The notion of consulting is nothing new to business. Surprisingly enough, it is a relatively new concept to the ELT world where its content and its value are a blur to school owners and teachers alike.One could say that consulting is the easiest job on the planet: one gets paid to give advice which might or might not work.
At any rate, the consultant will have already been paid when the time comes to see if the advice has paid off.
Urged by curiosity, I looked up the term on the net, and I must say that the Urban Dictionary (www.urbandictionary.com) provided the definition that amused me the most.
For those of you who will actually use the link to see the definition, I must say that I have edited it for reasons of propriety.
“Grandiose windbags who give advice for a fee. They can't do anything useful, so they enter teaching, only to find out they can't teach very well so they try to train teachers. Unfortunately, the teachers they train think they are useless, so they become academic consultants.”
Well, that’s one way to see it! The quote, despite its disparaging nature and its bitter tongue, makes an interesting statement: academic consultants are people with an academic background, who have extensive experience in teaching and training, so they know the ELT field in every minute detail.
In fact, if they want to go on being in a position to give valid advice, consultants ought to maintain their first - hand contact with the classroom.
Consulting is definitely not the easiest job on the planet! Consultants are managers who are not fully employed in the schools they aid and support.
That might be a mixed blessing. Resident consultants will get to know the school inside out, will be aware of its strengths and weaknesses and they will be able to offer services daily.
On the other hand, they run the risk of having their vision blurred, which will cause them to lose objectivity. For the hired consultants, familiarisation is of utmost importance, since schools are complicated organisations which are run in many different ways.
“Simple enough!” one might say “You ask, they answer! After all, they’ve hired you!” If only, it were so simple! School owners, who have their own pre-conceived ideas about what is right and what is not, when talking to an academic consultant for the first time are guarded, as they fear they will be on the receiving end of negative comments.
Therefore, school owners edit. An edited reality, or a reality that changes after the consultant leaves, is an altered reality.
If the advice given is based on the features of this nonexistent reality, it is going to be neither valid nor applicable. What happens then? Consultancy fails and whose fault is it? The … windbag’s of course.
So, next time an academic consultant comes round the school knocking on your door, you know what to tell him: “Consultancy? No thank you! I’ve had enough!” But things are not so and we all know it.
Much like marriage, consultancy has more chances of succeeding when it is based on the solid foundations of mutual honesty and trust.