Musings of an academic manager – It’s not always sunshine and rainbows!

I don’t think that anyone moves into a DoS position thinking it’s going to be easy, which is a good thing as there are times when being a DoS is quite stressful. The last month is a good example of some of the proverbial lemons life can throw an LTO  manager. But, I’m a firm believer in finding positives in everything, no matter how stressful the situation is. In this short post, I’d like to go over a few of these stressful events of the last month, and highlight my takeaways.

Situation #1 – Covering classes for sick teachers, and then being sick myself

I’ve touched on this before, but covering teachers while they are sick is not all that fun, especially when I need to complete the same amount of behind-the-scenes work at the same time. This being said, it is part of the job description, and it is the reason that we DoSes generally teach less hours than our teachers. This situation was made just a little more stressful, however, by the fact that I fell ill myself. I went through a period of about three weeks of headaches, sniffles and eventually full-blown fever. Luckily, when it got to the point that I was clearly not up for work, I was able to rely on my Director to cover my duties for the day that I needed to be at home.

So, what are my takeaways? Well, one is something that I have known for a while, but it’s always good to have it reinforced. When planning classes, hours, etc. for teachers, the management team should always have in mind the contingency plan for sickness (and this should be made explicit somehow). We took an active approach to this this academic year due to our experience with having to cover not one, but two of our teachers for almost two weeks whilst they were out of action with covid last year. So, this year if I have to take on classes, we make sure that my director, Patrick, is not going to be working at the same time (and vice versa). This, however, has become a little trickier as we move through the rest of the year and we have more classes, mainly individual students, signing up.

Situation #2 – Disciplining a staff member

One area of management that isn’t talked about a lot is the area of HR and the measures taken when disciplinary action is required. It sounds so formal and mean when said like that, but as businesses we should have at least a clear understanding of what we are going to do when something goes wrong for the wrong reasons.

I recently had to discipline a teacher after they failed to perform some of their duties in the correct fashion. There was an issue with the teacher completing administration work whilst in class (at the expense of learners and their learning) – after having been asked not to do this numerous times previously. Before the actual ‘conversation’ with the teacher took place, there was the usual management meeting, in which we discussed the best approach to take. What’s interesting is that rather than having a one-size-fits-all approach to these conversations, we have identified that certain teachers need different ‘things’ at different times, especially when the feedback they are about to receive is rather negative. I was listening to a management podcast recently, and they mentioned that from a neuroscience perspective, our brains respond more actively to negative feedback than positive feedback. That is, negative feedback is felt more strongly than positive, and so they recommend that at a minimum, for people that can handle negative feedback, it should be accompanied by at least three positive points. In our management chat, we had to evaluate the situation and the teacher involved, and identified that this particular teachers responds quite strongly to negative feedback, and so we would need to be careful in how it was delivered. We also wanted to ensure that we validated their position and place within the workplace.

When the conversation took place, feedback was delivered by the management team in different manners, although all with the same goal of ensuring that X behaviour does not occur again, and that the teacher still saves face, feels safe in the workplace, and keeps teaching as best as they can. Our approach was more successful than we were expecting, although it still resulted in a very strong response from the teacher. This response meant that they went home for the rest of the evening, and numerous other conversations took place to help them understand the gravity of their actions, how the management team felt about the action, and how positive the management team still felt about the teacher as a member of staff. The whole process was quite delicate, and lasted more or less a week.

Discipline (and perhaps I shouldn’t use the word discipline? – interested to hear your thoughts) is something that I rarely have to engage in. We try to make clear the ‘rules’ and code of practice at the start of the year, and now teachers actually have input regarding our vision statement and how they feel the academy should be (although this is fairly new). This being said, when each individual case presents itself, it creates a very strong sense of tension within the management team as we assess the possible fall out of either reacting or not reacting.

So, what are my takeaways? Well, these takeaways are based not only on this event, but all the mini-disciplinary crises we’ve had over the last few years.

  • Deal with things immediately, although ensure that the management team has time to consider the best way to approach the teacher involved (and remember that each teacher is different, and may require a different approach).
  • Ensure that a good understanding of the situation, problem, etc. is established, and this should include as much evidence as necessary.
  • Transparency is key. The teacher should be made aware of the rationale for the intervention, and should be informed of any decisions made as a result of it. We do this in writing, after a chat.
  • Role play the conversation, and within this role play ensure that you identify as many possible responses as possible.
  • Measure the ’emotional environment’. Negative feedback, especially when it is disciplinary, often leads to strong emotional responses. Having an awareness of not only the person, but also their current emotional state is important. To give you an example, you might like to find out if anything is happening in their life that might be making them feel sad, angry, upset, etc. Even though the LTO’s need to fix X behaviour is paramount, it needs to be done in such a way that the environment post-conversation is safe and not emotionally charged.
  • Take time after the conversation/process is complete to review the underlying reasons as to why the behaviour occurred, the effectiveness of the actions that were taken, and what could be improved.

Situation #3 – A member of staff leaving mid-year

The other day, one of my members of staff mentioned that she has been offered a job with learners and hours more to her liking, and that she is going to accept it. I won’t lie – this hurt, both at a personal and a professional level. This teacher and I have been working together for some time, so I know that we as a team will miss her a lot. Professionally, this is a huge problem as it means that we have to not only find a new teacher, but inform parents of this new change.

Finding a teacher at this stage of the year (almost the end of Term 2) is extremely difficult. Well, let me rephrase – it is difficult to find someone who is going to be a great fit for the LTO. We are also now at risk of having a poor last term with the leaving teacher’s classes, which potentially may impact student re-enrolment for the next academic year. In short, it’s a s?!t situation to be in. This being said, we’ve taken a step back, got our recruitment plan in action, and are supporting the leaving teacher in the ways that we can. We have also started a handover process, which the departing teacher will contribute to, essentially providing important information about her classes.

Here are my takeaways from this (on-going) situation:

  • Always be prepared for mid-year departures. Whilst this is the first time it has happened since I joined the management team, I don’t think it will be the last. At many of the other LTOs I’ve worked at, especially those with very large teams, mid-year departures are fairly common.
  • It’s important to take a step back and view the situation from the teacher’s perspective. An initial reaction of anger or any other negative emotion is most likely not the best thing.
  • Ensure that you are familiar with local and national labour laws, what documents need to be completed (and by when!).
  • Where possible, try to ensure that everyone leaves on good terms!

Ensuring the personal doesn’t affect your management decisions

We are all humans, and we all have stuff going on. On the same day that I received the news that our staff member was leaving, I also received some bad news from a family member. I could feel the emotional impact of both of these bad pieces of news, although I made sure to really stop and catch a breath before responding. Considering how I was feeling in the moment, I could have responded in a myriad of different ways, most of them not positive – but I do feel that as managers, we can’t let our personal lives affect our management decisions (and I know this may be a little controversial). In saying this, I don’t think we need to be robots; rather, I feel we should let those around us know how we are feeling, and be able to recognise ourselves when we are feeling down, up (or sideways!), and how these feelings might impact our decisions. I also think that for these reasons there needs to be a management team, and not just one person who makes business or HR decisions.

Final points

I love my job. I love the difficulties, the challenges, the problems – and of course, I love the successes we have, the people I work with, the progress we make. Being a DoS is amazing, but it is stressful, and as the title of this post says, it’s not always sunshine and rainbows.

To all my LTO managers out there, I’d love to hear your thoughts on some of the stresses that come with being a DoS in your context, so please comment or get in touch!


  1. Jenny Galligan says:

    Really enjoyable read, as always, Jim! On a practical level, something we do that really helps after a mid-year teacher change is follow up calls about 4 weeks after the new teacher has started. We pick a mix of families (families who have been with us for years, new families, ones who always complain, ones who are very understanding – a real variety!), and check in with how class is going with the new teacher. It’s a great tool for getting ‘on the ground’ info on how the families are feeling about the change and helps identify some issues that might have fallen through the cracks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jenny! Yes, it’s a great idea! We had planned something similar – a handover document to parents with an introduction of the new teacher, who they are, etc. and then a follow up phone survey with some of the parents. We also plan to speak with the leaving teacher some weeks after she has left to get some more feedback on the whole ‘departure process’ as well as any more open feedback on her rationale for leaving (if there was something she didn’t feel comfortable saying whilst still in the academy). I like what you mention about getting a mix – this is something we should look to include – ensure that we get a whole bunch of parent types, not simply choose a random group.

      I’m confident the process will be positive in the end, but having a teacher leave mid-year does throw a spanner in the works!


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.