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Automatic English For The People

Monday, August 14, 2006

Leadership 101

by AJ

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To be a better teacher, or coach, or tutor I must develop better leadership skills. This, now, is my quest.

I will begin simply. The first step I'm going to take is to follow the basic principles of "situational management" as outlined by Ken Blanchard. The beauty of Blanchard's approach is its simplicity.

Of course, leadership is a complex skill. However, at the moment I am at a very low level of competency. Right now, I need to develop a few basic skills that I can use in almost any situation with almost any client.

I will begin by observing the three basic principles of Blanchard's "One Minute Manager".

Principle One: One Minute Goal Setting
The first step, and perhaps the most crucial step, is to have agreed upon goals and a plan for reaching them. This has been a big weakness of my teaching thus far. I have not created measurable goals with my students. Of course we share vague goals such as "improve English ability", but such a goal is much too vague to be helpful.

Goals, ideally, should be measurable in some way. They could be "process goals". Such goals describe the ideal behavior and process the learner hopes to follow. For example, "I will listen to comprehensible English, repeatedly, for one hour every day". I like process goals because they create good habits. Process goals are the key to reaching "outcome goals".

An outcome goal is an end result. Its what you hope to accomplish at the end of a specific time. For example, "I will have a 2000 word Spanish vocabulary by may 2007". Outcome goals can be very motivating, but ONLY if the outcome is very meaningful and important to you, the learner. Otherwise, these kinds of goals can be very demotivating. For example, "I will get a very high TOEFL score" could be a very motivating goal if you have a strong, positive feeling about your TOEFL score and if this score has important real-life meaning to you (ie. you want to go to graduate school in America). However, if the TOEFL does not have a very important real-life meaning for you, you will simply see the test as something unpleasant and stressful. In such a situation, its better to avoid creating a goal about getting a certain score, and instead focus on process goals.

Another important factor regarding goals is that they should be measurable in some way. For example, when learning English with The Linguist you can use the system to track how many words/phrases you know. But if you don't have such a system, its very difficult to measure the size of your vocabulary and thus you should probably choose a more easily measured goal.

The final step in "one minute goal setting" is to agree upon a few goals (1 or 2 is best... don't choose too many) and write them down. These written goals should have a deadline. Both the coach/teacher and the learner should have a copy of the goals and both should sign them, thus creating a learning contract.

Step Two: One Minute Praisings
Once the goals are clear, the most important job of the teacher-coach is to encourage the learner. After all, the learner must do most of the work. Sometimes its easy to become tired or frustrated. The teacher's job is to notice what the learner is doing well and point it out. The teacher should praise the learner as often as possible.

But praise must be specific. Its nice to say, "you are a good student", but its better to say, "you are doing a great job of listening to interesting content more than one time. I like how you are repeating the content often and thus absorbing the new phrases. Keep doing this!"

In other words, the teachers NUMBER ONE JOB is to catch the learner doing something right.

Step Three: One Minute Reprimands
For students who are new, or who lack confidence, the teacher should follow only steps one and two-- clear measurable goals plus lots of praise. If a student is not confident, the teacher should not correct them. They should not criticize them. Constant, specific praise is enough.

Learners who are confident, well known, and motivated, however, can sometimes benefit from a short reprimand. For example, some high performers like to be pushed. If they are lazy one week, they want the teacher-coach to reprimand them and remind them of their goals. They want to be held to high standards.

According to Blanchard, reprimands should be done in a certain way. You do not simply criticize the person. Rather, you point out what they did incorrectly, then you remind them of their goals and how it should be done. Finally, and very importantly, you end with praise. You remind them of the positive qualities they have and of your respect for them. For example, "You didn't listen at all this week. That's not good. You need to listen more. Your goal is to increase your usable vocabulary by 500 words, but you will not do that if you don't listen. So this week, get back on track and stick to your plan. You are a motivated student and you are making progress. You are usually excellent and I'm sure you will continue to be".

That, in a nutshell, is the "One Minute Manager" approach. In my previous career as a social worker, I used this approach with my clients and it was quite successful. I'm hopeful I can find equal or greater success using it to help students learn English.

San Francisco, CA

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