Literacy Partnerships for Families of ELs

I’d like you to meet guest blogger, Kathy Perret, who is an educational consultant for Northwest AEA in Sioux City, Iowa. Her areas of interest include literacy, ESL, instructional coaching, and teacher leadership. I met Kathy on Twitter and her ideas on family literacy partnerships seemed ideal for families of English learners (ELs). Here is Kathy’s blog.

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” — Emilie Buchwald

What if we could offer parents a free way to help stimulate their child’s imagination and increase their understanding of the world around them? What if this free activity could also help them build their vocabulary and language skills as well as do better in school? Most importantly, what if this free activity built precious memories and a lasting bond between parent and child?

Sound too good to be true? Of course not. The simple act of reading with and to a child has been shown to yield all of these benefits and more.  Yet, in today’s busy households many things get in the way of this simple activity—long working hours, commutes, technology, sporting events, lack of books in the home, etc.

Schools play a vital role in partnering with families and reassuring them that parents are their child’s first teacher. As educators, we can provide families with simple ideas to bring the love of reading into their homes. The activities do not need to be elaborate or “school like.” We do not need to use educational jargon like phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, comprehension, or vocabulary. We can build awareness, briefly share the benefits, and empower families with ways they can begin reading to and with their children at home.

Here are three ideas that can build family literacy partnerships.

Family Literacy Nights

Family literacy nights build school-home partnerships. They allow educators to reassure parents that they are indeed their child’s first teacher. They can provide parents with the skills needed to promote reading in their homes. This is especially important for parents of ELs who don’t feel confident about reading with their children in English. Start planning one now to celebrate World Read Aloud Day on 16 February 2017!

These evenings do not need to be elaborate. Developing a simple agenda allows schools to develop a powerful evening in a limited amount of time. In the ClassFlow Marketplace, you can find sample agenda that you can adapt to a variety of contexts and two sets of bookmarks that you can use during the evening event. The bookmarks are provided in both English and Spanish. You can ask parents from other language groups to design a bookmark using their home language.

Here is the agenda:
1. Gather families together for a meal (optional).
2. Once meal is over, take children to classrooms to engage in some type of literacy activity. This activity can change each time you hold the event.
3. Meet with parents to share the benefits of reading at home to and with their children.
4. Teach parent a simple technique they can use at home. Download two sets of bookmarks from ClassFlow. (You will need to join Classflow.) One set is for Grade K–2 students and one is for Grade 3–5 students. The bookmarks can be printed with the English directions on one side and the Spanish directions on the other. Encourage parents to read with and to their child in their first language stressing the importance of keeping their home language. In subsequent evenings, you can change this activity.
5. When children are ready to return to parents, have them pick out a book. The book could be from a classroom library or one provided that they can keep at home. Educators can find grants, and organizations that provide free books or area businesses to supply books for students to keep as their own at home.
6. Have parents/guardians practice the technique shared with their child.
7. Thank families for coming. Encourage them to read with and to their child.

Take-Home Libraries

Take-home libraries are collections of books intended for students to take home each evening and return to school. Making books available is especially important for English learners, who may not have books in English in their homes. Primary students may take home a different book each day. Intermediate students could keep their books for a little longer because intermediate books are typically longer. Setting up a school-wide system helps a take-home library program run smoothly. Classrooms can keep the bin for a month (or other predetermined amount of time) and then rotate with other classrooms at the same grade level. This rotation allows for even more book choice.

Books can be gathered from a wide variety of places. Many educators use book club bonus points, search secondhand stores or garage sales, write grants, ask families for donations, and search their own homes for books that their own children or grandchildren have outgrown. As books are gathered, teachers can divide them up into separate bins for each classroom. For a classroom of 25 students you could collect 30–40 books to allow for some choice.

Parent Book Clubs or Parent-Student Book Clubs

To promote more reading in the home, schools can partner with parents to develop a love of reading. Parents who embrace reading will likely pass that love on to their children. Parent book clubs can be held during the school day; parent-student book clubs could be held after school or in the evenings.

Parent book clubs can be facilitated by school staff members or groups of parents. The adults can be encouraged to choose a common book and meet at school or some other location to discuss it. The book chosen would be one that both parents and students read, then parents and students could meet to discuss it in small groups.

Virtual technology applications like Skype, Google Hangouts, or could be employed to develop online book clubs, or a school Facebook page could be used as a forum to discuss books.

We would to hear ways you promote family literacy partnerships. Please share your ideas in the comment section below.

Kathy Perret is an educational consultant for Northwest AEA in Sioux City, Iowa. Her focus areas include literacy, ESL, instructional coaching and teacher leadership. She is also a private consultant providing instructional coaching workshops and virtual coaching for instructional coaches. She is also a ClassFlow Ambassador. She co-moderates the weekly Twitter chat, #educoach and will have her first co-authored book, The Coach Approach to School Leadership: Leading Teachers to Higher Levels of Effectiveness, published by ASCD this spring. You can find her on Twitter at @KathyPerret or visit her website.

from TESOL Blog


ESP Project Leader Profile: Barrie Roberts

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

In this ESP project leader profile, we will take a closer look at the work of Barrie J. Roberts, who has created mediation as a second language (MSL). Here is her bio:

Barrie J. Roberts has been a public interest lawyer, mediator, ESL/ESP instructor, and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Director/Consultant for two southern California superior courts, working with judges, attorneys, and court staff to develop court-connected mediation programs.

She created Mediation as a Second Language (MSL), aka ESP for Conflict Resolution, and has taught a variety of MSL courses for undergraduates at UC Berkeley and LL.M. students at Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law in Orange, California.

Barrie has presented at TESOL, CATESOL, ETAI, the Global Legal Skills Conference, the International Conference on Conflict Resolution in Education, and most recently in Tokyo at the August 2016 Joint International Conference on ESP in Asia. Along with four UC Berkeley colleagues, she will be presenting a workshop at TESOL 2017 called Conflict Resolution and ELT: Win-Win Approaches for All.

If you have been reading the TESOL blog, you may already be familiar with some of Barrie’s work through the guest post by Sybil Marcus titled “Literature in ELT: Using Literature for Conflict Resolution.” In Barrie’s interview, you will see how her beliefs and experiences have shaped her approaches to MSL.

Barrie J. Roberts, B.A., J.D., M.A., LL.M.
Founder of Mediation as a Second Language (MSL)

Define leadership in your own words.

I haven’t had a moment’s peace since Kevin asked me to follow that instruction. Leadership is not a key vocabulary word for mediators; we tend more toward collaboration and facilitation.  But today I tried an old mediator’s trick on myself: “Tell me why this isn’t working for you.”

That I can do! A mediator’s job is to facilitate communication between people who are stuck in a dispute. Our goal is to help them understand each other in new ways so that they can solve their own problems.  To accomplish this, mediators “control the process,” providing a structured, fair and respectful session rooted in “active listening” designed to help participants feel relaxed, safe, and hopeful enough to start working together on the same team, often quite creatively.

Wait a minute! By describing mediation, have I described some key elements of leadership?

My ESP students certainly think so, as they rise in role-plays to greet the “disputants,” take control of the mediation process and lead the problem-solving session at the end. And if you walked into my classroom without knowing what was going on, you’d assume that the mediators were group leaders, and so they are.

Tell me an ESP project success story. Focus on your communication as
a leader in the project. How did you communicate with stakeholders to
make that project successful?

I’ll describe two projects, one small and complete; one big, endless and with room for you.

Negotiating for an ESP-Negotiations Course

Several years ago I was invited to teach a negotiations course for two groups:  native-English-speaking law students from the United States, nonnative-English-speaking (NNES) lawyers whose English was high-intermediate at best.

What a terrible idea! The role-plays alone would present linguistic, cultural, academic, professional, and ethical frustrations for professor and students alike. I wanted to teach a separate ESP–negotiations course for the NNES lawyers but (1) the school had never offered such a course and (2) the invitation to teach was not exactly in the form of a signed contract, so my leverage was on the thin side.

How could I get the dean to see why an ESP-negotiations course was such a good idea? And how could I accomplish my goal without worrying the current negotiations professors about threats to their own courses?

Instead of trying to persuade anybody about anything, I decided to try active listening to see how the current negotiations professors felt about having “foreign” students in their courses. Either they’d make my case for me or I’d learn that I had it all wrong.

Sure enough, and quite understandably, these law school professors described frustrations with papers, plagiarism, assigned readings, misunderstandings, grading, and, of course, role-plays, all of which they had swept under the rug because they didn’t seem to have any options. These professors had no experience with ESL, ESP or any other “E,” and if I wanted the very students that they were not equipped to teach, I’d be doing them a favor—as long as there were enough American students to fill their classes.

I brought this information to the dean along with another negotiation tool, a “yesable” solution, in this case my offer to teach an ESP-negotiations course for just one semester, as a pilot program, and to reassess thereafter.

These two communication tools, combined with a forward-thinking dean, created a win-win for all concerned, especially the students. I start teaching the fifth class next week.

ESP for Conflict Resolution : A Future ESP Project Success Story

One key element of leadership not discussed above is vision, which I will now attempt to demonstrate by sharing this vision for a new field. I envision thousands of English language teachers all over the world trained in conflict resolution and teaching variations of ESP for conflict resolution for their students’ various academic and professional purposes, from literature to law, with business, medicine, social work, engineering, aviation, tourism, international relations, and many other subjects in between. This project will offer teacher trainings, websites, videos, textbooks, workbooks, journals and international conferences and more!  To learn more, visit

There are several things that I have gained from reading Barrie’s responses to the interview questions.

  • The perspectives presented in Barrie’s profile and in Sybil’s article provide readers with a deeper understanding of what I consider to be the start of an MSL movement, andI see Barrie as the leader of that movement.
  • When I aim to give undergraduates leadership experiences, I focus on project leadership. I am now thinking that MSL would fit nicely into my leadership courses.
  • My introduction to negotiation comes from Fisher and Ury’s (1981) Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (London, England: Penguin). I had used this book years ago when working with business persons in Japan, and I see the connection to MSL.
  • Finally, I see leadership in negotiation because negotiation is focused on creating a (hopefully win-win) vision. (See the related TESOL Blog “Teaching Negotiation in Leadership Terms to ELLs.”  In connection with the blog post, Barrie told me that in her MSL training, she has her own “orange” story that is based on Getting to Yes.)

I look forward to learning more about MSL. How about you? To learn more, please visit Barrie’s Mediation as a Second Language website. You can contact her directly on that website. Furthermore, in connection with Barrie’s vision of thousands of teachers (and their students) with MSL training,  take advantage of the opportunity to attend her MSL workshop at the TESOL convention in Seattle in 2017, where she will be joined by her colleagues Sybil Marcus, Melody Noll, Michael Clark, and Jennifer Burton.

All the best,

from TESOL Blog

Five ELT Trends to Watch in 2017

The new year is well underway, and many opportunities to innovate and improve our pedagogical practices abound! Below are five of the top trends that I predict will frame much of the discussion in the coming year around how to best educate the millions of people learning English worldwide.

1. Translanguaging
Much linguistic research points to the idea that languages are not tightly compartmentalized in the brain; in fact, learners access and use multiple languages in combination for many different purposes and contexts. Professor Ofelia García (2015) defines translanguaging as the process wherein learners can use their “full linguistic repertoire at any time,” without “regard or adherence to socially and politically defined boundaries of named languages.” Translanguaging in the classroom means that language teachers do more to bring in both (or all) languages of their students, rather than asking students to check their first language (L1) at the door. A more fluid approach to language instruction is essential to incorporating translanguaging pedagogy, but it’s definitely worth investigating.

2. Global Englishes
The vast majority of communication in English happening around the world only includes an L1 speaker of English about 25% of the time (Koch, 2017). This use of English as a lingua franca (ELF) is important for English language teacher education because, historically, much of English language education has taken the native speaker as the ideal in terms of proficiency and accent. Now, most English communication occurs between English learners of English who have different L1s. Koch argues that teacher educators must ask themselves if their focus on “inner circle” countries and their English usage adequately prepares global students to interact with people who are not from those countries but who are English users.

3. Online Teacher Education
Many professional development seminars and certificate programs are now offered solely online, which is much more convenient for working professionals and those who do not live in the same location as the teacher educators. TESOL International Association, for example, offers webinars on improving your grammar knowledge, incorporating pronunciation, and fundamentals of TESOL. TESOL members can access archived webinars for free, so if you missed one, you can find it in the TESOL Resource Center.

4. Social Media for Language Learning
Blogging, social media, fandom, tweeting—all of these represent excellent ways to promote authentic communication among 21st century learners. These learners were not meant to memorize information, claims Loyola (2014), but instead thrive on “creating, connecting, and collaborating.” Edutopia’s 10 Social Media Tips for Reaching World Language Learners is a must-read for English language teachers who want to incorporate this technology into their lessons.

5. Advocacy
Given current global conditions, many of the learners in English as a second language (ESL) contexts are newcomers—immigrants and refugees—who have come to a new country under great duress and who are often met with particularly trying social and economic conditions. As TESOL educators, we must continually ask ourselves what we are doing to ensure that the English learners in our classrooms, our schools, and our communities have access to a fair and appropriate education. An inspiring new book just came across my desk titled The Pedagogy of Teacher Activism: Four Portraits of Being and Becoming Teacher Activists. This book examines the social, political, and cultural aspects of educator-driven activism.  SupportEd also posted an insightful list of “10 Ways to Support English Learners in 2017.”

What else is trending in your TESOL context?  Let us know in the comments below!

from TESOL Blog

TESOL 2017: A Moment to Be Cherished

I have always dreamed of attending the TESOL convention and presenting a paper at the august gathering. It is almost a mela ( a fair) for English language professionals to engage, enrich, and empower their understandings and expertise. My dream of attending the conference this year has turned into reality because I have become a part of the convention.

I am happy for two reasons. First, I am serving as one of seven TESOL Ambassadors for TESOL 2017. It is a good opportunity for me to share my experiences with my fellow participants. It also provides an occasion to connect with like-minded people from all over the world. Everyday at the convention, I get to know at least one new friend, and TESOL has made this possible. Second, I am presenting a paper titled “Building Social Responsibilities Through Critical Pedagogy in ELT Classrooms.” I will present on Wednesday, March 22, 2017, 10:30 am–11:15 am in Grand Ballroom B.

This discussion will be useful, I think. I will be talking about how I have helped my students develop their critical consciousness. The pedagogy that I use helps my students become socially responsible citizens who are able to question the ongoing social injustices of the society they live in.

Around 6,000 ELT professionals will be attending TESOL 2017 from all nooks and corners of the world. I am extremely happy to be a member of the TESOL community and to be there. The TESOL convention is one of the few places where we can discuss our interests and get to know the emerging trends in English language teaching around the globe. Researchers come to share their groundbreaking research, and others come to share their everyday teaching practices. And this kind of gathering rarely happens with this many ELT professionals.

Why am I coming from Nepal, a distant country, to attend TESOL 2017? First, I will be able to meet hundreds of ELT professionals in person, people whose work I have been reading for a long time. I will also be able to meet new friends and talk about future collaborations.

Second, I have always wanted to attend conferences with people on the same wave length sharing ideas about different issues in our professional community. TESOL 2017 gives me a chance to learn about new developments and research in English language teaching. The convention allows us to attend to dozens of sessions. I am sure that I would not have this chance if I remained in my own country.

Third, my experience at the convention will benefit my friends and students in Nepal. I will carry back all the memories and the golden moments to share with my colleagues. I will also implement the new teaching practices that I have learned. Attending TESOL 2017 will ultimately empower myself, my colleagues, and my students.

from TESOL Blog

Four Suggestions on Implementing Feedback in Writing Teacher Training Courses

In a previous blog, I described three recommendations for writing teacher education programs on how to incorporate some issues of feedback in teacher preparatory courses. In today’s blog, I provide four more ideas related to the same topic. Once again, these recommendations are based on the published research on feedback.

Stressing the Interpersonal Function of Feedback

Similar to many other aspects of teaching, responding to student writing “involves delicate social interactions that can enhance or undermine the effectiveness of the comments and the value of the teaching itself” (Hyland & Hyland, 2001, p. 194). Therefore, preservice courses should emphasize the interpersonal dimension of feedback (Séror, 2009). In other words, teacher-student relationships, the factor that is likely to influence the revision cycle (Lee & Schallert, 2008), should not be disregarded, and beginning instructors should be encouraged to build trusting relationships and mutual respect with their students, so that the students would consider teachers as a credible and competent source of information (Witt & Kerssen-Griep, 2011) and thus would be more likely to attend to their feedback.

Helping Teachers Implement Various Forms of Feedback

Not all feedback, of course, should be given as written comments. A wealth of research describes the importance and benefits of peer review activities (e.g., Hirvela, 1999; Liu & Hansen, 2002; Lundstrom, & Baker, 2009) and teacher-student writing conferences (e.g., Ferris, 2014; Goldstein & Conrad, 1990; Patthey-Chavez & Ferris, 1997). However, research also shows that not all teachers implement these forms of feedback in their own practices (Ferris, Liu, & Rabie, 2011). Because implementing various forms of feedback requires appropriate preparation and careful implementation, some writing instructors may not be willing to invest time and effort in the development of their theoretical and practical knowledge on how to effectively incorporate them into their writing courses.

Novice instructors, in particular, may not feel competent and confident enough to implement peer response and one-on-one conferences. In this regard, teacher educators should provide trainees with suggestions and strategies related to peer feedback and writing conferences. Pedagogically oriented literature may help second language writing teacher educators create helpful activities. For example, Ferris and Hedgcock (2014)  discuss a number of helpful suggestions for structuring peer response activities and writing conferences (pp. 252–262).

Acquainting Teachers With Time-Saving Tools in Responding to Student Writing

Even nowadays many writing teachers use an old-fashioned method to provide feedback—handwritten comments on paper copies of students’ drafts (Ferris et al., 2011). Although I personally have nothing against this method of feedback delivery, it may take a considerable amount of time, which—quite understandably—causes teachers to provide quick, brief, and at times ambiguous comments. Furthermore, students frequently have difficulty deciphering cryptic messages that teachers leave on their papers (Ferris, 1995). It is not surprising, then, that students may simply ignore these comments.

Electronic feedback, on the other hand, is more efficient and time saving, and it allows teachers to more fully respond to the student draft. Training courses should familiarize instructors with simple tools of paperless feedback, such as a course management system, or common Track Changes and Comments functions in Microsoft Word. In addition to electronic feedback, checklists and rubrics can also save teachers’ time. Creating effective rubrics, however, requires some knowledge and experience; therefore, preservice teachers would benefit from learning how to create rubrics and checklists, as well as how to use them appropriately for the purpose of providing feedback.

Emphasizing the Importance of Accountability Mechanisms

Some teachers may erroneously believe that the effectiveness of the revision process entirely depends on the quality of feedback provided by the teacher. Novice instructors are particularly susceptible to this belief because they tend to focus on their own performance and forget about the other side of the teaching-learning process—i.e., students. Revision, however, is a collaborative process, during which students should not be passive receivers of feedback; instead, they should be active participants, who reflect, analyze, ask, and revise. Writing instructors should, therefore, implement reflective tools, or “accountability mechanisms” (Ferris et al., 2011, p. 54), to help students analyze and reflect on teacher comments.

Ferris et al. (2011) found that more than one-third of the 129 composition instructors who participated in their study never implemented such accountability mechanisms. It comes as no surprise, then, that many instructors in this study expressed frustration about students who seemed to ignore feedback, did not do much revision in their subsequent drafts, and, overall, “didn’t maximize the potential of feedback” (p. 54). Therefore, writing teacher training programs should help teachers understand the importance of accountability tools. Ferris (1997; 2003) proposed using grading schemes as well as reflective responses, in which students express their thoughts and attitudes about comments received both from their teacher and peers. Other examples found in the literature on feedback are process notes (Giles, 2010), student-teacher memos (J. Sommers, 1988), writer’s memos (J. Sommers, 1989), Dear Reader letter (N. Sommers, 2013), and Letter to the Reviewer (Shvidko, 2015). All these mechanisms aim at helping students analyze feedback and revision. Preservice training courses should include these and other examples of accountability tools to help novice instructors be familiar with them and understand their usefulness.


Ferris, D. R. (1995). Student reactions to teacher response in multiple-draft composition classrooms, TESOL Quarterly, 29, 33–53.

Ferris, D. R. (1997). The influence of teacher commentary on student revision. TESOL Quarterly, 31, 315–339.

Ferris, D. R. (2003). Response to student writing: Implications for second language students. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Ferris, D. (2014). Responding to student writing: Teachers’ philosophies and practices. Assessing Writing, 19, 6–23.

Ferris, D. R., & Hedgcock, J. S. (2014). Teaching L2 composition. Purpose, process, and practice (3rd ed). New York, NY: Routledge.

Ferris, D. R., Liu, H., & Rabie, B. (2011). “The Job of teaching writing”: Teacher views on responding to student writing. Writing and Pedagogy, 3(1), 39–77.

Giles, S. L. (2010). Reflective writing and the revision process: What were you thinking? Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing, 1, 191–204.

Goldstein. L., & Conrad, S. (1990). Student input and the negotiation of meaning in ESL writing conferences. TESOL Quarterly, 24, 443–460.

Hirvela, A. (1999). Collaborative writing instruction and communities of readers and writers, TESOL Journal, 8(2), 7–12.

Hyland, F., & Hyland, K. (2001). Sugaring the pill: Praise and criticism in written feedback. Journal of Second Language Writing10(3), 185–212.

Lee, G., & Schallert, D. L. (2008). Constructing trust between teacher and students through feedback and revision cycles in an EFL writing classroom. Written Communication, 25(4), 506–537.

Liu, J., & Hansen, J. G. (2002). Peer response in second language writing classroom. Ann Harbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Lundstrom, K., & Baker, W. (2009). To give is better than to receive: The benefits of peer review to the reviewer’s own writing. Journal of Second Language Writing18(1), 30–43.

Montgomery, J. L., & Baker, W. (2007). Teacher-written feedback: Student perceptions, teacher self-assessment, and actual teacher performance. Journal of Second Language Writing16(2), 82–99.

Patthey-Chavez, G. G., & Ferris, D. R. (1997). Writing conferences and the weaving of multi-voiced texts in college composition. Research in the Teaching of English, 31, 51–90.

Séror, J. (2009). Institutional forces and L2 writing feedback in higher education. Canadian Modern Language Review/La Revue canadienne des langues vivantes66(2), 203–232.

Shvidko, E. (2015). Beyond “giver-receiver” relationships: Facilitating an interactive revision process. Journal of Response to Writing1(2).

Sommers, J. (1988). Behind the paper: Using the student-teacher memo. College Composition and Communication, 77–80.

Sommers, J. (1989). The writer’s memo: Collaboration, response, and development. In C. Anson (Ed.), Writing and response: Theory, practice, and research (pp. 174-186). Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Sommers, N. (2013). Responding to student writers. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Witt, P. L., & Kerssen-Griep, J. (2011). Instructional feedback I: The interaction of facework and immediacy on students’ perceptions of instructor credibility. Communication Education60(1), 75–94.

from TESOL Blog

TESOL Governance Restructuring: A Long-Term View

With the recent proposals regarding TESOL International Association’s affiliate relations and knowledge-based member communities, the association’s governance review process is moving into its final phase. I think it is appropriate therefore to summarize the findings of the Governance Review Task Force and to discuss how the TESOL Board of Directors has responded to them.

In mid-2012 the TESOL Board of Directors appointed a Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) charged with helping the association create a system of governance that

  • fosters a culture of knowledge, trust, and nimbleness within TESOL International Association
  • ensures that all entities within TESOL International Association are high impact and add value to the association
  • supports efficient, effective, and strategic decision-making that is responsive to the needs of members and the TESOL profession
  • increases the ability of members of the profession to identify and discuss issues and to have input into governing actions that affect them
  • supports a leadership pipeline for members
  • maximizes the benefits from time and financial investment of members in association governance

In March 2014 the GRTF issued a report calling for the association to consider revisions to its governance structures and processes. It based this call on the following conclusions:

  • The association is spread thin and fragmented.
  • The governance system is not integrated; the elements in the system are not strategically aligned.
  • The overall structure and accompanying processes have expanded to become complex and bureaucratic, without clarity of purpose or function.
  • There is no coherent or readily obvious leadership pipeline or volunteer management process to find the best match between volunteer skills and opportunities.
  • Leaders and members desire to contribute meaningfully to the work of the association, be accountable, and receive acknowledgement.
  • The mandates of many member groups, and their roles in governance, are not clearly defined.
  • Many member groups experience a lack of consistency in work and effort with the annual rotation of leaders.
  • The governance system does not provide an efficient means to gather information about the paradigm shifts affecting teaching that would enable the association to meet the rapidly changing needs of members and the field.
  • Information flow among board, management, and member groups is problematic.
  • The overall organizational culture is focused primarily on structure and process, not on strategy and outcome.
  • The organizational culture is almost singularly focused on the annual convention, to the point that many member groups have little activity or function outside of it.
  • The strong culture of inclusiveness and equality in the association and the field often serves as the primary criterion for governance decisions.

These conclusions were not taken lightly, and since the findings were shared in March 2014, successive boards of directors in consultation with the membership have in fact made significant revisions to the governance processes and structures of the association. (The GRTF report, as well as subsequent reports and updates pertaining to the governance review and restructuring, are available on the TESOL website.)

Governing Documents

One of the board’s conclusions was that our approach to governing documents needed to change. Our previous approach relied on a set of bylaws and standing rules. The TESOL bylaws established who could be a member, how the association would make decisions, what the basic structures of the association would be, and other matters. The standing rules were intended to provide more detail regarding the operation of various entities within the association and processes to be followed. The board felt, however, that the standing rules overly emphasized procedure without always specifying the goal or reason for the rule. Moreover, changing procedures spelled out in the standing rules required a vote by the board. These processes around standing rules contributed to the sense that the association was overly bureaucratic and slow to change.

In March 2016, therefore, the board decided to replace the standing rules with a policy manual. The manual covers many of the same policies that were addressed in the standing rules, but the manual explains the rationale and general principles that should guide policies. When a policy establishes an entity such as the Finance Committee, the policy states that the committee shall write and maintain its own procedures manual. This allows the group itself to establish and revise as needed its way of operating without having to wait for board approval.

In March, the board will be considering a number of revisions to the bylaws. If adopted, these revisions will bring the language in the bylaws in line with governance restructuring changes and better enable the board to conduct business electronically. The Board will also be considering a new process whereby members can submit resolutions to the board for consideration.

Committee Restructuring

At the time of the GRTF report, TESOL had established 17 standing committees, which met yearly at the convention and then communicated electronically during the year. The committees varied with respect to both function and composition. Some assisted with recurring activities of the association (Awards and Professional Development Committees); some helped run the association (Rules and Regulations and Nominating Committees); and some focused on advocacy issues (Global Professional Issues and Employment Concerns Committees). Other standing committees were composed solely of board members and assisted the board in its responsibilities (Board Operations and Finance Committees). Members who served on these committees devoted considerable time to committee tasks, but, as the GRTF reported, members often felt the tasks were bureaucratic in nature or being done for no clear reason. Moreover, the sheer number of groups contributed to the breakdown in communication and the sense that the association was spread thin.

In its review of the committee structure, the board recognized that committees (or appointed groups of members) are a useful way of tapping member expertise to help the association achieve its strategic vision. At the same time, we recognized  the need to establish more transparent function(s) for these groups and rethink whether we needed so many permanent groups. In response, the board decided have fewer standing groups and, instead, to use task forces with a limited duration. In the end, the board identified two types of groups with ongoing functions: governance committees and professional councils. Governance committees enable the association to function as an association, and we have three: the Executive Committee, the Finance Committee, and the Nominating Committee. Professional councils, on the other hand, serve as centers of expertise on activities that help the association pursue its strategic vision. Currently we have six councils: Awards, Conferences, Professional Development, Publications, Research, and Standards. The transition from standing committees to governance committees and professional councils occurred between October 2015 and April 2016. As described below, the board is also considering an Affiliate Network Professional Council to help the association strengthen its international network of language teacher associations.

Charters establishing functions and responsibilities for each of these committees and councils have been adopted as part of the association’s policy manual. The charters also specify the kinds of expertise required to serve on the professional councils, and this information has been used to create calls for new members. The calls are posted on the TESOL website. Applications are reviewed by the council’s leadership, which makes a recommendation to the Executive Committee. Because the GRTF reported that members wanted more opportunities for shorter service, appointments are for one year and renewable annually for up to three. The governance committees and the professional councils have been asked to produce a procedures manual that documents what they do and how they do it. The hope is that writing a  procedures manual will help the group think through the scope of its activities and  that the manual will help orient new members.  The professional councils have also been assigned a board liaison to ensure direct communication with the board and a staff partner who facilitates the work of the group and shares information with the other staff partners.

Interest Sections

For many years, TESOL Interest Sections (ISs) have provided members with smaller, more focused communities where they can network learn, and share with others. The GRTF report, however, indicated significant concerns from IS leaders about the number of seemingly bureaucratic tasks they had to do, especially around the annual convention, and also a lack of communication with the association’s leadership. Some ISs also reported  that they were having difficulty recruiting new leaders and that their membership was dwindling.

In March 2015 the board decided to dissolve the Interest Section Leadership Council, which had been operating as an intermediary between the ISs and the board. We did this to enable more direct communication between IS leaders and the board. Because of the significance of ISs within the association, we also struck an Interest Section Task Force (ISTF) to make specific recommendations about how our member communities could be strengthened.

In a separate blog post, you can read a current proposal that the Board is seeking feedback on regarding Knowledge-Based Member Communities (KBMCs). One of the specific recommendations the ISTF made was that we consider having more than one type of member community requiring different levels of responsibility from volunteer leaders. The proposal suggests having Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) functioning as digital groups communicating via TESOL’s online platform and Professional Knowledge Sections (PKSs), which engage in a greater range of both online and in-person activities. Because of the GRTFs finding that the Association was often operating without clarity of purpose or strategy and with an almost singular focus on the convention, the PKSs would be required to adopt an annual plan for year-round activity and both types of groups would be required to articulate how they will contribute strategically to TESOL’s mission.

Affiliate Relations

The final structural element addressed as part of the governance review is TESOL’s relationship with its Affiliates. While our Affiliates are completely independent organizations and do not participate directly in the governance of TESOL, the relation that we hold with them contributes significantly to our ability to advance the field of professional language teaching. Nevertheless, the GRTF found that there was again lack of clarity about the purpose of the relationship. An Affiliate Task Force (AFT) was therefore struck in March 2015 to make recommendations.

A proposal for a strengthened affiliate relationship and an Affiliate Network Professional Council, on which the board is currently requesting feedback, is available in a separate blog post. The proposal suggests specific functions for the relationship and describes possibilities for joint activities that TESOL could engage in with individual affiliates.

Leadership Pipeline

The last two areas addressed by the GRTF relate not to specific structures within the association but rather to processes that cut across all structures. One of these is how we develop and support the volunteer leaders of the association. The GRTF reported that members often do not know about existing opportunities; they have few resources to help them develop their leadership abilities; and when members take up positions of leadership, they have little support.

The board has sought to address this issue in a number of ways. First, as noted above, leadership opportunities, along with descriptions of the abilities needed for the position, are now posted on the TESOL website. In addition, this past year a working group of the board developed a number of leadership resources that will also be posted on the website, including stories about the leadership pathways that individual members have followed. The working group has also recommended committing more resources to the Leadership Mentoring Program, which the association has sponsored for more than 20 years. The KBMC proposal also calls for the development of professional knowledge sections as part of their annual plan to address how they will develop leaders within their group.


The final concern expressed by the GRTF was the need for better lines of communication within the association. More specifically, they recommended “that the board develop an implementation and communications strategy. The implementation strategy would include a timeline for a phased implementation of strategies, as well as a statement of principles, such as those that guided the GRTF’s work:

  • At all stages there will be requests for feedback.
  • The board commits to being open and transparent.
  • The board commits to involving volunteer leaders.
  • Changes will not be made just for the sake of change.
  • Implementation will improve the membership experience.”

This is perhaps one of the most important recommendations made by the GRTF. The board needs to do a better job of sharing information about decisions and providing time for feedback, communicating the strategic vision of the association such that it would underlie decisions at all levels of governance, and responding to entities. Entities need better ways to get information to the board and Executive Committee in a timely and efficient manner, and they need to be able to share information with each other in ways that could lead to productive collaborations.

The board has sought to implement this recommendation in a number of ways. First, as this post and the posts related to the KBMC and affiliate proposals indicate, we are committed to informing members about actions and significant decisions we are considering. The blog post is an ideal vehicle for this because it allows for immediate feedback in a forum where other members can also engage. We also welcome individual feedback when members do not want to comment publicly. Since most TESOL entities meet as part of the annual convention, we have also instituted an annual meeting for TESOL leaders where we can discuss issues and share information with each other. Previously called the Leadership Briefing, this year we will call it the Leadership Forum to emphasize the need for multidirectional communication. Additionally, the KBMC proposal calls for professional knowledge sections as part of their annual communication plan that addresses how they will keep their members and the association as a whole informed about their activities.

The need for improved communication is a bigger issue than a board can address through programs or requirements, however; it is an issue of the association’s culture. If we are to improve our communication processes, then we all have to commit to openness, transparency, and actively thinking about who needs to know and who could benefit from knowing. We also have to remember that communication only occurs when people listen and respond. We must make this our shared value.

In this post, I have attempted to report on several years of work by different boards and task forces. I encourage you to respond by sharing your thoughts and suggestions about how we can continue to improve our association.

from TESOL Blog