February 2021
From the President: The Strength of Community
by Deborah J. Short

I’ve been thinking a lot about community lately. How we have forged a strong TESOL community and pitched in to support one another during this past year of crisis. How our personal and professional lives have expanded with virtual communities and how enriched we are as a result of those connections. I’m reminded of the sixth principle in our The 6 Principles for Exemplary Teaching of English Learners: Engage and collaborate within a community of practice.

What is a community? A community is a group of organisms of the same or diverse species that share a common or overlapping interest and assume different or complementary roles in furthering their mutual goals or objectives.

A community can be a simple symbiotic relationship, as between a cattle egret and water buffalo where each provides a service to the other. The egret keeps the water buffalo free of pests and the buffalo provides a sustained source of food for the bird. Or a community can be a highly specialized society within a single species, as in honey bees, with discrete roles and sophisticated systems of communication. A community can also be a football team with players having varied and flexible positions that allow them to work as a unit to achieve a single objective. What all these types of communities share is having a number of individuals working in different roles for a common goal.

Can you envision yourself in each of these three types, depending on the context? I expect you can. But let’s take this one step further and reflect on a community of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991)—defined for our purposes as a group of educators who engage in a process of collective learning as they practice their profession by sharing knowledge, resources, and experiences, and who build relationships to strengthen their collaborative efforts toward common goals.

We know that in 2020, our common goals were multifaceted:

  • the physical and mental health and safety of our students, colleagues, family, and friends

  • job, food, and housing security for ourselves and others we care for

  • the development of skills to use distance learning platforms and online communication tools effectively

  • the successful delivery of English language instruction during a pandemic

We worked collaboratively in many ways and made progress toward these goals.

What will our common goals be over this next year? How will we organize our English language teaching (ELT) communities of practice?

As most of the world’s population gets vaccinated, we will return to more face-to-face schooling and professional learning events. Yet we won’t cease all virtual opportunities. Within our TESOL communities of practice, we’ll continue our year-round connections with online chats, book clubs, e-groups, and courses. Our upcoming webinar on 6 February, “Oral History, Odyssey, and Identity in English Language Teaching,” honors Black History month in the United States and may give you insights into an unfamiliar linguaculture. Those who attend our upcoming TESOL Virtual Convention on 24–27 March 2021 will join a new global community as well.

As travel opens up and visa bans are lifted, our international students can return to their universities, and our colleagues can take up visiting fellowships and other academic positions. We’ll start to plan and participate in hybrid conferences and blended learning sessions, while our TESOL connections continue to take us around the world.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” We all felt somewhat lost in the chaos of 2020, yet we continued to serve. This year, 2021, promises to be better. We will show that we truly are highly specialized, flexible, and competent ELT individuals who will continue to make a difference in our communities of practice, and, consequently, we will achieve our goals.


Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge University Press.

Biography.com. (2014). 15 inspiring Gandhi quotes. https://www.biography.com/news/gandhi-quotes

Deborah J. Short, PhD, is TESOL International Association president (2020–2021). She directs Academic Language Research & Training, LLC and provides professional development on academic literacy, content-based ESL, and sheltered instruction worldwide. She has led numerous research projects related to English learner education, codeveloped the SIOP Model, and served as series editor for several 6 Principles books.