Ever wondered about the best way to build an effective ELT teaching team for your English school? Imagine eleven great footballers running around a field chasing a ball. It wouldn’t make a effective team, it would make chaos.
The same applies to English teachers in your school.
However, if you can turn them into a team that works well together so that each contributes their unique strengths, then the team can be so much more than the sum of its parts.
So how do we turn a group of ELT teachers into an effective teaching team?
In this blog post, I am going to share with you my top 10 ways to build an effective ELT teaching team. These are my tried and tested ways I learned during two years of managing a team of 70 remote online English teachers from around the world.
1. Create shared goals
One of the key factors that helps to build an effective ELT teaching team is the setting of shared goals. Ideally these goals should come from the teachers themselves, and they could centre on a range of things. From developing banks of teaching resources together, to finding better course books. From improving English students re-enrolment to improving their test scores.
“The best teamwork comes from men who are working independently toward one goal in unison.” – James Cash Penney
The important thing about the shared goals is that every English teacher should be able to contribute to achieving them in some way, and that they should also have some benefit from achieving them. Goals are best created by your ELT teaching team, and that means working with them to identify where they believe there are challenges and shortcomings in the status quo. To enable English teachers to work with you to do this requires a great deal of trust.
2. Build trust
Building trust takes time and patience, but it is necessary in order to have a functioning and effective ELT teaching team. Team members will need to have trust in each other but also in you.
“Teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability”– Patrick Lencioni
How to build trust with your teaching team could take up a whole blog post, but here are 8 tips that you can use to get started building trust:
- It takes time to build trust. You need to take the time to let people get to know you, and to get to know them, so be patient and don’t rush things.
- Be honest about who you are. Don’t try to impress people or pretend to be more than you are. Always tell the truth. It only takes a single lie to destroy trust.
- Be reliable and do the things you say you will do. If you make a promise to a teacher, make sure you keep it.
- If you do something wrong, admit to it. Don’t try to blame others. Admitting that you make mistakes can actually help to build trust. Passing the blame will destroy trust.
- Be calm and honest about your feelings. Share the things you care about. Be prepared to listen to teachers and understand what they care about.
- Try to help people whenever you can. Don’t expect anything in return or keep score.
- Be true to your own beliefs. Don’t agree with others so that they will like you. If you disagree with someone’s opinion, be prepared to say so, but also appreciate that they have the right to hold an opinion that’s different to your own.
- Be prepared to share information and tell teachers what you are doing and thinking. You don’t have to share everything, but try not to keep secrets.
Using these simple 8 tips should help you build trust and improve the way you interact with your ELT teaching team. Remember though that trust is easily destroyed. You only have to ignore one of these tips, and you can lose someone’s trust in seconds.
3. Plan your communications
The next thing you’ll need is good communication. Effective teams are built on good, clear communications.
“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” – Tony Robbins
Good communication doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of communication, as over communicating can be a factor in damaging communications. For example, too many emails means that your teaching team may stop reading them.
It’s a good idea to create a communication plan. This should include:
- what you need to communicate
- when you need to communicate
- who you need to communicate with
- what the best method/platform is for your message.
Some things are best communicated to your teacher(s) face-to-face, so remember that’s an option. Others can be done with a video conference call, a team meeting, an email or a text message. Try to think about each of your teachers’ communication needs and preferences, be flexible and be aware that ‘tone’ can easily be misunderstood in written communications, so avoid jumping to conclusions.
Remember that not all communication within the team should go through you. Provide ways for your English teachers to communicate and share with each other.
This could involve setting up a platform such Slack or Discord or creating a group on Facebook, WhatsApp or Telegram. This enables teachers to share teaching resources and interact with each other, even when some are working remotely.
I would recommend Telegram as the best solution for this, as it doesn’t bombard users with messages as some WhatsApp groups do and there are lots of different ways of communicating, including voice and video messages, as well as text. Telegram also works well across a range of platforms.
4. Try standup meetings
Standup meetings are very popular in tech companies, and they can really help to keep communications flowing and support the development of strong teams. A standup meeting, as the name suggests, is a meeting you have while standing up. The reason for this is to encourage people to be quick and concise.
The meetings usually happen at the beginning of the working day and everyone has the chance to share what they are doing, what their goals are for the day and raise any issues that others should be aware of. These work better with smaller groups, as even 1 – 2 minutes each can start to take a long time if you have 30 teachers, but they can be a great way to start the day together on a positive note.
5. Make time for one-to-one time
Another important part of building an effective ELT teaching team is to also make time for some informal one-on-one time with each of your teachers. This could be by having an open door policy, a drop in time when you make yourself available, or you could actually schedule some meetings throughout the year. This should give your ELT teaching team the opportunity to raise any issues, ask questions, or just get to know you a bit better.
6. Create project teams
A great way of encouraging your English teachers to work as a team is to initiate a number of projects that teachers can work on together. These could be for the development of teaching resources, design of new courses, planning an event, creating a teachers’ newsletter or the selection of new EFL course books. To ensure that the project teams work well, it’s good to have a diverse range of people with different skills and abilities within each team and to try to harness those skills for different roles within the team.
You could use Edward de Bono’s six thinking hats as a tool to assign roles. This method helps promote well-rounded and creative thinking. Each person should adopt the role of one of the hats. The six hats are:
- White Hat – This person focuses on objective facts and data. They gather and analyse information, seeking to understand the project and its outcomes. This hat emphasises factual information-based thinking.
- Red Hat – This person represents emotions, feelings, and intuition. Thinkers wearing this hat express their gut reactions, emotions, and hunches without needing to justify them logically. It allows for the exploration of personal feelings and immediate reactions.
- Black Hat – This person takes a critical and cautious approach to the project. They identify potential risks, weaknesses, and flaws in ideas or proposals. They focus on identifying what might not work and evaluating potential drawbacks.
- Yellow Hat – This person is all about optimism and positivity. Thinkers in this mode look for the benefits, opportunities, and advantages of a situation or idea. They focus on what could go right and the potential value.
- Green Hat – This person should focus on creative and innovative thinking. They should try to generate new ideas, possibilities, and alternatives. They explore innovative solutions and brainstorm freely without judgment.
- Blue Hat – This person looks at process control and facilitation. It is typically worn by the group facilitator or leader. Thinkers in this mode manage and organise the thinking process, set the agenda, and guide the discussion. They ensure that the other hats are used effectively and that the thinking process stays on track.
You could let your ELT teaching team decide as a group who should take each hat, or they could alternate them at different times.
Keeping track of projects and making sure they are well-organised can be a problem, especially if you are trying to step back and let teachers take the lead. Having a Kanban board for each project can really help with this.
A Kanban board is a visual project management tool used to track and manage work tasks within projects. It consists of a physical or digital board divided into columns that represent different stages of work.
Typically, these columns include ‘Backlog”, “To Do,” “In Progress,” and “Done.” The project is broken down into tasks and these are added to the backlog.
The tasks are represented as cards or sticky notes, each of which moves through the columns as work progresses. The board provides a clear, real-time overview of the status of all tasks, making it easy for teams to prioritise, manage, and visualise their workflow efficiently.
Tasks from the backlog can be assigned to members of the team, or they could be done collectively. This is what a Kanban board looks like. This one was built using a free tool called Trello:
This is a useful tool for managing projects as both you and the whole ELT teaching team can access it, and they can drag the digital cards with each of the tasks to the next column as they work on them.
7. Don’t forget to celebrate
Make the most of every opportunity to celebrate the achievements of your ELT teaching team, both as a team and as individuals.
For example, if re-enrolment in English courses has increased, make sure you let teachers know, give them credit for this and have some form of celebration.
Effective ELT teaching teams aren’t just built on work, they need to have fun together too. This may be an issue particularly for team members who have families or who are working remotely, so be aware that not everyone can make out-of-hours events.
So, if possible, have some sort of celebration during work hours. Bringing in a cake, or ordering pizza at the end of term, can be a nice way to get your teaching team celebrating.
8. Keep track of any issues
Nothing can be more frustrating than experiencing the same problems over and again and having no way to get them dealt with. So, be sure that you enable your teaching team to track any issues they are having and what is being done about them.
You can use a spreadsheet to do this and give your teaching team access, so they can see what issues have been raised, who is responsible, and what is being done about them. You can see an example here:
9. Make space for failure
Just as owning your mistakes is an important part of building trust with your teaching team, learning from them is just as important. When something goes wrong, try to take a lesson from it and move on. Model this behaviour yourself and make space for your teams and team members to fail and learn, and be sure to support them through the process. Failure is a significant step towards success.
10. Get feedback
Ultimately you are the team leader and however much you try to build an egalitarian team they will always see you as their manager, so this can make getting open honest feedback more challenging.
However, you do need to get feedback to know what you’re doing right or wrong, and it has huge value in helping you to improve.
Be open to feedback, and always thank your teaching team for giving you feedback. They’ve taken the time and courage to share an opinion with you, so be sure to acknowledge that you value it.
Seek out feedback and make it possible for people to give you anonymous feedback, as that’s the surest way to get honest opinions from your teaching team.
There will be times when you get feedback you don’t like, but take it without resentment. It may well be unfair. Not all feedback you get has to be acted on.
At times people aren’t aware of all the circumstances surrounding an action or event, so think about the feedback and if it isn’t of value to you, or you can’t act on it constructively, then feel free not to act on it.
Do you feel better prepared for building an effective ELT teaching team?
“Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.” – Amy Poehler
Remember, we spend a large part of our lives working. It should be a rewarding process both for you and for your English teachers; not just financially, but also emotionally and spiritually. Creating highly effective ELT teaching teams who work together can help make this a reality.
Would you like to receive some personalised guidance on how to create an effective ELT teaching team?
You could consider our 30-hour online Managing and Supporting Teachers course with expert tutor support.
Celebrate Oxford TEFL’s 25 years of teacher training by joining us at some of our upcoming free online training events for school managers and teachers: See the Events page.