The importance of Leadership vs Management in FE when implementing #FELTAG

FELTAG (Further Education Learning Technology Action Group) has been around now for about three years, and in some areas there has been significant progress, in other areas the progress has been slower. One thing that has become apparent to me in my travels around the country and numerous organisations, is the ‘elephant in the room’ that is recognising the difference between leadership and management.

Leadership is about have vision, ideas and long term objectives; then inspiring people to follow those visions and ideas. A good leader will (usually) be an inspirational speaker/presenter, will be someone that is prepared to challenge the norm, and will seek new ways to achieve the goals they have set.

Management is about making sure that steps required to realise the vision and objectives are followed correctly. A good manager is someone that is organised, can break big problems down into more manageable steps, follows and applies protocols, and makes sure that things get done.

Image of a duck leading other ducks.

A leader, and many managers

So the skills and personality requirements of the two are completely different to each other – and herein lies the problem. Further Education in the UK is not very good at separating the two out. Quite often the principal (or equivalent) in an organisation, will be a ‘leader’ – but they will be supported by a SLT (Senior Leader Team) made up of managers. We then get managers making leadership decisions or leaders trying to manage projects – neither of which working well, due to the wrong personality types doing the wrong things. In larger organisations such as universities, or in the private sector – it is much clearer that some people are employed as leaders and some are employed as managers – but that clarity is lacked in FE, where the terms leadership and management are often used interchangeably to describe the same people.

From my perspective, I am often brought into organisations to run staff development in the area of blended learning. I always try to identify the organisations position, and then deliver a bespoke session based on this. Quite often the SLT has identified some totally arbitrary objective for all teaching teams e.g. they have to make 20% of their provision online. There is often no consideration of what that actually means, or why they are doing it, or what is in it for the teachers (or students). Sometimes it is obvious, that there isn’t a clear understanding of what the SLT want, which is problematic. In other situations, the SLT are clear what they want (or they think they are clear), but they haven’t articulated this down to the team leaders and teaching staff who have to implement this.

One of the things that I try to ascertain when working with clients, is ‘which model(s) of blended learning are you working towards?’, the response often being ‘blah blah 20% online blah blah’. There are many different models in which blended learning can be applied, and to be successful, the starting point for any organisation has to be identifying which model(s) are to be used for which situations (and a one size fits all/none approach isn’t a good model) – each subject area, and different courses within that subject area will have different ‘best’ models that they could use, but sadly I am often running training sessions for teachers, where they don’t know what model they are working towards, which makes the chances of success very remote.

And so back to the title of this post. I cannot pretend that I have a magic answer to this situation, but if there is a recognition that there is a difference between leadership and management – and the leaders do the leading and managers do the managing, then this is certainly a step forwards. From a blended learning perspective – the key is that the leaders have a clear long term vision for the organisation that they articulate well, and the managers have the autonomy and confidence to identify and implement the different models of blended learning in the teams that they support.

On the 6th December 2016, I am running a session titled ‘Effective development and management of blended learning‘ at EMFEC in Nottingham. A large part of the session will be looking at some of the different models of blended learning, and how the development of these can be strategically managed by an organisation.

Using voting pads – for peer review

Voting pads

Originally uploaded by Dave Foord

Voting pads have been around in education for a few years now, and although they are falling out of favour with many at the moment (and similar to other issues – it isn’t the technology that is at fault but the way that it is used – or abused in many cases, which isn’t the fault of the teaching staff, but the lack of staff development time and opportunity for them), I thought that I would share one way that I used such technologies to good effect.

I used to teach sport science, and one unit was a leadership one, where we would be in a sports hall, and as part of the course I would get the learners to lead parts of sessions. After each ‘micro-lead’ we would then reflect and feedback on it. For many years I would ask the other learners what they thought – and being very polite and not wanting to offend, they would always say everything was very good – even though some sessions were clearly awful. I would then step in with my feedback, which often wasn’t as complementary, the effect of this was the learners didn’t take my constructive criticism on board as well as I would have liked.

In my final year of teaching, I changed this and introduced the voting pads. All I needed was my laptop and the bag of pads (I didn’t need or use a projector!) at the end of the micro-lead, we would return to the seating area, everyone would pick up a pad (it didn’t matter which one) – and I would ask them to rate parts of the session that they had just partaken in. People would do this, and as it was anonymous they were very honest, this had a much better effect on the learner who had lead, than me just ploughing in with critiscisms – instead I was able to pick up on the feedback from their peers, and pick out the reasons why, and what to do next time to better effect.

This I think is still a very good use of voting technologies – and it isn’t just for the sports environment, anything where learners have to present, this can be used. Now if we want to take this a step further there are various ways of making use of learners mobiles phones to get similar feedback, but for places that ban phones and have bags of voting pads in cupboards then this is a very good technique. This posting was triggered by reading a blog article on this topic at