I’ve recently been asked to do a SWOT analysis as part of the action plan our school is currently working on. As such analyses are usually conducted in the field of business, I was a little confused as to why we should do something like this as a state school. Nevertheless, in the end, I found it quite useful as it gave me some food for thought.
SWOT Analysis is a way of summarizing the current state of a company and helping to devise a plan for the future. It is an acronym for strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Strengths and weaknesses are often internal, while opportunities and threats generally relate to external factors. For this reason, SWOT is sometimes called Internal-External Analysis.
SWOT Analysis can help you uncover opportunities which can later be exploited. And by understanding the weaknesses of your business, you can manage and eliminate some of the potential threats.
As part of the analysis, it’s helpful to ask a set of specific questions. I came across this template, which I adjusted to my needs by eliminating bits which are not relevant to my context (of an English teacher currently working in the State Sector of education).
Strengths: features which allow you to operate more effectively. Identify skills and capabilities that you have. What can you do particularly well? What do you others consider to be your strengths? What resources do you have? Is your reputation strong?
Weaknesses: areas capable of improvement. Do other (types of) schools have better results/outcomes than you? What do you do poorly? What generates low test scores and bad learning outcomes? What processes and activities can you improve?
Opportunities: any interesting trends which you can take advantage of. Where can you apply your strengths? How are your students and their needs changing? How is technology changing your work? Are there new ways of delivering instruction?
Threats: external or internal and are anything which can adversely affect your work. Are students able to meet their needs with alternative ways of language acquisition/learning? Are students’ needs changing away from your instruction? Is new technology making your teaching obsolete? Are teachers at your school satisfied? Is new way of acquisition/learning coming? Are the results and outcomes of learning lower than the average?
When looking at the questions, it’s clear that this analysis doesn’t only relate to the strengths and weaknesses of one specific school, but it encompasses a much broader spectrum of the problems our current education systems face. By answering the questions, I’d probably speak on behalf of other educators here in the Czech Republic as well as many English teachers all around the word.
Here’s my train of thought: I’d like to believe that by understanding the weaknesses, you can eliminate the threats. One of the weaknesses is low test scores and insufficient learning outcomes: What generates low test scores and bad learning outcomes? Well, scores themselves are the problem, not what causes them. The culture of testing will always produce the low vs. high dichotomy. So asking what causes bad scores is somewhat irrelevant. After all, in our success-hungry environment, we need those who score low to distinguish the successful learners from the less successful ones. When we help our students improve the scores, the test will have to be made harder next time because we need to produce the winners and the losers, don’t we?
Are students able to meet their needs with alternative ways of language acquisition/learning? Are students’ needs changing away from your instruction? Yes, they are, but I wouldn’t see this as a threat. Our school is not a business and there are no real competitors out there. Our job is to help our students and wish them all the best no matter what. Anyway, it seems we language teachers are no longer capable to fully satisfying our students’ needs the way it worked in the past, so if they learn the language outside the classroom – through extensive reading, watching movies, listening to songs, using apps, traveling – we should be happy. So our biggest competitor is the autonomous learner, who, at the same time, is our partner and ally. The more autonomous the student, the less work we have but the more content we should feel as teachers.
Are there new ways of delivering instruction? Well, yes, there are (Dogme teaching, CLIL, TBL, to name a few that come to mind) but our hands are often tied by those who encourage us to do these SWOT analyses. We can’t change the way we deliver instruction before we change the way we are supposed to measure the outcomes.
How are your students and their needs changing? How is technology changing your work? Access to technology, I believe, is one of the biggest opportunities to be exploited. Technology enables learners to acquire L2 like never before. I’m not talking about high-tech, though. I don’t think it’s necessary for schools to invest in new technologies and buy expensive devices. It would suffice to learn how to exploit what they currently have at their disposal. But it is the qualified teacher whose job is to decide what technology to use and how, not the Apple Inc.
Is new technology making your teaching obsolete? I remember this issue was hotly debated after the plenary talk by Sugata Mitra at the IATEFL Harrogate conference a couple of years ago. As indicated in the previous paragraph, I don’t think technology can make teaching obsolete. Teachers should try to exploit the accessible and affordable technology to the full, keeping the basic principles of SLA research in mind. Someone ignorant of the way languages are learned can have the best technology at their disposal, but this doesn’t mean they will deliver good lessons. This applies to students themselves as well – if they have no idea how to self-study, they’ll only waste their precious time.
When writing up this post, it occurred to me that a SWOT analysis may also be conducted on a more personal level, as part of a teacher’s self-evaluation routine. Evaluating the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats individual teachers see in everyday teaching reality may provide useful information and valuable data for the education system as a whole. Well, it seems there’s some food for thought for another post.