will need to add specific activities that will lead to accomplishing the objectives, a timeline for each activity, identification of who will have responsibility for the activity, and indentification of what we will accept as a Performance Indicator, or evidence, that the activity has been successfully concluded. This step will need to come after there is sufficient acceptance of the categories and related broad objectives.

I hope the objectives as I have stated them avoid any prejudging by me of the outcome of deliberations that will be needed as we work through the areas where there are divergent views. That was my intent, but it will need to be confirmed.

My outline of a possible strategic plan for the ELP is given below and I welcome comment and input on whether or not the document: (a) makes sense, ( b) covers the range of issues raised so far and (c) is reasonably neutral relative to the differing views now held by staff in the ELP on these topics. I have included the original raw brainstormed ideas under the description and objectives to show what gave rise to each category and to hopefully demonstrate the comprehensiveness of the objectives in covering the original brainstormed ideas. These can also serve to guide the later formation of specific actvities under each objective.

A final note: Use of this blog to inform and involve allows (but doesn't require) anonymous comment as well as allowing others to see the comments. I hope that this will encourage comment from those who would otherwise perhaps feel too intimidated and that it will give rise to a greater understanding to all of us about the different views held by those in the ELP.

DRAFT ELP Strategic Plan for 2007 – 2012

Categories given general description and main objectives

I. Vision and Values

There is some perceived need to review and clarify fundamental assumptions about the values and vision that underlie and give direction to the ELP. This is manifested by concerns about such things as lack of engagement, accountability and dynamism in the program, how staff are hired and promoted, a perceived high turnover rate among teaching staff and questions relating to where “control” and “innovation” should be situated in the organization.


  1. Revise Staff Handbook section 1. Goals and consider inclusion of new statements expressing ELP core values and vision, as well as expectations for staff participation in determining and implementing them.
  2. Review and set long-term goals relative to tenure and promotion options.

Locus of 'control' in the program

Locus of 'innovation'

Causes and impacts of rapid staff turnover

Lack of dynamism in the Program

Maintaining 'engagement' in the program - people drift off

Review and clarify personnel hiring policies

Review teaching assignment policies and procedures

Accountability of teachers

Responsibilities of tenured vs. non-tenured staff

Request more tenure track positions

Replace tenure with contract appointments. Determine what support there is in the ELP for the gradual replacement (on normal retirement/voluntary redundancy) of the ELP's "closed" tenure system with "open", rolling, performance-based contracts for all teachers.

Open up access to promotion to non-tenured Instructors. Determine what support there is to open up promotion by non-tenured instructors to positions above the current ceiling of Contractually-appointed Lecturer. The current system closes access to even 'base' level Lecturer appointments to tenured instructors only - this is prejudicial in the context of common practice in universities in Japan. If the ELP accepted this suggestion it would lead to fairer separation of promotion and tenure. (The ELP/ICU may also forfeit its place on a well-publicized blacklist!)

II. Status, Reputation and Relations

Historically the ELP has enjoyed a strong reputation as one of, if not the most, effective, high-quality, innovative and professional English language programs in Japan. There is some concern that this reputation may be diminishing. Even if that is not the case, increased competition from other Japanese university programs makes it desirable to strengthen the ELP reputation as much as possible. This is needed both inside ICU as well as outside. The current academic reform taking place at ICU may present some challenges to this effort as well as some new opportunities.


  1. Enhance the ELP visibility, communication and reputation within ICU, Mitaka, Japan and the global ELT community
  2. Respond to academic reform proposals to solidify the role of the ELP within ICU and create maximum integration of the ELP within the CLA.
  3. Adjust the ELP as needed in response to academic reform changes.

Raise ELP visibility and reputation within ICU, Mitaka, Japan and the global ELT community (e.g. hold an annual speech contest, establish a library of research about the ELP by ELP staff)

Respond to Academic Reform proposals – establish ELP roles in new meeting structure, determine relationship to elective languages, strengthen integration of ELP within the CLA, deal with the elimination of the kentan system, propose curriculum revision as needed (e.g. clarify SEA program policies and Coordinator assignment in light of kentan elimination), determine desirability of taking on new roles such as academic advising by tenured instructors and ELP participation in possible writing center, etc.

Strengthen communication with JLP

Strengthen ties with ICU High School

More interaction between ELP and ICU faculty through scheduled events

III. Curriculum, Pedagogy and Materials

Like most language programs, the ELP staff experience a conflict between desiring change and improvement in the areas of curriculum, pedagogy, instructional materials and technologies and a desire to adhere to tradition and stability. Balancing these two forces effectively in the ELP should be an ongoing process.


  1. Review and clarify/revise the ELP curriculum/syllabus objectives, structure and content.
  2. Review and determine desired degree of standardization in teaching practice within the ELP

Curriculum: Lack of explicitness in the details of what we expect Ss to be able to do (1) at the end of each semester (2) at the end of freshman year (3) at the end of Theme Writing; Consider streamlining of syllabus to better fit students’ needs; Continue debate over the division of RCA and ARW

Greater emphasis on teaching vocabulary in the ELP

Clear statement of ELP goals (they ARE NOT explicit in the opening pages of the Handbook)

Review approaches to teaching writing in the ELP

Develop online materials for TW and other courses; consider combination of TW and

SE and/or TW and GenEd courses

Student workload

Value of and need for CS courses – do weaker students need something different? Are some CS courses “so weak they can’t spit over their own chins?”

Detailed syllabus rather than vague curriculum for each program

NP policies, purpose, etc.

Clearer understanding of and more consistent approaches to teaching Critical Thinking; what do we expect of our (L2/C2) students?

ELP Reader: write our own texts

IV. Testing

Testing is perceived by some, if not most, ELP staff as a necessary evil. Compounding this ambivalence about the value of testing is a range of opinions on how much and how standardization should be built into student assessment.


  1. Review policies and procedures for student assessment and revise as needed.

Standardize student evaluation (I understand this to mean our testing and grading policies and procedures, not the TES system.)

Necessity of PWT (are we doing too much?)

V. Instructional Resources and Facilities

In addition to establishing curricular, pedagogical and assessment policies and procedures, there is a need to provide appropriate resources to support the most effective implementation of those policies and procedures.


1. Identify and obtain the instructional materials and technologies required to effectively implement the academic and administrative aspects of the ELP.

Establish a strategic plan for the use of information technology in the ELP, both in administration and teaching

Purchase CD players for instructional use

Course management software (Blackboard etc.)

Make halls more student-friendly and more attractive as places to wait for tutorials

Improve assistance for teachers including facilities, supplies, assistants, etc.

“Softwire” ICU/ELP for technology by establishing clear roles for technology providers and pushing for a materials production unit (MPU) which would be coordinated with content providers (i.e. teachers)

Better copying facilities including consolidation of equipment and supplies, add stapling facilities, expansion of hours when copying help is available, availability of supplies consistent with the rest of ICU

VI. Management Policies and Procedures

There is considerable desire to clarify/revise many aspects of ELP and ICU administrative policies and procedures and to make them more easily accessible for reference.


  1. Revise the Staff Handbook to include any new or updated policies and procedures including procedures and responsibilities for making changes to the Staff Handbook
  2. Review and improve processes for information sharing and communication among ELP staff and between staff and students.

Develop guidelines for working with hearing impaired students in the ELP

Review and clarify personnel hiring and promotion procedures, including the role and standardization of observation procedures in personnel decisions

Clarify and establish course assignment policies and procedures

Revision of the Staff Handbook should be done by one person, not committees (where too many compromises tend to be made, or can be 'stacked' to represent one group view)

Revise Staff Handbook as needed, e.g. include statement on appropriate and inappropriate communication between staff and students.

Definitions for keys terms we use in the ELP.

Student orientation: consider more time, more like a retreat, meet students

Timing of taking student photos for database

Updated system for sharing materials

End of term course meetings to get feedback

Transparent framework for ongoing development of courses

ELP Reader -- form a reading committee; write our own texts (possible link with LRB submissions)

Placement procedures for students

Responsibilities of tenured vs. non-tenured staff

VII. Professional Development

There is significant pressure on ELP teaching staff to demonstrate excellence in both teaching and academic activities such as research, publication and participation in professional events. Such performance expectations should be supported by appropriate offerings of professional development opportunities for ELP staff.


  1. Determine how best to make professional development support available to ELP staff on an ongoing basis.

Institutional mentor system

Better professional development opportunities for teachers for both teaching and research

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Make Exceptions, but only when you have a good reason

One of the things that language program directors are called on to do is decide when exceptions to established policies are called for. This happens for a couple main reasons. One is that very few policies or guidelines will fit all possible circumstances and consequently special interpretations of the policies are sometimes needed. Another reason is that cultural norms for many students lead them to expect that most if not all policies are meant to be loose guidelines rather than strictly adhered to formulas. For these students it is natural to ask for exceptions even if there is no logical basis for the request. Also, in many cases maintaining the face of those involved in an issue is more important than how the issue gets resolved. For example, students who failed exams in their English classes in Oman would frequently come to me as Director and request “help.” In that culture, seeking help from authority figures when there is a problem is natural and it is considered a responsibility of the authority figure to respond to emotion-based appeals as seriously as to logic-based appeals. Students would usually either express anger (The teacher hates me and failed me when I didn’t deserve it.) or plead for mercy (You are the Director, so you can change my grade. You must help me.) There was often a request from the student in these cases to have someone else grade their exam again, which was against the policy of the language program. Clearly having the Director or other teachers override teacher assessments would be demoralizing to the teachers and would quickly involve the director in all cases where students didn’t like their exam results. On the other hand, simply saying that it is against the policy of the program to re-grade exams results in further loss of face for the student. Most often what worked best for me in these cases was to acknowledge that the student wanted help and to offer to do something. I would usually say that I would look at the exam paper to make sure that there were no errors in the calculation of the final grade. If I found any errors made in adding up the grade (which did happen, but very rarely) I would approve a grade correction. This allowed the student to feel as if he/she had done something in the face of a shameful exam result. The fact that the director had listened and agreed to do something, even though it almost never resulted in a grade change, went some way toward reducing the loss of face for the student.

How policies are applied or not applied establishes an important parameter of the language program’s culture. In my experience, it is critical for this aspect of the organizational culture to be as consistent as possible. That is, the culture may be quite strict or quite loose or somewhere in between (often this is determined by the larger organizational culture or other constraints), but vacillating between strict and loose applications of policy creates the most problems. This, of course, requires that programs have clearly-formulated policies in the first place. If there is no policy, then every decision is an exception.

A recent example is the decision to require students to bring the original copy of pre-exam materials to a program-wide writing exam in the ELP. This was designed to prevent students from writing out entire essays in advance and bringing them into the timed-writing exam. To make it easier to monitor this, the students received the pre-exam material on colored paper. Students were told clearly that they could only bring the original material, but at the end of the exam proctors noticed one student whose material was not original – it had been copied on a color copier, but not well enough to avoid detection. When questioned about this, the student was very apologetic and said that his original materials had been damaged by rain and that he had copied one of his friend’s materials to use during the exam. We determined that the materials that he did use during the exam didn’t have extensive notes or anything that would have given him a special advantage. In fact, his essay received a failing mark. The question was, what action, if any, should the ELP program take in this case? There is no policy or set of guidelines for this. Should the student be given a warning? Should the exam be disallowed? Should the student be marked down? If so, by how much?

A major consideration at this point is what precedent to set. Students talk to each other and are quick to pick up on inconsistencies in policy application. It might be tempting to say that since the student had failed anyway, it wouldn’t make any difference if we marked him down any further. However, that could actually send a message to other students that there were no negative consequences to violating ELP testing policies like this one. In the end, working with the testing coordinator, we decided to reduce the student’s exam mark by 1 point (out of 10 points). This made no appreciable difference to the student’s final grade but sends a message to students that there will be consequences for violating exam policies.

In this process, I think two important precedents were set that will allow the formation of clearer policy on how to handle issues like this in future. One is that the ELP is fairly strict in applying exam policies. The second is that how much or little a student has benefited as a result of exam policy violations may be used as a factor in determining the extent of the punishment.

Next time: Keep people informed and involved

Friday, October 13, 2006

Share Leadership

Sharing leadership is particularly important for directors and administrators in educational settings. One reason for this is the tendency of people working in education to be “low risk entrepreneurs.”

Education is not a particularly high-paying career path, but some people are attracted to it because it provides many of the aspects of an entrepreneurial career – flexible hours, lots of opportunity for creativity in your work, and a relative lack of interference from a strong, hierarchical management system. True entrepreneurs enjoy these aspects of their careers, but also have low job security and assume considerable financial risks. For many people this combination of low level of job security and high financial risk is not an acceptable price to pay in exchange for the autonomy they want. For some of these people accepting a low-paying career in education is a good way to gain relatively high levels of autonomy, job security and low financial risk. Since there is an element of financial sacrifice involved in their career choices, many educators place a correspondingly high value on their independence in the workplace. This means educators generally resent and resist any imposition of a corporate-style management hierarchy*. As a result, most educational institutions have a very flat organizational structure – a lot of Indians and not many Chiefs. The few formal administrative or managerial positions outside of support staff positions are commonly filled on a rotating basis from among the general faculty. Even in situations where there is an administrative position with clear supervisory authority, there is an expectation that the person in that position will be sensitive to the education culture and its entrepreneurial expectations. Part of that sensitivity is sharing leadership even if it isn’t automatically built into the system. This generally means basing decisions whenever possible on consensus (ideal) or majority vote (next best) and it means substantial use of committees, task forces or working groups.

One important consideration in how to make this all work well is to balance responsibility with authority when sharing leadership. Whenever elements of leadership are delegated, the people given responsibility for the element need to be given a commensurate level of authority. When this doesn’t happen, there are often problems.

On the other hand, there are times and situations when an organization needs someone to exercise authority in order to deal with problems that are not amenable to a simple vote or consensus decision. Directors need to be willing to step in and resolve such problems. This works well when there is a general understanding that the problem is not amenable to consensus and when there is general trust in the director to make fair and balanced decisions overall. That kind of trust is normally based on the experience the organization has with the director over time.

As a new director in the ELP, I haven’t been able to establish any basis for trust in my ability to make decisions when that is needed. I hope that will come over time.

I have also noted that even though many educators resent corporate style organizational structures, there is a human tendency to want individual recognition and reward. Thus, even in the flattest educational hierarchies divisions based on some differentiation in status tend to emerge. This is sometimes reflected in job titles or contract types; sometimes it is reflected in which office or office furniture people have. Maintaining both a flat, we-are-all-equal organizational structure and providing recognition of individuals through some differentiation in status is a tricky thing. I think that the ELP will definitely present a challenge in this regard.

(*When I was manager of the in-company English program at Sumitomo Metals, a large part of my job was dealing with any conflicts or problems that occurred at the various office and factory English programs throughout Japan. I anticipated that differences in Japanese culture and the Western culture that the English teachers came from would cause most of the problems. Over time, though, I learned that in fact we were dealing with four cultures – Japanese, Western, Business and Education. It was the clash between the business and education cultures that actually produced most of the problems.)

Next time: Make exceptions (but only when you have a good reason)