Leadership and role-play: A few thoughts on the LLAS Head of Departments’ event.

September 15, 2011

Our first event of the ‘new LLAS’, Thriving in the New World of Higher Education: a workshop for heads of department and leaders in languages, linguistics and area studies took place yesterday. We had an overview on the state of Modern Languages in the UK from Jim Coleman (Open University and Chair of UCML) and Pam Moores talked about the resources developed as part of Shaping the Future, a project set up in response to Michael Worton’s report into Modern Languages in English universities. Our Director Mike Kelly had some good tips on managing relationships with senior managers in the university, and on the importance of understanding your university’s mission and making sure you know who you should go to for what.


My own contribution was in the form of role-play exercise in which participants ‘played’ a Head of Languages meeting her/his Dean to discuss either a faculty reorganisation or a curriculum change programme. I enjoy role-play as a way of learning, but I realise that not everyone does. However, it seemed that most people enjoyed the exercise and benefitted putting themselves in the position of another person. Some of our HoD’s are very good actors it seems.

As the author of the role-play scenarios, it was interesting to observe the numerous directions in which a situation can play out. The briefs for each role included a section entitled ‘What is on your mind’. It was interesting to see the ways in which people used or did not use this information to their advantage (some of the items were put in as deliberate distractions, e.g. your feelings about other people). I will write more about using role-play in this context at a later date.

For me the key lesson from this event is on the importance of working relationships. In these uncertain times for higher education, how we manage our relationships is more important than ever.


Speak to the future- what I want for my children

March 8, 2011
I don’t know what my two sons will go onto to do when they grow up, but whatever it is languages will always be useful to them. Therefore I not only back the Speak to the Future campaign in my professional capacity, but also as a parent. I want my sons not only to study languages, but to have sufficient competence to be able to work in at least one language other than English.
My own school languages experiences ended at GCSE. Although I enjoyed studying French and Russian up to the age of 16, I decided to take other subjects at A-level. I could go on forever about my belief that the English education system narrows too much after the age of 16, but as a postgraduate student I picked up my French again at the University of Bristol’s School of Continuing Education. Although I made substantial progress, I am aware that I am well short of being able to describe myself as ‘fluent’.  Nevertheless I have been pleased that I have been able to hold conservations with French-speakers- being complimented by a shop assistant when shopping in Paris is amongst the highlights.
For my own children I want more- in fact I demand more. By the age of 16 I want them to be able to do more than ask directions, book a hotel room or express opinions about the advantages and disadvantages of hitch-hiking. The Speak to the future campaign  is one which has ambitions of all our young people.  It is languages and other subjects, not languages verses other subjects.
The five key aims of the campaign are:
  1. Every language valued as an asset
    This will encourage policy makers and citizens to recognise that the many languages used in the homes of UK citizens are a valuable resource for social cohesion and economic success.
  2. A coherent experience of languages for all children in primary school
    This will introduce the learning of other languages and cultures as well as develop a better understanding of how the child’s own languages work.
  3. A basic working knowledge of at least two languages including English for every child leaving secondary school
    This will equip every school leaver to live and work in a global society where confidence in learning and using other languages is a major advantage.
  4. Every graduate qualified in a second language
    This will prepare future leaders in business, the professions, voluntary organisations, education and research to thrive and communicate confidently in complex global societies.
  5. An increase in the number of highly qualified linguists
    This will fulfil the growing need for language professionals, especially English speaking interpreters and translators, and for teachers and researchers specialising in languages and cultures.

Speak to the Future