Sunday, March 7, 2010

Management and Education

I've been reading some books lately. It started with "How to Win Friends and Influence People. " I bought this book out of a desire to increase my leadership skills in the classroom so that I can be more effective in doing my job. After reading that book, I used some of the techniques in that book with some pretty good success.

The second book in this adventure is W. Edward Demming's "Out of the Crisis." "Out of the Crisis," provides a critique of American management culture in the U.S. from the stand point of Demming, who helped to build the Japanese quality management system that many Japanese companies adopted after WWII.

I have been finding this book to be very interesting for a few reasons. 1. A lot of the critiques about management culture in 1980s American auto factories are similar to the the management of the 2000's English Program in Korea. 2. I can use the suggestions in the book to help build quality into my lesson planning in addition to the suggestions from "How to Win Friends and Influence People." 3. "Out of the Crisis," gives me some information about management that I can use to influence my decisions about investing.

1. How is a 1980's car factory like the English Program in Korea?
There are a lot of similarities here.
a. Employees in American factories often times didn't know how to do their jobs.
b. Management would often blame production workers if there were quality defects when the system was what needed fixing.
c. Supervisors often times were kids fresh out of college who were looking to boost their careers, yet didn't know how to help the production workers and didn't know the goals of the company.

These are just a few examples. I will draw some comparisons from my job to the 1980's GM plant.

a. When I came to my job, I had a tesol degree and three semesters at a university under my belt as experience when I came into the Co-teaching environment. I often tried my best to work with the text book that we had at the time, but the thing was nearly impossible to figure out. Lessons had titles, listening sections, a nice C.D., little stories that the students had to read (that were dreadfully boring), and the points of each lesson were incredibly vague. There were small speaking sections, that were my responsibility, that were really difficult to understand what was trying to be taught. On top of all of that, I am the first NET that has ever worked at my school full time, and the school didn't really know what to do with me - I don't feel that it should be the school's responsibility to figure out what they want to use me for, I think that EPIK should provide some guidelines and goals for how they want NETs to be used by the schools. If EPIK provided more leadership in that respect they could help their problems with point C.

b. In this case the domestic press does a lot to blame NETs for problems that could be preempted by making a few phone calls. Recruitment for native English Teachers in Korea, usually goes out to unprofessional recruiters who don't do much more than post up advertisements for jobs on websites, wait for the calls, hire anyone with a pulse and a college degree, and then pick the person up at an airport. These so called head hunters don't really do that much. For the EPIK program, I had an e-mail relationship with some recruiter for a few weeks, but was interviewed over the phone by someone who actually worked for EPIK. In the interview the woman asked me a few questions like, what do you think of Korea, or how old are you? I put down a list of references but I don't think that anybody called them. I also put down former employers, but I don't think anybody called them either. Now I think that the woman who interviewed me was doing her best, but perhaps someone in her position should have some kind of background in human resourses. The same could be said about recruiters too. An EPIK recruiter would have done well to spend a lot of money to send people all over the world to attend college job fairs, in order to track down the education professional, or applied linguists that they want. But it seems that recruiters get the contract for recruitment if they can provide the lowest price, and the job goes out to the idiots who recruited me and bent university diploma.

C. I fell into this category. I have a degree in Anthropology, and a TESOL certificate. I have to admit that learning this job is hard, and I noticed for the past few years that I lacked skills in classroom management. I would often fail to understand the needs of the students, the needs of my co-teachers, and the goals of the organization. Now since the goals of the EPIK program are so vaguely communicated from the upper management of the EPIK program, it is up to me to learn from co-teachers, the principal, and myself to design goals and plans for the students. If I think of myself as a lower management supervisor whose customers and production workers are the students that I teach, then it is easy to envision a system where I am both the boss and employee of the organization that I work for. I have under me the students who learn from me, and above me co-teachers and the principal of the school. What is important in this situation is that I create a system where communication between myself, co-teachers, students, and principal is free flowing. It is important that I need to learn as much information as I can from all participants so that I can do the job better. On top of all of that, students need to be encouraged to feel pride in their abilities to speak English.

In the English classroom the customers are the students and the product is their ability to speak English. How Korean English classrooms can be like American car factories of the 1980s is the fact that in American Car factories, increased production meant that factories could turn out more cars with little regard to quality, and the defects from the cars would actually cost the companies more than if they would produce less cars at a higher quality and spend less time fixing the defects.

In Korea, English is taught and measured by a slew of tests that look for defects. Parents spend a lot of money sending their kids to cram schools to learn basic skills so that students can pass tests. Big companies spend a lot of money sending their employees to English schools so that employees can meet English standards in order to keep their jobs. Yet the quality of English produced by this industrial system is measured in quantifiable numbers like test results, and there isn't much work done in improving the overall quality of the system. I feel that there are a lot of ways to introduce quality based management into the Education environment. It is a system that is difficult to work in because the worker (Teachers [from what I can tell]) are given inadequate tools to work with, and are given many responsibilities in the administration of schools that don't have much to do with teaching. The system of many schools robs workers of their pride of workmanship (This can also be from the perspective of Korean teachers.)

It seems that these problems also persist in America as well. According to a recent New York Times education special article entitled "Building a Better Teacher," it seems as if the "No Child Left Behind act has created a system where deans of schools try to fire teachers whose students don't perform well on tests and give incentive pay to teachers who can teach well. Demming is adamantly against management that gives incentive pay, and the firing of under performers because it doesn't do much to improve the system as a whole, also constantly replacing workers can create other problems in retraining.

Fortunately, "Building a Better Teacher," talks about a guy named Doug Lemov, who is a teacher trainer, who did some research into what makes a good teacher, who has outlined 49 in a publication called the "Lemov Taxonomy," that can be used as guideposts to help train teachers, and hold students captivated. (If you have a spare hour or so, click the link above and read the article, it is well worth the read, but it is a New York Times magazine Education Special article. New York Times magazine articles are often worth reading but they are also a bit of a commitment.) Anyways it seems that a lot of what Doug Lemov, and others mentioned in the article could be the beginning of an example of how to institute quality management in the field of education. In all fairness to Korea, the EPIK program did run a pretty good training in service that last December there were a few drawbacks, but at least it was kind of a start. I wouldn't exactly call it quality management because there was no consistency of purpose that was outlined, but it did give some pretty good teaching ideas.

At any rate, the purpose of writing this post was to try and imagine quality management in the context of an Education setting. I really don't know that much about quality management or how it could be applied to education, but I think that many of Demming's ideas could be used in schools and universities. They could also be used by the individual teacher when trying to design a curriculum, select text books for that curriculum. Also they can be used in personal reflection in conjunction with Carnegie's ideas for better leadership.

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