November 2016
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Netta Avineri, Kara Mac Donald, & Ketty Reppert

Netta Avineriis
Middlebury Institute of International Studies, Monterey, California, USA

Kara Mac Donald
Defense Language Institute, Monterey, California, USA

Ketty Reppert
Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, USA

Postgraduate and certificate degrees in TESOL/teaching foreign language (TFL) traditionally focus on second language acquisition theory, pedagogy, and research.However, many language positions require program administrative and management tasks for which teachers are frequently underprepared. This article* provides research, practice, and examples that demonstrate the needs, interventions, and possibilities for language program administration preparation in TESOL/TFL programs.

Administrative/Managerial Position Skills

There are a number of qualities and skills necessary for language program administration. Forbes (2012), (Director of the English Language Institute at the University of Florida, sought to determine which skills, knowledge, and personal qualities were considered important to an expert group of directors of university- or college-based intensive English programs (UIEPs).

Using the Delphi Method, Forbes (2012) sent out a series of open-ended questions to program directors asking them to identify what they believed were the necessary skills, knowledge, and personal qualities needed for running a UIEP. The top skills were not necessarily UIEP specific, including the broader categories of “managerial skills” and “leadership skills,” and also “decision-making skills, “effective communication skills” and the “ability to define and articulate vision, mission, and goals.” While not generally considered a skill, “integrity” also emerged as a top skill. Unlike skills, the highest rated knowledge areas were UIEP- or institution-specific items. This included the knowledge of “the financial structure of the program and how it fits financially with the institution,” “IEP standards,” “institutional knowledge,” “knowledge/acceptance of academic bureaucracy,” and “knowledge/acceptance of other cultures.” Finally, the highest rated personal qualities were an “ability to make difficult decisions,” an “ethical presence,” and being “honest.”

These findings inform TESOL graduates of the knowledge and skills that experienced program directors feel directors should possess. The findings can also inform hiring panels and search committees when appointing applicants to managerial positions. Finally, TESOL curriculum developers can use the information in preparing coursework for postgraduate programs.

Avenues to Acquire the Needed Skill Sets

As an example of ways that professionals in the field can gain the skills needed to serve as administrators, Brad Teague, Assistant Dean and Director of the English for International Students program at Duke University, provided an overview of his experience in language program administration and discussed the specific activities and events that have helped him to be successful in these roles.

As a graduate student, he took on leadership roles in student organizations, conducted research on professional development, coordinated a local ESL program, and participated in conversations with the directors of various ESL programs, through which he developed skills that were later applicable to language program administration.

In addition, he began as assistant director and then transitioned to director. This transition time allowed him to “learn the ropes” and benefit from the guidance of the previous director. In his current position, he started as director but still had the opportunity to work closely with the previous director during the first year, benefitting from their mentorship.

Teague also reported that he finds ongoing contact with other program directors to be valuable. A personal network allows him to collaborate on projects of mutual interest. Moreover, he joins special interest groups with an administrative focus, such as TESOL’s Program Administration Interest Section. Additionally, he reads language program administration publications, attends relevant conference sessions, and recently completed TESOL’s ELT Leadership Management Certificate Program. All of these activities allow him to develop his administrative knowledge and skills.

Equipping Faculty for Midlevel Administrative Positions

There are a number of ways that faculty can take on administrative roles, as discussed by Ketty Reppert, Associate Director of Academics, English Language Program, Kansas State University. Programs can help faculty make an informed decision about accepting administrative work by providing clear position descriptions detailing the duties to be performed as well as the necessary skills, knowledge, or training. It is also important to make expectations and evaluation procedures clear. Faculty should be informed of the expected length of service in the position, how it may relate to their other duties, what the expected time commitment is, and whether they will receive release time and/or other compensation.

Training for faculty in administrative roles can include orientation, especially to help deal with institutional culture shock, which may affect faculty moving into a new role in the same organization and not just faculty coming to a new institution. In addition, training components may include a program handbook; mentoring; regular meetings with a supervisor; a program library (including titles likeThe College Administrator’s Survival Guide); facilitating opportunities for support or sharing with colleagues in similar roles; and participation in local, regional, or national training sessions.

Some of the skills that faculty members in these language program administration roles might need include flexibility in conditions of rapid change and uncertainty, the ability to balance teaching and other responsibilities, acceptance of what is beyond their control, and the ability to exercise perseverance in working toward long-term goals. Also important are good communication and conflict management skills, establishing and maintaining professional boundaries, and coping with being “squeezed” between administration and peers.

Successful Implementation of TESOL Management Courses

Bruce Rindler, ESL Program Consultant, School of Education, Boston University, approaches designing and delivering courses by first considering theoretical and practical frameworks from a range of fields (e.g., human resources, leadership, intercultural communication, academic management skills).

First, there is the conceptual framework of management as a system, in which there are distinct stages of implementation: a) planning and identifying goals, b) establishing standards of practice, and c) monitoring performance. This process becomes a reflective feedback loop at two levels: evaluation of system performance (e.g., TESOL management courses/program) and revisiting the practices that are not in line with the identified goals.

Another relevant theoretical frame is managers as part of a culture web (Johnson, Whittington, & Scholes, 2012). Managers exist within an organizational culture with subcultures. These cultures overlap and intersect, and are often taken as givens within each organizational culture. Each given lends itself to logical expectations. However, the givens and expectations of each cultural group are not the same, and a manager needs to understand him- or herself as positioned within this cultural web.

Finally, engaging in personal reflection allows teachers to become more aware of 1) their current practice, 2) what they have accomplished over a career, and 3) their beliefs and how they are realized in the classroom. Reflection also creates order in terms of teachers’ beliefs and classroom practice, allowing teacher practices and managerial objectives to better align and to identify alternative solutions or practices where needed.

Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey’s Language Program Administration Specialization

The 17-unit Language Program Administration (LPA) specialization and certificate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS) is administered by Lynn Goldstein, Professor and Program Chair. The 17-unit LPA specialization can be completed along with the MA TESOL or TFL degree or as a stand-alone certificate for those who already hold an MA TESOL or have extensive language teaching professional experience. The specialization was established in response to the needs of alumni in administrative positions who felt they were underprepared for such positions. The specialization and certificate include the following courses: Introduction to LPA, Language Teacher Education, Language Teacher Supervision, Survey of Accounting, Finance Functions for Non-profits or Budgeting in International Educational Organizations, and Marketing Management for non-MBAs or International Education Marketing and Recruiting, along with elective courses. In a survey of LPA alumni, respondents noted additional topics they would like to see addressed, including project management, (intercultural) conflict resolution, intercultural workforces and managing diversity, leadership, and K–12 curriculum development. They also noted that the LPA specialization has fostered their confidence and continued growth and the ability to distinguish between being a teacher and an administrator in all of their language program administrator roles. One current LPA student noted that

…without the LPA, my life would have been so different!...when the times have come for me to take on leadership roles, I have already had a critical and reflective understanding of the type of leader I wish to be as well as the skill sets to navigate many of the duties these jobs have required.

The LPA specialization has proven to be useful and relevant to language teachers and language program administrators.

Introduction to LPA Course

The Introduction to LPA course at MIIS was created by Dr. Kathleen Bailey, as discussed in detail by Netta Avineri, TESOL/TFL Assistant Professor and Intercultural Competence Committee Chair, MIIS. Kathleen and Netta cotaught the course in January 2015, and it has been taught by Netta since January 2016. The 3-week online course (asynchronous and synchronous) is followed by students’ internships in and reflections about language programs. The course’s guiding principles are theory, research, and practice; experiential learning; multiple voices; peer mentorship; and partnerships. It provides theoretical and practical approaches for general issues related to program administration (e.g., change and innovation, decision-making and negotiation, human resource management, project management, and strategic planning) and specific issues related to language program administration (e.g., intercultural communication, service-learning, language and teacher hiring practices, “language” of LPA, and LPA skills and knowledge). Course assignments include discussion board forum postings, a mock interview activity, a participant-observation or interviewing project, and an internship project. Sample internships have included language program market research, marketing plan, curriculum design, “buddy” program creation, and ESL program development focus groups. Students find the course discussions, assignments, and internships to be incredibly useful whether they later become language teachers or administrators, because they provide macro- and microlevel perspectives on the complex work of language program administration.


The TESOL/TFL field has begun to discuss the needs of teachers in language program administrative and management positions. Some TESOL/TFL postgraduate and certificate degrees now offer courses as a part of their curriculum. Additionally, language teachers are better identifying resources for and guidance on how to informally prepare themselves to perform administrative responsibilities. This dialogue and current research also assist TESOL/TFL program directors and faculty to know what components are required when developing an LPA curriculum and the common obstacles in implementing such courses. With ongoing discussion of the needs of language teachers moving into administrative positions beyond the classroom, the field will better serve the TESOL/TFL industry in the future.

*Note: This article is based on a 2016 TESOL annual convention panel, “Solutions for TESOL Programs’ Lack of Administrative Preparation.”


Forbes, M. J. (2012). Establishing an accepted skill set and knowledge base for directors of university and college intensive English programs (Doctoral dissertation, University of Florida). Retrieved from University of Florida Library Digital Collections:

Johnson, G., Whittington, R., & Scholes, K. (2012). Fundamentals of strategy. Harlow, United Kingdom: Pearson.

Netta Avineriis TESOL/TFL assistant professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, where she teaches linguistics, education, intercultural competence, and international education management courses. She also serves as the Intercultural Competence Committee chair. Her research interests include critical service-learning, language and social justice, and interculturality in language teacher education.

Kara Mac Donald is an associate professor and faculty development trainer at the Defense Language Institute. Her background consists of more than 20 years in foreign language teaching and teacher training.

Ketty Reppert is associate director for academics in the English Language Program at Kansas State University, where she has served on the faculty for 10 years.

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