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April 2020 - Year 22 - Issue 2

ISSN 1755-9715

SWOT Analysis in a Foreign Language Teacher's Work – or Why Do You Need It?

Magdalena Rowecka is a language school manager based in Warsaw, Poland, and a board member of the Polish Association for Standards in Language Education PASE. Her professional interests include language school management, teacher training and development as well as factors influencing the learning and retention of new knowledge.

Email: magdalena.rowecka@pase.pl

 

Another school year. The well-known old problems, challenges and procedures. Tests, exams and assigning grades. Another generation of students you have nurtured stepping into the real world, while you, sometimes, cannot help the feeling of being stuck and no longer making progress.

On the one hand, such routines make your teaching easier: you generally know what to expect, and you look forward to the summer break. It may, however, lead to professional burnout and frustration. This is why taking a break to reflect on your work seems worthwhile. Doing so will save you from getting stuck in a rut, will motivate you to move on, and perhaps, in terms of personal and professional life, will make the following year better than the previous one.

A common tool in the corporate world, the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) model may prove a useful tool for teachers, too.

The SWOT analysis takes into account external and internal factors and its aim is to identify the key strengths and weaknesses of a person or an organisation in light of both existing opportunities and threats, as well as their consequences. Being successfully used in a variety of fields, this tool can help identify a teacher's strengths and find the areas that require improvement.

Now that you know why this sort of test is worthwhile, let us go through each component of the SWOT analysis in a teacher's work.

Strengths include you’re your strong points, actions and circumstances which have a beneficial effect on your efficiency and help ensure success. They also refer to the areas and qualities which make you stand out from the rest of the staff and are appreciated by your principal and students. They may include:

  • your personal characteristics such as optimism, openness and creativity;
  • your communication skills, good organisation of work, integrity, perseverance, ability to manage stress and empathy;
  • your relationships with students and other staff members and your ability to establish a good rapport with them;
  • your experience and competence in the area of language teaching, including your own language skills;
  • your attitude towards your work, authentic passion and dedication;
  • formal qualifications and diplomas;
  • good health and physical fitness; a hobby that makes you a more interesting person;
  • your achievements and values;
  • the people around you who support you and give you the motivation to progress;
  • working in an organisation which appreciates you and offers opportunities to grow professionally;
  • stable family life and your financial resources, e.g. money you can spend on training, books, travels and leisure.

Weaknesses are your negative qualities or actions which prevent you from fulfilling your objectives or achieving success. They involve issues you find hard to tackle, areas where you lack competence and have shortcomings, your constraints and limitations. They may also include, your behaviours and habits that your students, colleagues and superiors dislike.  For instance:

  • your innate pessimism, procrastination, negligence, bad habits and poor planning skills that result in not being prepared for classes;
  • a lack of empathy and difficulties establishing and maintaining good relationships with others;
  • poor stress management skills;
  • a lack of formal qualifications and little professional experience;
  • unsatisfactory level of competence in the language you teach;
  • a lack of necessary skills, e.g. the know-how of latest tools and technology;
  • a lack of experience and knowledge of how to work with students with special educational needs;
  • low self-esteem and no self-confidence, low motivation or dedication to your work, as well as neglecting your professional development needs;
  • negative relationships, e.g. conflicts with the office staff, methodological consultant or students; family and health problems which affect your work standards, e.g. frequent sick leaves due to illness;
  • working in an organisation which takes you for granted or does not support your growth and progress;
  • poor work schedule, gaps, and tiresome and time-consuming commutes.

Opportunities are all the circumstances, chances and situations that work to your benefit and may help you attain good results and professional success. Opportunities can stem from:

  • your strengths or supportive co-workers and people around you who can help you develop or assist you;
  • some opportunities for personal advancement that are offered by employers (training, workshops and professional literature)
  • the overall economic situation and  trends in education (a strong economy and high demand for language courses);
  • opportunities that arise as a result of your own actions and initiative;
  • vacancies and opportunities for promotion in your organisation where you can take on a new role and broaden the scope of your responsibility;
  • opportunities resulting from social trends and technological advancement, which give you access to more prospective customers beyond the city or country you live in (e.g. online teaching).

Threats refer to a number of external factors and situations as well as risks resulting from your weaknesses that affect you and your work standards, and may prevent you from achieving your goals. These include:

  • the actions of your competition, your students, other teachers and co-workers;
  • the absence of good relationships with colleagues and students;
  • your innate pessimism and inability to reflect on yourself and your work;
  • little or no professional or financial stability (no employment contract, students dropping out, customers cancelling classes), no promotion opportunities;
  • professional burnout and loss of motivation;
  • poor organisation, late work hours and their influence on your private life;
  • excessive workload, which means earning a higher salary, but has an adverse effect on your health and work standard in the long run;
  • changes implemented by your employer, e.g. replacing traditional blackboards with interactive whiteboards or introducing online registers;
  • your school's financial problems or legislative changes, e.g. implementing new requirements or imposing the VAT on language courses etc.);
  • disruptions caused by climate change or pandemics (e.g. school closures caused by the recent coronavirus outbreak) and loss of income;
  • development of new technologies, including the AI, and an increasingly higher likelihood of teachers being replaced by ever improving software;
  • generational and social changes resulting in communication problems with your students.

Carrying out the SWOT analysis requires a good deal of honesty. You can do it in one go or spread it out over time and return to your notes after a few days (the SWOT analysis should be done in writing). The analysis carried out in such a way should be a source of important conclusions. It should also help you answer a number of vital questions - and then you need to act upon them. When reviewing the conclusions and observations made, you should make a list of priorities, and focus on the ones you need to address first, because they are likely to bring the biggest positive changes in your professional and private life.

To sum up, be aware of your greatest strengths and build upon them. Similarly, know your weaknesses and try to minimize their impact in your life. These two areas are the ones where you can make a real difference. However, a change for the better will come provided that you identify the areas properly: if you want to change something, you have to know what requires change. Afterwards, you should define the steps you will need to take to achieve the desired outcomes. Even the longest journey starts with the first step!

It is absolutely crucial to spot any opportunities which arise on your path. Taking initiative, being proactive and seizing the opportunities that occur is worth the effort. As the management experts put it, ‘Go the extra mile – it’s never crowded’. Your boss may notice your talents and initiative and realise what great asset they have on their team.

Nobody likes threats which are a source of stress and disrupt our life. Nevertheless, each threat brings along new opportunities and it is totally up to you whether you use it and make progress or stop and ‘go with the flow’. The recent coronavirus outbreak and school closures have forced many teachers to go online. However, the transition is much easier for those who are familiar with the new tools and technologies – they also have the first-mover advantage.

Thus, keep your eyes open and do not let yourself be taken by surprise. There is no doubt you will never be able to predict everything, and many factors are beyond your control. But in the end, prevention is better than a cure. It is up to you whether to be reactive or proactive and start having a real impact on your life. Also, draw correct conclusions and learn from your mistakes.

Last but not least, do not forget to constantly look after your key ‘assets’ - your physical and spiritual health, developing your skills, and the work-life balance. Quoting Steven Covey, remember to “sharpen the saw” regularly!

 

Please check the Pilgrims courses at Pilgrims website.

  • To Be or Not To Be a Bilingual Teacher? Summer Reflections on My Last Year in a Bilingual School
    Anna Przybylo, Poland

  • SWOT Analysis in a Foreign Language Teacher's Work – or Why Do You Need It?
    Magdalena Rowecka, Poland

  • Foreign Language Teachers’ Competences – Between the Mission and Professionalism
    Anna Grabowska, Poland