November 2016
PAIS Newsletter



Linda Wesley

Angela Dornbusch

Hello PAIS Members,

We hope everyone is doing well and having a successful school year!

The latest edition of the PAIS Newsletter covers several interesting topics for program administrators, including one intensive English program’s use of Appreciative Inquiry in its annual review process. Another article describes the desired skill set for administrative positions and ways to acquire these skills. Additionally, you can read about ways program leaders can generate a positive work culture through authenticity and a balance of professional inquiry and advocacy. Finally, you will read about one way of elevating the image of ESL by enhancing your faculty bios on your program’s website.

Are you starting to plan for the upcoming TESOL 2017 convention in Seattle, Washington, USA? Once again, PAIS has organized intriguing sessions, and we hope to see many of you there. Our academic session, titled “Maintaining Morale in Difficult Times,” will call on panelists to discuss specific challenges their programs face and what they are doing to combat the low morale that often develops during times of challenge and change. In addition, we have organized an InterSection with the Intensive English Program (IEP) IS, “Sustaining IEP Enrollment: Innovative Ways to Keep Your Program Afloat,” in which panelists will discuss innovative approaches to sustaining IEP enrollment during times of extreme enrollment decline. We have a number of experts throughout the field who will be sharing their knowledge with all of us.

All the best,

Angela Dornbusch and Linda Wesley

Co-Chairs, TESOL Program Administration Interest Section


Jacqueline Record

Hannaliisa Savolainen

Dear PAIS Community,

We’re very excited to bring you the latest PAIS Newsletter. As we find ourselves navigating through this academic year, we hope these articles will provide some useful insights for you, as they have for us.

We also hope you will attend the PAIS sessions our chairs have mentioned in their letter and also contribute an article on how you and your program or institution are meeting the current issues you face. Please keep in mind that we always welcome book reviews and nominations for our Meet the Member column.

It is pleasure to serve as your newsletter editors and contribute to the discussion of administrative issues in our field.

Warm regards,

Jacqueline Record and Hannaliisa Savolainen

Coeditors, PAIS Newsletter



Elsie Paredes

Pamela Smart-Smith

Education program evaluations are often fraught with contention and negativity. Attempts at evaluating or analyzing practices can be seen as an attack on existing staff and current systems. In the same vein, for the people involved in these evaluations there can be a propensity to turn what is meant to be a generative and productive process into one focused solely on the problems, deficits, and dysfunctions in the educational organization. Reviews and focus groups become mired in what is and what should be rather than in transformation and what could be. According to Hammond (1998), the traditional approach to change is to look for the problem, do a diagnosis, and find a solution. The primary focus is on what is wrong or broken; because we look for problems, we find them. By paying attention to problems, we emphasize and amplify them. Appreciative Inquiry (AI) suggests that we look for what works in an organization. AI provided us a positive way to view our current system and to help interrupt the negative spiral that we perceived was occurring during the annual review process. In an attempt to change the focus and the tone of our evaluation process, we decided to try a different approach. What follows is a brief discussion of our program and how we implemented AI during the annual review process.

Our intensive English program is a midsized program, Commission on English Language Accreditation (CEA) accredited, with more than 30 years of experience providing academic English preparation to international students. Our faculty is mostly composed of eight full-time instructors and a few adjunct instructors. There are four administrators involved in our IEP’s management: the IEP director, the assistant director for academics, the assistant director for faculty development, and the testing and assessment coordinator. We perform an annual review of operations (ARO) as part of our regular program planning and review cycle. Both adjunct and full-time faculty actively participate in this process, and they all have an opportunity to provide input and feedback on several areas, such as curriculum, assessment, student achievement, student services, mission, faculty, facilities and equipment/supplies, and administrative and student complaints. This process helps the administration get a better understanding of what is working and what is not and what can be done to improve. Unfortunately, this process can quickly turn into a spiral of negativity and a deficit approach, as we had sometimes experienced through the years. The focus groups were not particularly focused and targeted problems without ever coming to a clear consensus on the possible solutions. We began to research other ways of rethinking how we looked at organizational problems.

AI, originally developed by Cooperrider (2008), is a “proven paradigm for accelerating organizational learning and transformation” (p. 40). AI provides a way in which evaluators can stop the negative spiral and generate new and positive ideas. It focuses on appreciating what is and seeks to move to what could be by using the process of personal or intraorganizational narrative and inquiry. As a process, it begins by identifying the “positive core and connecting to it in ways that heighten energy, sharpen vision, and inspire action for change” (Cockell & McArthur-Blair, 2012, p. 13). Since AI was first developed, there have been many different iterations and applications to different public and private sector fields. After careful research, we chose the model developed by Hammond (2013) upon which to base our own implementation. Hammond’s model lists five stages of the process, which are outlined in Figure 1.

Figure 1. 5-D model visual and explanation. Hammond (1998).

A brief definition of the five stages is as follows:

  • Define: consists of clarifying the direction the key intention for the evolution of the team or organization. Instead of asking, “What is the problem to be solved?”, the key questions are “What do we want more of? What is our best aspiration?”

  • Discover: enables us to operate from the assumption that what we want more of already exists in the system.

  • Dream: enables us to create an embodied representation of the desired state.

  • Design: invites us to create the overall architecture of the desired state and to determine which aspects are the most important to implement change.

  • Deliver: enables us to choose the actions to move toward the future in the most sustainable way.

The implementation of AI at our institute took place when we conducted our program’s ARO. Data were collected by the three IEP sites in two ways: surveys and focus groups. Using SurveyMonkey, an online survey was created by members of the Joint Curriculum Committee based on the revised and edited questions of the previous year’s ARO. Instructors were asked to complete the anonymous online survey. Once the survey process was completed, the sites met individually to code the data and to identify key areas for further exploration by the instructors. Using the questions and results, focus groups led by full-time faculty were conducted during a staff meeting. Though it would have been ideal to have outside moderators and note-takers for the focus groups, we faced monetary and time constraints that made having outside leaders not feasible. Instead, we provided training to both the moderators and the note-takers explaining the philosophy, process, and application of AI during the focus groups. We made sure that they were comfortable with the new paradigm required. Moderators were given tactics to help refocus discussions if needed. In the focus groups, instructors were given areas to discuss (mission; curriculum; student achievement; faculty; facilities, equipment, and supplies; administrative issues; and student complaints). The sessions lasted approximately 2 hours. Each group recorded its responses in a written format. The groups reconvened into one large group to share their results, provide additional feedback, and ensure that there was a general consensus for the prioritized items. All notes were then sent out a few days later to the focus groups for member checking. The minutes were then provided to the associate and assistant directors for compilation and analysis. Once all the data were collected and analyzed, the IEP academics team met with the Joint Curriculum Committee to discuss any common themes among the three sites. An implementation plan and timeline was also created and shared.

Overall, the implementation of AI in the focus groups was a positive experience. Faculty and staff that took part in the ARO shared that, compared to our previous program evaluation method, AI gave them more of an opportunity to discuss common concerns in an open manner, gave them a better perspective and focus, and provided a more constructive and positive environment. The participants felt that it would be good to continue and refine that process for future focus groups. As part of the process, we also conducted an anonymous exit survey. Comments included: “More constructive good ideas were brought up”; “Focus is the key word. We have a chance to put things in perspective”; and “It is very helpful to start with what works.” Suggestions for next time were to allow the instructors to see the entire survey as they had in the past to help improve transparency. This change was made in subsequent years as a result of instructor feedback.

The process of AI does require more intentionality than most traditional program review methods in how questions and discussions are framed. Being able to ask effective questions helps participants not only to focus on the positive, but to think critically about what could be improved. The purpose of AI is not to view everything through proverbial rose-colored glasses, but to build upon what works. While AI does take more time to set up and implement, the approach engages participants to critically analyze and innovate new solutions rather than remain mired in a pool of negative thought. As a result of our trial with AI, we have decided not only to implement the process in focus groups, but to also apply AI in other areas dealing with faculty input, feedback, and development. Overall, AI helped with instructor buy-in, helped generate new ideas, and made the annual review process less painful and less fraught with negativity.


Cockell, J., & McArthur-Blair, J. (2012). Appreciative Inquiry in higher education: A transformative force. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Cooperrider, D. (2008). The Appreciative Inquiry handbook: For leaders of change. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Hammond, S. (1998). The thin book of Appreciative Inquiry (2nd ed.). Bend, OR: Thin Book Publishing Company.

Hammond, S. 2013 (3rd ed.). The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry: Bend, OR: Thin Book Publishing Company.

Elsie Paredes is the IEP director and associate director at the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute, where she directs and manages the intensive English program.

Pamela Smart-Smith is the assistant director for academics at the Language and Culture Institute at Virginia Tech. She is currently working on a PhD at Virginia Tech with a focus on ESL and multicultural education.


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.


Language program leaders are often focused on the “task orientation” of their role, such as finalizing a decision, preparing an annual budget, or keeping the organization solvent. However, leaders ideally also expend energy valuing all employees as unique contributors to the collective effort, treating all with professional respect, and engaging colleagues’ contributions to the collective identity of the program. These two necessary roles in leadership, which at first glance seem compatible, sometimes seem to hold an oppositional relationship. How can leaders keep their responsibility to a positive, trusting work culture foremost in their mind? The tactics that help me are those that are encompassed in the smallest of moments in interactions with my colleagues: practicing authenticity(Harter, 2002), and suspending judgment through sustained inquiry (Senge, 1990). Both concepts surfaced in the business arena as good management practices in a strong research-based field of study called positive organizational scholarship.

In administrative roles as well as instructional, I have focused on trust as the affective element I most try to inspire and build. Arceneaux (1994) states, “trust makes collaboration, cooperation, harmony, and production possible” (p. 37). Interpersonal (trust in another) and intrapersonal (trust in oneself) trust are just as important in the leadership of my peers as it is of learners in the classroom. Trust among cocreators of organizational culture is what truly leads to successful program leadership. In a time of shrinking financial assets, however, and subsequent layoffs or nonrenewals, trust in leadership is particularly challenging to sustain. There is a way of being a leader that can mitigate the impact of even these tough times, and it is entirely within a leader’s sphere of control.

The greatest trust-generating quality in a leader’s toolbox, no matter the contextual stressors, is authenticity, most simply described by Brumbaugh (as cited in Luthans, Youssef-Morgan, & Avolio, 2015): “…the ability to make hard choices, and be accountable for mistakes” (p. 219). Research in the field of positive organizational scholarship (Luthans, Youssef-Morgan, & Avolio, 2015) points to leader authenticity as positively impacting employees’ trust in leadership, dedication to the organization, citizenship behavior, engagement, performance, and psychological well-being, not to mention organizational success as a whole.

Being authentic in leadership is basically a leader’s recognition that he or she is only one, fallible individual whose conscious professional identity is determined in large part by learning from, influencing, and codeveloping with colleagues, in order to make hard choices in an informed fashion. Leaders must necessarily encourage the authentic selves of their coworkers. Leaders must also be actively humble in claiming mistakes as their own. The humility of being accountable for mistakes (in all their inevitability) combined with explicit codevelopment that lead to confidence in making hard choices will be strong determinants of the degree of positivism and organizational trust that is generated.

We often see suggestions for leadership approaches referencing structures, schedules, objectives, and desired outcomes. Certainly those approaches contribute to good leadership, but sometimes, the plans and objectives of leaders are rendered useless in the course of a single conversation when a directive or response is given in the wrong tone or a negative orientation is taken or assumed by the sender or receiver of a message. How can that be avoided? The ability to suspend judgment through sustained inquiry is a second tool elemental to leadership communication, and may well be the social, affective foundation for the more technical aspects of leadership.

Here is an example list of goals for a language program: (a) the best possible experience for students; (b) equal valuing and respect of all employees; (c) clear and realistic expectations of all roles; and (d) collaborative, ongoing organizational learning. How those goals are arrived at might differ from one person to the next or from one role to the next. One person’s avenues of goal achievement might seem to be in direct opposition to some of the avenues others have taken in reaching those same goals. The most important task in the face of this potential area of dissonance is to begin from an assumption of positive orientation and work ethic. How does one arrive at that orientation and generate the same in others?

It is tempting, when being deluged with demands or complaints from coworkers simultaneously with dictates from higher authorities, to assume that a person or even whole group of people is acting selfishly, is not thinking about the big picture, or doesn’t have the interests of the students or the organization at heart, or to assume that a higher governing body is determined to make one’s job as difficult as possible. It takes herculean effort to start from and remain situated within the premise that every stance, demand, complaint, or dictate is grounded in positive intention.

The key, as Senge (1990) states, is to advocate your own view as assumptions that are potentially incomplete and in need of more perspective, and to inquire after others’ assumptions and genuinely consider and value them. Doesn’t everyone want their leaders to assume that they have very good reasons for holding the views that they hold? Think back to an interaction where a coworker expressed an opinion about something, and you automatically jumped to an assumption of a negative underlying emotion or orientation (e.g., “That’s selfish/defensive/aggressive/apathetic/obstructionist!”). The moment that a leader allows him- or herself to continue a dialogue while still holding a negative assumption of intent is the moment that an opportunity to build or sustain trust is lost—never truer than when there is a difference in level of authority between the interlocutors.

Senge (1990), founder of the learning organization business concept, proposes a particular kind of interaction between managers and employees, specifically, bidirectional inquiry assuming positive intention and opening up one’s rationale to criticism—which must be initiated and actively sustained by the person holding more positional authority. He states:

…when inquiry and advocacy are balanced, I would not only be inquiring into the reasoning behind others’ views [inquiry] but would be stating my views [advocacy] in such a way as to reveal my own assumptions and reasoning and to invite others to inquire into them. (p. 199)

By asking meaningful questions, looking for the positive intention beneath a colleague’s assumptions, and explaining the positive intentions beneath one’s own assumptions, leaders become more authentic and more trustworthy. A human being cannot prevent a negative assumption from surfacing, but with good self-management, a human being can train oneself, as soon as that assumption surfaces, to take a deep breath and ask another question or two. Only by inquiry can we pull back from our immediate, incomplete assumptions and get at the values and intentions beneath the expressed thoughts and behaviors of our coworkers. Only by advocacy—making the values beneath our own thoughts and behaviors explicit—in the humility of authenticity can leaders hope to inform coworkers’ assumptions.

Perpetually overburdened leaders might ask, “Doesn’t all of this take more time?” The short, honest answer is yes. It will take more time for a leader to actually address a coworker who has just voiced a concern about a direction the leader has chosen because the leader must ask questions about the concern and where it is coming from. It will take more time to explain, perhaps multiple times to multiple coworkers at different times, the coconstructed values basis for a decision. Every conversation that makes explicit your authenticity (i.e., your willingness to have your expertise and your determinations questioned and expanded) and your valuing of others’ perspectives and values grows organizational trust on a personal level, one person at a time. Is organizational trust worth the time? On the other hand, if trust is not sufficiently generated, how much time might be lost in employee turnover, resistance to change, or ineffective collaborative efforts?

What kind of trust are leaders asking for? Leaders hope employees trust that they are valued, that leaders are listening, that leaders are making hard decisions conscientiously and with deep caring. That level of trust can’t and won’t come from the simple cloak of a leadership role (e.g., that person has been appointed leader, therefore, he or she must be trusted). Coworkers must sense caring, conscientiousness, and trust in every possible moment of interaction. They must understand, in other words, that leaders value and trust their professional intentions as well as the values underlying them—that can only be had via ongoing, authentic positive inquiry and discourse. It is well worth the time.


Arceneaux, C. J., Sr. (1994). Trust: An exploration of its nature and significance. Journal of Invitational Theory and Practice, 3, 35–49.

Harter, S. (2002). Authenticity. In C. R. Snyder & S. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (p. 382–394). Oxford, United Kingdom. Oxford University Press.

Luthans, F., Youssef-Morgan, C. M. & Avolio, B. J. (2015). Psychological capital and beyond. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Senge, P. M. (1990). The fifth discipline. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Britt Johnson is academic director at the American English Institute; supervising more than 50 teachers across IEP, EAP, and online courses; and ensuring a comprehensive faculty voice in governance, curriculum, and faculty review and policies. She has supervisory experience in both higher education and adult education and has taught ESOL in Poland, Japan, and the United States. Her areas of research interest and continuing development are leadership philosophy and positive organizational scholarship.


ESL programs are essential entities on American college and university campuses that help nonnative users of English develop and improve their English language skills. Without these ESL programs, many nonnative users of English would be unable to enroll in academic programs in higher education. In fact, there are approximately 600 ESL programs in higher education across the United States (Osborne, 2015) that function as the needed gateway through which ELLs must pass to achieve their academic goals. In addition to helping nonnative speakers enter academic programs of their choice, ESL programs are notorious for producing a steady flow of income for their host institutions (Osborne, 2015). To be sure, it is not uncommon to think of ESL programs as one of the major cash cows of higher education.

However, in spite of the educational contributions and economic benefits that ESL programs offer, they still remain the “unwanted stepchild” of American institutions of higher learning (Randolph, Jones, Porter-Sucs, Arokiasamy, & Dunsmore, 2016). The purpose, then, of this three-part series is to help elevate the image and exposure of ESL programs and their professionals. The first installment will look at some core problems facing ESL and then propose the first solution, which centers on improving the ESL faculty bios on department websites. I offer seven suggestions on how this can be done.

Three Common Problems Precluding ESL Program Respect

If ESL, as a legitimate discipline, dates back to the establishment of this country, why is it still not given the respect it deserves on campuses of higher learning? Before offering solutions to this conundrum, let’s briefly take a look at three core problems that ESL programs and their professionals face.

1. Identity

There is a common misunderstanding of what ESL is and a lack of information about what ESL professionals do and teach. This identity crisis is exacerbated by the fact that many ESL programs are not accepted as equals among departments like English, linguistics, or applied linguistics. Moreover, ESL departments are often housed in the buildings of unrelated departments, which makes it even more difficult to form ties with disciplines that share common or similar academic subjects of study. For example, my own ESL program shares a floor with the criminal justice and gerontology departments.

2. Academic Rank and Title

The vast majority of ESL professionals are not offered tenure-track positions with an increase in salary and title promotion (Osborne, 2015). In addition, ESL lecturers in many intensive English programs are given titles such as “academic staff,” “faculty specialists,” or “language specialists.” Despite the fact that ESL lecturers have terminal degrees in applied linguistics or PhDs in TESOL methods, their professional rank and title are lower than many lecturers in other departments.

3. Professional Contributions

ESL professionals present at local, regional, and international conferences; do research; and publish articles and books on cutting-edge topics in the field. However, their professional contributions are often not acknowledged by the higher education community, and their achievements are often not recognized at annual campus awards ceremonies.

Breaking the unwanted stepchild curse will not, unfortunately, happen overnight. It may even take decades before the profession is looked at as a legitimate equal in higher education. To help move us in the right direction, I will propose three solutions in this series that I hope will help start us on the path of acceptance.

Addressing Identity: Issues of Current Faculty Bios

My first solution, which addresses the ESL professional and program identity crisis, centers around improving ESL faculty bios, highlighting their professional background and contributions on ESL program websites. Before moving to these suggestions on how to improve the faculty bios, I’d like to review the kinds of ESL program websites that seem to represent the current state of ESL faculty bios. I surveyed approximately 60 U.S.-based ESL program websites and found that the sites generally fall into the following five categories.

Type 1: No Access to ESL Faculty Information

These program websites offer a program overview, the payment process, and university resources, but they do not provide links on the menu to view the program director or faculty bios.

Type 2: Director/Administrator Centered

These particular program websites feature a photo and bio of the director or an administrator; however, they do not offer any detailed information about the faculty. At best, they offer a general, single-sentence statement claiming all the instructors in the program hold MAs or PhDs in the field.

Type 3: Minimal ESL Faculty Contact Information

These websites provide minimal information about the faculty members: their names, positions, email addresses, campus addresses, and phone numbers. There may or may not be photos of them, and no personal background or professional information is given. In many cases, these kinds of program websites also fail to list the degrees of their lecturers.

Type 4: Relatively Acceptable ESL Faculty Information

These websites are an improvement on the aforementioned sites. They include the basic information such as name, position, and contact information; in addition, they offer the faculty members’ professional backgrounds, degrees received, and personal hobbies.

Type 5: High-Quality, Professional-Looking ESL Faculty Shown

Of the websites I surveyed, I found only a small handful that would warrant elevating the image of ESL. Among these are the faculty bios at Central Michigan University. This particular program’s website is of high quality, and it offers what I hope more programs will adopt in the near future (see example). Central Michigan University’s ESL faculty bios offer full contact information, a short bio, courses taught, areas of expertise, degrees, honors, professional organizations/memberships, and, in some cases, publications and presentations.

Enhancing ESL Faculty Bios: The Seven-Suggestion Solution

Suggestion 1: Acquiring the Director’s Initiative and Support

The first step in elevating the image of ESL faculty websites is to get the director or chair of the ESL program to agree that a faculty bio upgrade is necessary. Then, have him or her meet with the Information Technology Department to discuss and select a template like the one discussed in number five above. In short, it is essential that the director/chair become involved and find it significant to showcase the faculty’s academic history and professional contributions.

Suggestion 2: Use Standardized Faculty Photos

Having unprofessional-looking photos or photos of poor quality (e.g., highly pixilated images) in no way helps the image of ESL. The second suggestion is to simply use standardized or uniform headshots taken at a campus photo studio. In order to do this, the ESL department would need to set up a designated day to take headshots. If the cost is too high, simply have someone in the department take the headshots with a fixed background for all the faculty and staff members on a given day.

Suggestion 3: Highlight Professional Contributions

Another clear way to help address the identity issue would be to highlight the professional activities, contributions, and research interests of the ESL faculty. The faculty bios could include awards, article or book publications, classes taught, conference presentations, grants, guest lectures, and research projects. Showcasing these will make fellow faculty members and the profession proud. Moreover, it will legitimize the world of ESL, and it may also inspire colleagues to contribute to the profession.

Suggestion 4: List Professional Memberships

Listing the faculty’s professional memberships will draw attention to their current participation in the field and help others network with them on a professional level. It may be best to list both past and current memberships to show the faculty’s activity throughout their careers.

Suggestion 5: Showcase Innovative Teaching Activities

Every instructor in the field of ESL is unique, and most have developed creative or effective activities that inspire both teachers and students. Consider including a 50-word summary of a creative or effective activity that each faculty member uses in his or her classes. Showcasing these ideas might also help recruit new students and attract high-level instructors to ESL programs.

Suggestion 6: Promote Teaching Philosophies

Another powerful addition to the faculty bios is the inclusion of a short, 50-word teaching philosophy. A teaching philosophy can act as an insightful window into the unique psyche of each instructor. These would highlight the essential elements of what is important in an instructor’s classroom. In addition, the teaching philosophy of each instructor is something from which students and colleagues could benefit, as it would promote unique perspectives and ideas on pedagogy and learning.

Suggestion 7: Highlight a Love for the English Language

My last suggestion offers a fun and playful way to complete the faculty bio pages. I suggest that faculty post their favorite English word, phrase, or idiom and briefly explain why they treasure that particular lexical item. This will, like the above idea on promoting teaching philosophies, give others a personal view into the mind of the instructors. There is even a chance that others reading these might learn something new.

Concluding Remarks

As mentioned above, the unwanted stepchild curse will not be broken overnight, but these seven suggestions for improving faculty bios for ESL program websites will help address one of the common problems reinforcing the stigma: they will help elevate the image of the English teaching field and begin to move the profession in a positive and inspiring direction. These suggestions are simple, but I believe that they will have far-reaching consequences and help us legitimize the world of ESL in a powerful and professional way.

NOTE: This article is dedicated to the memory of my father, Gerald Richard Randolph (1931-2016). He was my mentor, close friend, and unique soulmate.


Osborne, D. (2015). The ugly stepchild: On the position of ESL programs in the academy. College ESL Quarterly, Summer 2015, 1–20. Retrieved from

Randolph, P. T., Jones, T., Porter-Sucs, I., Arokiasamy, L., Dunsmore, C. (2016, April 6). Breaking the unwanted stepchild curse: Elevating the image of ESL. Paper presented at the meeting of TESOL International Association, Baltimore, MD.

Patrick T. Randolph specializes in creative and academic writing, speech, and debate. He continues to research current topics in neuroscience, especially studies related to exercise and learning, memory, and mirror neurons. He lives with his wife, Gamze; daughter, Aylene; and cat, Gable, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Recently, Randolph was awarded the “Best of the TESOL Affiliates–2015” for his work in vocabulary pedagogy.



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