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Convention Special Issue: May 2017
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Shaping the Future of the TESOL Profession

Where is the profession of English language teaching headed in the 21st century? What forces around the world are impacting English and English language education? How can TESOL professionals be empowered to instigate and sustain innovation and foster positive change within a risk-tolerant culture? What role can stakeholders in the TESOL profession play in shaping the future of English language educators? These are some of the big issues and challenging questions addressed as hundreds of participants from around the world came together both online and in-person for the Summit on the Future of the TESOL Profession.

As part of TESOL International Association’s 50th anniversary, this groundbreaking event was planned with the goal of presenting a vision for the profession over the next few decades. Grounded in three guiding principles—equity, inquiry, and professionalism—the summit was led by a steering committee of TESOL professionals from around the world and showcased 12 respected and innovative thought leaders from six continents, who were chosen to challenge common misconceptions and help reenvision a future. The summit was structured to generate a strategic conversation around four major themes: Futurology, English in Multilingualism, Reimagining English Competence, and The Profession as Change Agent, with each of the speakers to address a particular theme through a guiding principle.

Launching Online

Although the centerpiece of the summit was an in-person event held in Athens, Greece on 9–10 February 2017, the summit started in December 2016 with online discussions among hundreds of participants from around the world. The purpose of these online discussions was to not only engage a broader group of participants globally, but to share and discuss ideas that the speakers could incorporate into their presentations at the in-person event.


The online component was a vital element for the success of the summit, according to Denise Murray, Chair of the Summit Steering Committee and Professor Emeritus of Macquarie University. “The use of English around the world has increased dramatically, bringing both opportunities and challenges for individuals, governments, and English language educators,” said Professor Murray.

These voices and experiences from around the world are critical to informing the future. Since it would not be possible to capture this rich diversity of knowledge and experience at a 2-day event, we wanted to build an inclusive process where TESOL professionals and stakeholders from around the world could contribute to the final outcome of the summit.

Online discussions were structured over the course of a 10-week period focusing on the different themes of the summit. Speakers posted one or more questions for their themes positioned around the principles of equity, inquiry, and professionalism. The online discussions were structured to focus on a particular theme for 2 weeks, allowing sufficient time for a deep dive into the theme with questions from the speakers.

Speakers were able to collect data from the field by posting questions to the online group. Questions would focus on a guiding principle or a theme and comments came from participants reflecting on their personal experiences. For example:

Question: In the professional training that you participate in/are responsible for, do you include examples of how the mother tongue of students could be used as a resource for teaching English? Why or why not?

For young children particularly, the use of a multilingual lens seems to me by far the most effective way to avoid and/or overcome any feelings of anxiety that they may feel when confronted with unfamiliar ways of meaning-making. –from Sweden, observing classes in China

From a practitioner’s standpoint, using students’ mother tongues promotes a higher hierarchical stage of cognitive/brain-based learning and gets them to use the target language. Examples of such a strategy may be verb usage and comparison-and-contrast essay writing for academic purpose….Policy of English only, plainly speaking, may just not serve well in a multilingual community. Language and culture are intertwined. The policy of monolingualism diminishes an individual’s cultural belonging and identity that is innate in all of us. So what a TESOL professional can do to invite his or her administrators, policy makers, and even community members to engage in the dialogue of multilingualism is a question and a starter. –United States

Over the years I've thought a lot about how mother tongue and multilingualism, in general, play a role in learning English or any language for that matter.  I'd like to step back for a second and point out that practice of English only classrooms came from the contexts where the majority of the students spoke different mother tongues….As a profession, I feel that we've let the policy of English only classrooms in many parts of the world dominate instruction and I am happy to see that has changed drastically in recent years. –Tanzania

Question: Have you experienced public or private policies (in your institution) that favor teachers who are ‘native’ speakers of English, regardless of their teaching credentials? Tell us more about that (e.g., are there teachers who are coveted more because they are native speakers? Are there hiring bonuses for native speakers? Are native speakers of English promoted more often?)

We still see a disproportionate number of [native speakers] in the spotlight, giving keynote addresses, writing for well-known blogs, doing teacher training for publishers, and publishing. They are not necessarily more qualified or experienced, but they seem to “climb up the ladder” more easily. In national and international conferences, many teachers still want to see their native-speaking gurus and course book authors, though this has been changing slowly. –Brazil

The public schools and colleges in Nepal do not generally hire native speakers, but a few work on a temporary/voluntary basis. One or two good Samaritans have fallen in love with our country and people, stayed behind and even started a school or an orphanage, especially in the rural or hilly regions. –Nepal

The issue raised is a very sensitive one as in many countries this is a reality which builds great walls between native and non-native English language teachers…I strongly believe that everyone must be treated equally in alignment with the job requirements regardless of his/her biological roots—we have no choice in who we are but we choose who we become! Thus, qualifications and hard work prevail more than just “origin.” –Albania

These discussions are still available online in myTESOL under the 2017 Summit on the Future of the TESOL Profession.

Setting the Stage in Athens

In early February, the focus shifted to the 2-day gathering in Athens, Greece. Cohosted by TESOL Greece, the in-person event featured 220 delegates from more than 60 countries. The participants were gathered in roundtables, with each table featuring a cross-section of stakeholders such as teacher, teacher educators, policy-makers, publishers, and researchers. In a structural departure from previous TESOL events, the in-person summit had each of the speakers give brief 15-minute presentations to spark conversations around each theme. Participants were then given 60 minutes to discuss and respond to the speakers’ presentations, after which there was an opportunity for speakers to respond to questions from the floor.

To continue the hybrid nature of the event, each of the presentations was live-streamed, and online participants were given the opportunity to pose questions to the speakers in real time. In addition, Wendi Pillar, a graphic recorder and ESL educator from North Carolina in the United States, was on hand to capture the ideas shared during the summit in visual form. (Each of the recordings, as well as the documents from the graphic recorder, are available on the Recorded Sessions pages of each theme on the 2017 summit website.)

George Krompos of TESOL Greece welcomed participants at the start of the event as the Master of Ceremonies, while TESOL 2016–2017 President Dudley Reynolds and Professor Murray served as facilitators. At the start, Reynolds commented that this event was a key opportunity for the English language teaching profession moving forward.

For too long, the TESOL profession has been subject to external forces and decisions by others on where it needs to go and how it should change. This summit provides the opportunity for the TESOL profession to determine for itself what the future should look like.


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The event in Athens started with a discussion of the mega-trends, such as economics, technology, and culture, impacting education and the field of English language teaching. As the goals of the summit are to look toward the future, the field of futurology offers a broad, holistic perspective that is essential for understanding the English language teaching profession both today and in the future. The discussion ranged from global to local concerns. Delegates examined these concepts globally and recognized that English can influence the livelihood of mobile populations and create larger gaps between the “haves” and “have nots.” Bringing experiences from each of their local contexts, delegates found common ground in strengthening the use of technology to not only professionalize the field, but to increase academic opportunities. Delegates agreed that having stronger connections between research and practice could influence local and national decision makers when it comes to English language policy.

English in Multilingualism

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The growth of English as a global common language has also led to an image of linguistic hegemony—the spread of English has come at the expense of linguistic diversity. Yet the TESOL profession, in its mission to teach English, must embrace the opportunity to simultaneously support multilingualism. For many of the delegates in Athens, English is just one of the additional languages they speak, so the importance of using a “mother tongue” resonated. In the classroom, learners should be able to use any non-English language structures in order to enable and empower their learning. In the real world, users of English should be able to access any communication strategy they have to get their message across. Culture, context, and linguistic prowess need to be key features in instructional practice. Policy makers should recognize the strength found in a multilingual society and make decisions that reflect this ideal.

Reimagining English Competence

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English competence has been traditionally defined in reference to “a native or ideal speaker” norm and in terms of the grammar of the language. This definition has been challenged. The question for the TESOL profession is whether English competence can be defined in such a way that it recognizes the diversity of English, both in use and in user, and can also be used for decision-making purposes. Emerging from the summit conversations, the TESOL profession is ready to grapple with the misconceptions surrounding a teacher’s language proficiency in the classroom. Schools and universities should consider a teacher’s credentials as the key focal point in hiring decisions. Variety in teacher accent and syntax should be viewed as a universal asset. Moreover, universities and schools should be working together to build teacher education programs that meet the needs of the learners. These programs should adhere to standards that enrich a teacher candidate’s English language knowledge, skills, and abilities.

The Profession as a Change Agent

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Based on the idea that TESOL-related policy making should mirror successful (traditional, virtual, and self-study) classroom practices, the notion of a learning-focused classroom should translate into practice-driven policy-making. The idea of encouraging students to take risks with their language learning should carry over to less risk-averse policy-shaping, especially when it comes to policy-making that influences classroom practices. Delegates recognized the important responsibility that TESOL professionals have and how their crucial roles have positioned them well to influence policy. If the profession is to be a true agent of change, it must stay true to its core values, professional knowledge, and agency, all while its educators continue to be innovative, ethical, steadfast, and patient.

Moving Forward

Following the conclusion of the live event in Athens, the dialogue continued online to allow virtual participants to weigh in and share their thoughts on the questions brought up during the summit. Each of the speakers is developing a paper that captures the ideas that emerged on their theme; these will be published and disseminated over the next several months. In addition, resources are being developed for affiliates and other interested stakeholders to hold similar discussions about the future of the profession in local contexts.

To develop the next steps for the future of the TESOL profession, the steering committee will meet face-to-face one last time in July to start creating a conceptual framework rooted in the data that have been collected both online and in Athens. Through the framework, principles and priorities will be identified for the TESOL profession moving forward. These will be shared with the field and used to inform the strategic direction of the association.

Already, various conversations and engagement efforts have started to take shape around the world. These stories and experiences are excellent examples of how the TESOL profession can have impact and shape future policies and practices. As more of these stories materialize, the association will identify ways in which they will be collected and shared with all the summit stakeholders.

A comprehensive vision to guide policy, practice, and research will be made available at the end of this year with a formal release at the 2018 TESOL International Convention & English Language Expo, 27–30 March 2018 in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It is TESOL International Association’s desire that the delegates and summit partners will continue to work together in the years to come to build on this vision.

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TESOL Engages, Enriches, and Empowers More Than 6,000 in Seattle
TESOL 2017: Convention in Photos
4 Ways to Maximize Your Convention Learning
Shaping the Future of the TESOL Profession
TESOL 2017 Grants and Scholarships Recipients
Convention Resources
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