Dealing with Your Boss

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One of the great advantages of teaching, particularly EFL, is that we are our own boss most of the time. In many office jobs people are in constant contact with their boss or line manager, working to instructions, reporting back and generally aware of having someone breathing down their necks! As teachers we are bound by syllabuses and school protocols of course, but are pretty much left to our own devices in the classroom, our attention focused more on keeping a different kind of boss happy—our students.

That said, there are times when we need to deal with someone in authority in our organization, our school Principal or D.O.S, for example, and these situations are often challenging. Here are some examples.

  • your teaching is observed and discussed
  • an annual appraisal
  • a pay issue (you want a raise, for example!)
  • a development issue (you would like to take on a new challenge in the school or would like your school to sponsor you to do a course or attend a conference)
  • an issue about working conditions (your timetable, resources etc.)
  • some negative feedback from students about your classes

There are some general principles for dealing with situations like this, bearing in mind that successful relationships with bosses are no different to any other. They benefit from you

  • being pro-active
  • listening carefully
  • adopting a positive attitude
  • thinking win-win
  • being flexible
  • being assertive (that is giving clear messages without coming across as aggressive or bullying)

Easier said than done, of course. Here are three examples of how to put these principles into practice.

  1. Ask your DOS to observe you. Don’t wait for the annual round of observations or for a problem to arise. Specify which class you would like her to observe and what you would like her to look out for. After the class take a lead in the feedback by asking her questions about what she saw rather than wait for her to tell you. In other words take a measure of control of the event. She will love the fact that you have taken responsibility and you will feel empowered and able to take on more constructive criticism than you normally would
  2. Request a meeting with your boss to discuss ways you could contribute to the school and further your own development. Find out from your boss what she thinks is important for the school and how she thinks you can contribute. Offer your own suggestions too. Some possible “partnership” projects that emerge from this could be creating a feedback questionnaire for students, organizing material share among teachers, starting a blog with staff or students, improving an end of course exam and so on.
  3. Get the boss to spend some money on resources. Write the him a carefully worded e mail with a proposal for some resources you think the school should buy (Books, equipment, whatever). Say what the benefits of the resources would be, linking these benefits to school policy or specific feedback from students. “Many students have said they appreciate role play activities in class. The book “100 role play activities” will help teachers to include these more in their class” etc.

Most of us get somewhat apprehensive about communicating with bosses. A good way to overcome this is rehearse conversations beforehand with a colleague or friend. You can play you and your friend plays the boss or vice versa. Rehearsing will help you polish your communication skills and understand where your boss is coming from. Apart from that it can be quite a lot of fun!

Have you had an experience dealing with your boss which went well or didn’t? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
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