It is now common knowledge that the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of edtech. Traditional language schools and corporate language training providers have had to adapt overnight to a change they say would have happened in five years had Covid-19 not happened.
This has come with a multitude of new roles for Director of Studies and Academic Managers across language learning apps, online language schools, and online tutoring marketplaces. The biggest shock? Going from managing and training 10 to 20 teachers on-site to having to do so with hundreds or even thousands of teachers based worldwide.
This, of course, complicates the traditional practices of any language school such as informal yet many times useful chats with teachers in the staffroom, keeping track of teacher availability, tracking attendance, or simply building rapport.
There are various alternatives and workarounds to the above. However, teacher observations remains the one area most online teaching platforms either ignore or haven’t had much success with. And I personally don’t blame them, it’s intricate and multilayered.
Here are some tips and ideas that may help you implement a teacher observation procedure and get teachers on your side if you’re responsible for managing and training online language teachers.
If you work for an online tutoring platform, chances are you only (or mainly) work with freelance teachers. This makes things a little bit more complicated. Since they are not employed, it is possible that they also teach on other platforms in order to fill up their schedule and their level of commitment may be lower. Start with thinking about initiatives that could help you gain their trust, get them excited about collaborating with you and your organization, and knock down the screen barrier. For example, online social events where you can tell them more about the company’s mission and they can meet and share experiences with other teachers. This would provide them with a sense of belonging.
You could also use this type of events to collect feedback on your own leadership skills that you could later use to reflect on how you come across as a leader and spot areas for development. Zoom polls or Google forms allow for feedback collection and sorting.
Use every opportunity you have to show teachers they’re the core of your vision as a leader. Even if they’re not employees of your company, they’re still brand ambassadors and your only direct connection between the customer (your students) and the organization in an online world. Online teaching can be very isolating and can affect teacher performance, so by being empathetic and making teachers feel important you will contribute to their motivation and commitment.
Make sure you inform them of the observation type(s) you’re planning to implement as well as to what you and your organization aim to achieve. Yes, you obviously want to guarantee the best quality service possible to your students, but it is also important to show teachers that you genuinely care about helping them be the best they can be.
If teacher observations haven’t been done in the past, you would need to amend the existing teacher agreement accordingly and ask them to sign the updated version. Bear in mind that there is a possibility that some teachers choose to stop collaborating with your organization as not all of them will be happy with being observed, especially very experienced ones, freelancers, and those who have never worked for regulated language schools.
You might want to get your feet wet by carrying out developmental observations first. As opposed to quality assurance observations, these are less intimidating by their nature. Insist on the benefits and importance of professional development, especially when it comes to online teaching as it’s constantly evolving. Ask teachers to choose one or two areas they would like to develop further or something they would like to experiment with (a specific teaching technique, an outside-the-box activity type…). You should also allow them to choose the lesson they would like to be observed in. This will help them see that your sole intention is to help them become even better teachers.
There is only so much that you can ask freelance teachers so if they prefer not to be observed and you have decided not to make it mandatory, encourage them to bring alternative professional development opportunities to the table and try to come to an agreement together. Ask them how they have learned and developed themselves in the past. Do they prefer to watch videos? Attending conferences? Discussing experiences with other teachers?. You could also suggest that they record the lesson themselves (make sure you get the student(s) permission too!) and then send you the recording in order to minimize the stress and nerves that could come with live observations. Consider if you would benefit from observing the entire lesson or if an extract would suffice.
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