TESOL Launches Governance Review of Association

Over the course of the last 2 years, the TESOL Board of Directors has been discussing a variety of issues around governance within TESOL International Association. Governance for associations refers to the various components of the organization and their relative powers, authorities, responsibilities, and composition (Tecker, Frankel, & Meyer, 2002). In other words, governance is comprehensive: It includes systems, structures, processes, and culture.

As an association’s membership changes, or as it faces different challenges, a system of governance that served well at one time may no longer be satisfactory. Best practices in association management recommend a periodic review of governance to evaluate its efficiency and whether it remains effective to meet the needs of the membership.

Although TESOL International Association has made various changes to its governance in its history, these have been mostly ad hoc adjustments to discrete components. “There have been small changes, such as to specific committees or interest sections, or larger ones such as the Board reconfiguration that occurred several years ago,” explains President Suzanne Panferov. “There has not been a large-scale, comprehensive review of the governance of the association in at least two decades, perhaps even longer.”

Task Force Appointed

After discussions at several meetings, the Board of Directors decided to move ahead with a governance review and appointed a task force late last year. The task force is charged with evaluating the current governance of TESOL International Association and—if warranted—propose changes to improve its efficiency and efficacy at meeting the needs of the membership. Because of the nature of the work involved, the process will not be swift, but will move at a deliberate pace. Final recommendations from the task force are not expected until early 2014.

Brock Brady, previous TESOL president, is serving as chair of the Governance Review Task Force. The other members of the task force represent a diversity of leadership experience in the association, including former Board members, interest section leaders, and affiliate leaders:

  • Misty Adoniou, Watson, ACT, Australia
  • Denise de Felice, Brasilia, Brazil
  • Kevin Knight, Kawasaki, Japan
  • Joe McVeigh, Middlebury, Vermont, USA
  • Denise Murray, San Jose, California, USA
  • Allison Rainville, Lunenburg, Massachusetts USA
  • Renate Tilson, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The task force began its work by reviewing authoritative literature in association governance and spending time discussing what can be a very abstract concept. To execute the review, the task force will be developing research tools to analyze and collect data on the current governance of the association. This will include extensive opportunities for feedback and input from current and past association leaders.

Goals and Outcomes

Although the task force will be conducting research into the governance of TESOL International Association, the purpose is not to evaluate the performance of individual components such as specific committees or interest sections. “The purpose of the review is to look broadly at the whole system, and see if it continues to serve the best interests of the members and field,” clarifies Brady. “One of the main questions the task force will be examining is whether and to what degree the current governance system of TESOL International Association effectively maximizes member value.”

While this is a new initiative for TESOL International Association, other associations have undertaken similar initiatives. In recent years, organizations such as the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and NAFSA: Association of International Educators have undergone governance reviews and implemented changes to their systems.

Underlying this process is a recognition that the environment today in which TESOL International Association operates is a very different environment than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Members have different value expectations and new demands on their time in the 21st century, so associations must adapt and evolve accordingly. This not only impacts an association’s programs and services, but its governance system.

The final outcome of the task force will be a set of recommendations based upon their research. Prior to developing their recommendations, the task force will report on their research findings to the Board of Directors and leadership of the association. Their ultimate goal is to make recommendations on how TESOL International Association can meet the following vision for effective governance.

To create a governance system 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 professions to identify and discuss issues and to have input into governing actions that impact them;
  • supports a leadership pipeline for members; and
  • maximizes the benefits from time and financial investment of members in TESOL International Association governance.

“The authoritative literature in association management and governance describes the most successful and effective associations as embodying a culture of knowledge, trust, and nimbleness. This is quite powerful, and I feel that it is something that we as an association should strive for,” explains Panferov.

Brady agrees, “A culture of knowledge, trust, and nimbleness can be a very strong and powerful asset for TESOL International Association. However, it’s important to understand that these three aspects are intertwined, and must be addressed cohesively. Similarly, association governance encompasses structure, process, and culture; three intertwined components that must be addressed cohesively.”

The task force is currently developing a proposed plan for how the review will be conducted that will be presented to the Board of Directors and leadership at the upcoming 2013 TESOL International Convention and English Language Expo. Additional information will be reported in future issues of TESOL Connections.


Tecker, G. H., Frankel, J. S., & Meyer, P. D. (2002). The will to govern well. London: Eurospan Group.

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