“Procedures: A means to an end or the end of our means?’’

I have often wondered why Greek foreign language schools are perhaps the only formal institutions without clearly stated out procedures. When I visit schools and ask this question, the answers I get vary.

Some owners tell me that they have never got round to it and others wave around to show me the few members of staff their organisation employs. ‘’We all know what we are doing here.

’’ They tell me. “After all, we have been doing it for years.’’ It seems that in our field, if something has been done for a long time and has not brought the end of the world (so far), it is good practice and should be continued. I beg to disagree with that and I will venture to explain why.

Defining procedures

Procedures are well defined, clearly stated and easily understood plans of action. The help any organisation understand the way it works while offering stability in times of change and the much sought-after consistency. Some of the most usual procedures that could be drafted for foreign language school are:

• Staff recruitment
• Induction Management
• Registration of students and handling of customers
• Handling complaints and grievances (staff and clients)
• Staff Performance monitoring
• Issues related with feedback from clients
• Issues related with student assessment and grading
• Special situations management (from the seemingly harmless e.g. replacing a teacher to fires and earthquakes)

 By Maria Sachpazian 

This is by no means an exhaustive list but it serves to highlight that procedures keep the school away from harm’s way not only regarding its clients but also regarding its most valuable asset: its employees. An organisation with defined procedures does not fear changes in key managerial or teaching positions.

Candidates who have been scrutinised during the hiring procedure and have gone though the induction phase, will be able to understand their duties and function accordingly. Thus, the organisation is not impaired if the secretary gets pregnant in August and cannot carry out her duties during registration.

On the contrary, organisations without clearly stated procedures suffer when the person that “knows how things are done round here’’ suddenly becomes unavailable. It does not really matter what our position is in the school, if we own it or love it like it was our own, we are only human and a time will come when we will be unable to be there.

Should we wait for this time to come before we put our heads together to design sound procedures for our school? Proactive organisations do not wait for disaster to strike and clients to be lost before taking action. What they do is to take action before this happens by anticipating.

Benefits from well-defined procedures

The greatest gain is the one described above: absent staff members do not affect the smooth running of the school. Secondly, a school that functions on the solid basis of pre-defined procedures gives its staff security as they understand their roles and obligations better.

This means that firstly we have an excellent tool to monitor staff performance and secondly we do not spend valuable meeting time squabbling over whose responsibility it is to make the photocopies. Procedures give time to the owner/DoS of the school to deal with the big and the serious and leave micro-management aside.

This way, the manager does not have to constantly interfere and handle each case. In addition, procedures offer fairness and consistency. This means that the same situation will be treated in almost the same way, so there are no favourites or unjust preferences which might alienate our staff or clients.

No drawbacks?
You might be wondering if procedures are so miraculous that they can run the school on auto pilot. Hardly! Procedures, as the title of this article states, are a means to an end. The end is the smooth running of the school which will secure that no clients are lost for no good reason and no staff member feels bitter because something has slipped.

Now, if we idolise these procedures and neglect to monitor them and put them under scrutiny at regular intervals, the situation will soon be much like it was before we designed and applied procedures: “This is how things are done round here. Ask no questions and make no exceptions!’’. As with most things, critical thinking is vital when applying the drafted procedures.

We should always bear in mind that the greatest drawback of procedures is that they are subject to personal interpretations. Therefore, unless they are discussed and commonly understood, procedures might create a Tower of Babel with different members of staff interpreting them in different ways. If this happens, soon procedures will create the chaos they were meant to help us avoid so they will be seen as useless, empty shells.

That precisely is the end of our means because our much inspiring project will not be used by any member of staff which is bound to generate more friction. Procedures are not meant to be just written and forgotten. They are meant to be put in practical application and through this they should be amended frequently.

Where to start from?

The best place to start is the simple every day running of the school. In the beginning, it is advisable only to notice and note down where problems arise from and where most misunderstandings occur. Then, the owner, DoS and staff’s collective experience from running the school can be taken into consideration to draft the simple steps that make up the procedures.

These steps should outline the responsibilities of each staff member at the different stages of each procedure.

Procedures must be written down for two reasons. Firstly, writing them will force us to become more analytical, so it will offer us a clearer insight to what we are doing. Secondly, written procedure can be shared with our clients and staff.

Most owners never find the time to organise this fundamental aspect of their school because the task seems too daunting. Of course, it is hard to imagine and allow for every possible scenario when designing procedures. Therefore, things will need to be added later on as procedures are used in practice.

The rule of the thumb is to start small and not to overcomplicate matters. Drafting procedures is a never ending task. Therefore, there will be time for changes and additions later. The important thing is to get started.

Maria Sachpazian, BA education / RSA dip/tefl (hons)

She is the Co-owner and Academic Director of Input on Education a company which provides academic, business support and consultancy to Foreign Language Schools.

She is also an educational management specialist who has worked as a teacher trainer and materials’ developer. Maria works as an EFL teacher at the Straight Up Markoyannopoulou schools www.input.edu.gr, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.     

© 2017 ELT NEWS. All Rights Reserved.