March 2021
TESOLers for Social Responsibility



Sky Lantz-Wagner, University of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio, USA
Federico Salas-Isnardi, College Station, Texas, USA

Sky Lantz-Wagner

Federico Salas-Isnardi

This letter comes on the heels of Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration, characterized by a notable change in tone coming from the highest office in the U.S. We have all felt a collective burden, weighing more than we had imagined, lifted from our chests, and the country’s heart has begun to beat again. With our rediscovered heartbeat, we look around and measure the state of the world, which is still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, the devastating effects of climate change, and extremist ideology and intolerance.

Addressing these issues is no small task, but the challenges speak to our group. They are part of the reason we have joined this TESOL International interest section to begin with. We are here to “help teachers and learners around the world better understand the causes of global issues that affect the human family and strive toward finding solutions to these issues” (Statement of Purpose, n.d.) and to “advance social equity, respect for differences, and multicultural understanding through education” (Mission Statement, n.d.), among others, and the work has never been more important than it is today.

The voice from the Biden administration is strong and focused, and we will add our voices to theirs as they advocate for teachers’ rights, immigration reform, student-loan forgiveness, and other TESOL-related elements of his plan: Battle for the Soul of the Nation. In 2021 and beyond, we will continue to create safe spaces for TESOL professionals to come together virtually until it is safe to do so in person. We look forward to seeing you in an SRIS session at the 2021 virtual conference, which was originally to be held in Houston: The City with No Limits and Federico’s hometown.

We would also like to take this opportunity to encourage you to consider volunteering your voice, time, and skills as a member of the SRIS leadership team. Elections for chair(s)-elect will be held during the spring, and we will reach out soon via TESOL’s communication channels with more information. We are honored and humbled to have served as leaders for the past two years, and we are looking forward to supporting new leaders in the year to come as our roles shift outgoing chairs, making way for Ethan Trinh and Luis Javier Pentón Herrera to assume the roles of co-chairs.

Federico and Sky


Trisha Dowling and John Turnbull

Trisha Dowling

John Turnbull

As we welcome a new calendar year, we hope that everyone is finding the strategies and strength necessary to continue moving forward and taking things day by day. In June 2020, when we were discussing potential newsletter themes for this edition, it might have felt like we were in the middle of disruption of all kinds. Now, almost a year later, life and teaching as we know them are still in a state of disruption. Being in “the middle,” as we felt all that time ago, seems to be quite a long period. As we continue doing our best with managing our work and our own well-being, I hope that each of us can embrace this time of disruption because it is only by disturbing our norms that we can make real and lasting change that will incrementally make the world a better place for everyone.

In this newsletter, we present a variety of submission types that cause us to reflect on our personal stories and journeys and look at ways that we can disrupt narratives in our own teaching that do not serve the common good.

Our first submission is from Justin Jacobs, an instructor in Istanbul who presents experiences and strategies for disrupting heteronormativity in English Language Teaching. He and his colleague are working together to “increase awareness of sexism, heterosexism, and cissexism in ELT and work with other professionals to develop ways to disrupt these issues.”

Nayereh Nouri shares a look at the individual impact that the disruption of student visas causes. This piece makes what we may see as a news headline into a more personal account.

Helen Margaret Murray shares a practical lesson plan that guides educators in teaching about both Indigenous Peoples and environmental conflicts, aiming to disrupt the way that students think about their own culture and the world.

Warifa Sobh reflects on what she stands for and introduces us to who she is through her “I Am” poem. I hope her openness invites you to be open with yourself and reflect on who you are and what is important to you.

We hope that you enjoy these dynamic submissions. We welcome comments and discussions around these contributions through the SRIS discussion board. As always our authors’ perspectives are their own, and our newsletter should be taken as a forum for our membership to share their views about issues that are important to them, which may or may not reflect the opinions or official positions of TESOL International Association.



Justin Jacobs, Sabancı University, Istanbul, Turkey

In 2013, with the acquittal of George Zimmerman and the emergence of Black Lives Matter, a new era of the ongoing movement for civil rights emerged. Now, the concept of social responsibility seemed to permeate popular culture in a way that it had not done for some years. A new generation of people seemed to suddenly become cognizant of inequalities present in all societies, in all countries around the world, coinciding with the emergence of a fourth wave of feminism. Due to the concurrent rise of social media, most of us were able to observe other cultures, and some people realized they could no longer ignore the blatant oppression happening in at least the realms of race, gender, and class. These events shaped many ELT professionals, and we began to take issues of social responsibility very seriously.

In ELT, what I refer to as “the -isms” (racism, sexism, classism) are ubiquitous, yet they are clandestine. They are everywhere, but they are so embedded in our quotidian ways of understanding the world that we often fail to acknowledge them on sight because they are hidden and working in obscurity within our personal perspectives, classroom materials, and institutional policies. While there is much work being done to expose them, there is still much more to accomplish. In this age of social responsibility, it is simply not enough to illuminate the -isms; we must work together to disrupt them. To disrupt them, it will be necessary to understand that all -isms employ a similar mechanism. They all function as a powerful superordinate group acting to oppress a subordinate group, be it white people oppressing Black, Indigenous, and people of color; men oppressing women; or the upper classes oppressing the working classes and underclasses.

With this understanding, my colleague L. Alp Akarçay and I formed a task group at our university to address queer issues in ELT. One of our main goals of this task group was to establish an initiative to increase awareness of sexism, heterosexism, and cissexism in ELT and work with other professionals to develop ways to disrupt these issues. It became the Queering English Language Teaching Initiative (QELTI).

A particular focus of the QELTI was to work to disrupt heteronormativity, defined by Richardson (1996) as the institutionalization of heterosexuality (attraction or sexual contact between two people of different genders) as a “coherent, natural, fixed and stable category; … universal and monolithic … unified and distinct” (p. 2). Put simply, it is the normalization of heterosexuality and the othering of any different sexual identity or expression. The QELTI focused on igniting the disruption by reading relevant literature and having lively discussions, workshopping experimental materials for improvement, workshopping already existing materials to problematize them and halt their reifications of heteronormativity, and working to develop a toolkit as a reference for any professionals looking for support in their own disruption of heteronormativity.

Most of the participants in the initiative reported that they had little understanding of the issues, so we began with terminology. We did a vocabulary-matching activity all together to make sure everybody clearly understood what was meant by the language used outside of the heteronormativity bubble; items such as “ally,” “sex,” “gender,” “cisgender,” “sexual orientation,” “sexual expression,” “sexual identity,” and more were discussed in detail. We then spent several meetings reading articles Alp and I proposed and then we asked the participants to share some articles to read. Once we all shared a common understanding, we used a queer pedagogical approach to interrogate the ways heteronormativity directs the English language classroom. By utilizing this approach, we emphasized the interrogation and investigation of all identities and concepts, disrupting the notion that a commonly accepted heteronormative perspective is the normal, natural perspective (Sumara & Davis, 1999). This applies to all ideas and concepts within a pedagogical framework.

Meeting with other professionals, we understand that this is not limited to learners, but it is also important for all those involved in education, from instructors to administration. We encouraged interrogation and investigation as a way of looking at the world, using critical thinking to approach difference as a way to ensure socially responsible behavior and policymaking within an institutional setting and in the outside world beyond the ivory tower.

An example of a classroom approach we developed to implement follows the work of Deborah Britzman (1995). This approach works not only for disruption of heteronormativity, but it can be applied to the disruption of white supremacist and classist discourses. Britzman suggests some techniques for a queer pedagogical critical reading: acknowledging the limit of what is thought to be possible, confronting the knowledge of the self and the utilization of reading practices. She refers to three reading practices, which are (1) to acknowledge difference without attempting to identify with it; (2) to dialogue with oneself as a reader to interact with the text; and (3) to realize how one reads. With this in mind, we used an in-house text on film history to analyze with the learners. Remembering these techniques and reading practices, and a queer pedagogical framework of destabilizing the normative via questioning, we asked the learners a series of questions about the text, posing questions such as “Who is visible in the text? Who is the intended audience for the text? Who is missing from the text and from the audience?” We followed these questions with exploratory discussions, now asking, “Who would you like to see represented in the course content? Is it important to include others in the content? How does visibility in a text or as intended audience impact your motivation level or interest in your understanding of diversity?” We used Britzman’s reading practices as a guide to encourage the students to reflect on that which may not occur to them, what they know of themselves, and how difference plays a role in their outlook on the world.

Within the context of teaching EAP in a Turkish university, I found significance in the level of engagement the students displayed when asked these questions. They reported that they had never considered these ideas before and they were curious to discuss them. They were also quick to identify those present in the text and its intended audience as white. The text did not indicate whether the films were American, but the film titles were in English and the names mentioned were anglophone names; given that this activity was delivered in a class where the majority of the students did not identify themselves as “white,” this is a direct insight into the ways the -isms work to set up a cultural default. Furthermore, one student noted that they thought the text was written for “straight people” because “[the critics] never mention if [a character from any of the films] is straight or not. If you don’t say anything, people might say you’re straight.” That student seems to have a keen understanding of the ways heteronormativity works to make heterosexuality the standard.

During meetings with the initiative, we acknowledged that our activities designed to disrupt heteronormativity also would work well to disrupt white supremacy and socioeconomic oppression (such as in the aforementioned activity). This is possible because not only do the -isms all operate in the same manner, but it is almost impossible to parse them. Thus, it is imperative to adopt an approach based on the concept of intersectionality, proposed as an understanding of the confluence of multiple identities, in particular subordinated identities such as race and gender, and their simultaneous and mutually inextricable impacts on an individual (Crenshaw, 1989). Queer pedagogy must be acknowledged as anti-racist pedagogy and vice versa. A socially responsible pedagogy for ELT should aim to prepare students to enter the anglophone world ready to confront the issues that plague that world. To interrogate and rethink all ideas and concepts from a perspective that is not controlled by a heterosexist or white supremacist narrative opens space for acknowledgment and appreciation of every person. After all, do we not say that the goal of education, in general, is to educate every person?

During this time of cultural disruption due to COVID-19 and its subsequent response by the world at large, we can no longer return to the way our lives were. Therefore, it is essential that we all adopt a socially responsible pedagogical approach and work together to disrupt the -isms the same way that COVID-19 disrupted all our lives: staunchly and irrevocably.


Britzman, D. (1995). Is there a Queer pedagogy? Or, stop reading straight. Educational Theory, 45(2), 151-165.

Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, Feminist theory, and antiracist politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989(1), 139-167.

Richardson, D. (1996). Heterosexuality and social theory. In Richardson, D. (Ed.), Theorising heterosexuality: Telling it straight. Open University Press.

Sumara, D., & Davis, B. (1999). Interrupting heteronormativity: Toward a queer curriculum theory. Curriculum Inquiry, 29(2), 191-208.

Justin Jacobs is an EAP instructor in Istanbul. He has a bachelor’s degree in linguistics from Eastern Michigan University and a master’s degree in TESOL from New York University. His research interests are linguistics, phonetics, phonology, queer theory, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, racism, and classism.


Nayereh Nouri, Alliant International University, San Diego, California, USA

What do people usually think when they hear the words social justice? Are they actually familiar with this topic? What is their understanding of the meaning of social justice? Many students from all over the world in different fields of study apply to enhance their education in an American college or university. Most of us would agree that having the ability to obtain an education is a basic social and inalienable right of individuals. Unfortunately, this right, an aspect of social justice, has in recent years been denied to Iranian students—as well as individuals from other countries—simply because of their nationality. As an Iranian national, I would like to share the experience of my fellow citizens, who have had both their lives and assumptions about justice disrupted over the past few years.

For many international students, studying in the United States is a simple and easy process, but for Iranians it is next to impossible. Many Iranian students have been admitted to American universities but have not been issued student visas. Earning a U.S. visa is a difficult process for Iranians because, after receiving admission from a university, we have to make an appointment with the U.S. embassy in Turkey, Armenia, or Dubai as there are no diplomatic relations between Iran and the United States. This process not only takes time, but it is also costly, especially with the value of the U.S. dollar in Iran, due to the economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States. If we get lucky and our visa is not rejected at the same time, we may get stuck in a long administrative process that sometimes takes about three or four years to resolve.

We live in a world where there is a lot of talk about social justice, but this concept cannot be seen in many cases in practice. Social justice has been defined as “a philosophy––a system of beliefs, knowledge and values––that constitutes what is equitable, fair, and inclusive in our societies in terms of redistribution (e.g., economic and societal resources, opportunities, goods, and services)” (Ortaçtepe Hart & Martel, 2020). Many language learners or students in various fields of study can apply to study in the United States, whereas Iranian students who have been admitted to American colleges and universities have not been able to receive a student visa due to a travel ban implemented by President Trump in 2017 (the ban was overturned on January 20, 2021, by newly elected President Biden). This ban made visa issuance more difficult for Iranians and citizens of other nationalities, whether the person was seeking a student visa, an immigrant visa, or a tourist visa. This unjust travel ban has affected the educational and occupational lives of many thousands of Iranian students. Where, then, is social justice for students’ educational opportunities? Because of this injustice, many talented Iranian students cannot be educated in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs website report (n.d.), for instance, 3,241 and 2,650 F1 student visas were issued for Iranian students to enter the U.S. in 2015 and 2017, respectively. These numbers decreased to 1,433 in 2018 and 1,674 in 2019 after the travel ban was implemented.

The issue of social justice is a critical one, and the impact on Iranians should be taken into account. While I personally feel this injustice, my story has been repeated countless times among countless individuals (see Your Nextdoor Iranian, n.d.; Gutierrez, 2021). My elder sister fell victim to this situation, and her student visa was rejected by the U.S. embassy in Turkey on the false claim that her interest was not to study but to immigrate to the United States. She is a computer engineer, and the possibility to study in the U.S. was taken away from her. Because of this experience, she lost many job opportunities that might have come her way; therefore, she became depressed thinking about time passing by without her being able to make any educational and economic advancements.

Now, as a new administration will set immigration policy in the United States, it is my hope that this social justice issue can be resolved and that we can face a new future. If all goes well, there will be not only more equal-education opportunities for Iranian students but also for those students from other countries such as Libya, Somalia, and Syria that are among those affected by the travel ban. Thus, a more equitable social justice will be achieved. As a TESOL professional considering this issue, I can repeat here the phrase “think globally, act locally.” While we are not able to change international immigration issues, we are able to address social injustices where we see them. As Linville and Whiting (2020) stated, “Motivated in part by a sense of social justice, we can employ advocacy to improve educational access and outcomes for the ELs we work with on a daily basis.”

Author’s note: I am thankful for the helpful comments of the anonymous reviewer and my TESOL professor, Ken Kelch, who helped me to express my story of social justice.


Gutierrez, I. (2021, January 20). “Psychological trauma and stress”: The lasting impact of the “Muslim ban.” NBC News.

Linville, H., & Whiting, J. (2020, September 19). Social justice through TESOL advocacy. TESOL Journal.

Ortaçtepe Hart, D., & Martel, J. (2020). Exploring the transformative potential of English language teaching for social justice: Introducing the special issue. TESOL Journal.

U.S. Department of State—Bureau of Consular Affairs. (n.d.). Nonimmigrant visa issuances by visa class and by nationality.

Your Nextdoor Iranian. (n.d.). Facebook. Retrieved February 9, 2021, from

Nayereh Nouri is a doctoral student in TESOL. She is an English tutor over social media and has three years of experience in teaching EFL and ESL. Nayereh is Iranian American and lives in Los Angeles with her husband.



Helen Margaret Murray, Institute for Teacher Training, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim, Norway


This lesson, for intermediate to advanced learners of English, uses a discussion of environmental conflicts to increase pupils’ awareness of issues that affect Indigenous People’s homelands and ways of life. Pupils will read and use different types of authentic source materials to discuss and reflect on current environmental conflicts. The topic of Indigenous Peoples and environmental conflicts is relevant for course plans and curricula which include topics relating to culture in the English-speaking world. The structure and questions in this lesson can also be used for teaching about other types of conflict where multiple perspectives are involved. This activity can be found on the author’s website for teaching about Indigenous Peoples, Teach Indigenous Knowledge (Murray, 2017).

Theoretical Influences on Lesson Plan

This lesson plan is one of multiple activities in the classroom that encourage pupils in the development of intercultural competence, that is, in the knowledge and skills needed for meaningful communication with people of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and an understanding of how other peoples’ and the pupils’ own cultural background can affect their ways of living, ways of thinking, and communication patterns.

In teaching about Indigenous Peoples, pupils should have access to as wide a range of perspectives as possible. When collecting source materials, the teacher should aim to have pupils engage with “diversities” rather than a single “diversity” (Dervin, 2016, p. 28), as teaching about Indigenous Peoples as a homogenous group can encourage stereotyping, rather than meaningful interaction with the complexities of the conflicts and the multiplicity of perspectives involved.

This lesson plan is also a step towards an “indigenization” of teaching materials, that is, an approach to teaching in which Indigenous voices are given equal weight to those from the mainstream society (Olsen, 2017, p. 72). In this lesson, authentic materials made by Indigenous Peoples themselves are included to give pupils insight into different Indigenous perspectives on the conflicts.

As well as learning about the status of Indigenous Peoples in the English-speaking world, and comparing conflicts in different areas, this lesson encourages pupils to relate their newfound knowledge to conflicts within their own area and reflect on their own society and worldview. This insight into one’s own culture and society is a step toward developing pupils’ critical awareness of their own culture, which is an essential component of developing intercultural competence (Byram et al., 2002, pp. 11-13).

Lesson Plan

Part 1: Starting-Off Activity

After a brief general introductory text, pupils are asked to discuss:

  1. Maybe you have seen some conflicts in the news between Indigenous Peoples and the government of their countries?
  2. What were these conflicts about?

The aim of these two questions at the start of the lesson is to activate pupils and encourage them to reflect on what they already know about the topic. At this point, useful vocabulary and phrases can also be introduced.

Part 2: Working with Authentic Source Materials

After discussing the questions in Part 1, pupils choose one of two conflicts involving different Indigenous Peoples to study in-depth. On the author’s website, the two conflicts presented are fishing rights for Sámi people in northern Norway and the Standing Rock pipeline conflict in the United States. However, any conflicts involving Indigenous Peoples can be chosen for discussion, for example, mining on Aboriginal land in Australia, pipeline building on Indigenous lands in Canada, or the building of wind farms on Sámi reindeer grazing land in Norway. This means that the topics for study can be kept up to date, as recently occurring conflicts will also fit into the plan for this lesson.

Pupils are asked to read, listen, and watch a range of authentic source materials on the conflicts. These materials are of different genres and give multiple perspectives on the conflicts. They can be, for example, pictures, posters, podcasts, newspaper interviews and reports, video clips, and literary works such as poems or short stories. The aim should be for most sources to be made by Indigenous Peoples themselves.

Part 3: Classroom Presentation and Discussion

After working with the source materials and making notes, pupils are asked to present the conflict in class and discuss:

  1. What is the conflict? Give a factual summary of the conflict, including background and a timeline of important events (where relevant).
  2. What is the conflict about? Focus on why the conflict has arisen. Explain your reasoning. Some questions to consider: Is it due to different peoples having different economic interests? Is it due to a difference in how people view land ownership? Is it a conflict between traditional ways of living and modern industries/ways of life?
  3. What possible solutions to the conflict do you see? Which solution do you think would be best? Do you think this is likely to happen? Why/why not?

All three questions are given to pupils in advance so that pupils with weaker language skills can prepare before the classroom discussion. The first question starts by focusing on the factual details of the conflicts and is aimed at giving EFL pupils practice in describing situations in English. This can be useful practice for pupils with lower levels of language skills. The second question requires the pupils to move away from the reproduction of information, by asking them to reflect on what they have learned and to engage in the ideas behind the conflicts. The “questions to consider” are given as an aid and a prompt for pupils in thinking over why the conflicts might have occurred. The third question requires pupils to engage in finding realistic solutions, which can give them a greater awareness of the complex natures of these conflicts. By working with ongoing conflicts in the present day, the pupils can follow the situations as they progress and see if their solutions are those that are chosen in real life and, if not, to discuss why that might be.

Part 4: Further Discussion and Reflection

In the final part of this lesson, pupils relate what they have learned to what they have learned in previous lessons about Indigenous Peoples’ societies and worldviews.

  1. What is a good way of life? What do you think should be the aim of a society? Do you think the society in which you live is trying to reach that aim?
  2. How much personal responsibility should people take for the society in which they live?
  3. Do you think people currently take responsibility or do changes need to be made?

In Part 4 of this lesson, pupils are encouraged to see the conflicts from a wider perspective and to relate what they have learned to their own perspectives and cultural influences. At this point, they can also discuss conflicts in their own area and what possible solutions there might be for these conflicts. These final questions are aimed at pupils with advanced levels of language skills, to give them practice in explaining their thoughts and opinions in English.


This lesson plan uses specific environmental conflicts to raise pupils’ awareness of issues that affect Indigenous Peoples across the English-speaking world and to encourage them to discuss the complex nature of these issues and begin to reflect on possibilities for solving them. While this lesson plan has been used for teaching about a specific topic for intermediate and advanced learners of English in Norway, the ideas behind and the structure of this lesson can be used to discuss other forms of conflict in modern-day society in which multiple perspectives exist. This lesson can be a means to encourage the use of the English language in the classroom to discuss and debate real-life issues that are relevant for pupils all over the world.


Byram, M., Gribkova, B., & Starkey, H. (2002). Developing the intercultural dimension in language teaching: A practical introduction for teachers. Council of Europe.

Dervin, F. (2016). Interculturality in education. Macmillan.

Murray, H. (2017). Indigenous peoples and environmental issues. Teach Indigenous Knowledge.

Olsen, T. (2017). Colonial conflicts: Absence, inclusion, and indigenization in textbook representations of indigenous peoples. In B. Andreassen, & S. Thobro, Textbook violence. Equinox.

Helen Margaret Murray taught English at lower and secondary schools in Norway for about 17 years before starting work in teacher education. She is the leader of the research group Indigenous Topics in Education at NTNU. Her primary research focus is on the teaching of topics relating to Indigenous Peoples.



Warifa Sobh, Dearborn, Michigan, USA

I am a passionate educator, a working mother and an imperfect lifelong learner, trying her best every single day.
I wonder, constantly, what my students experience outside of school walls:
Are they cared for in the best way possible?
I hear their future calling out to them, one by one: “THE SKY IS THE LIMIT!”
I see hope, light and beauty in mundane, everyday items and occurrences
I want everyone to be as hopeful as I am, for what is life without HOPE?
I am a passionate educator, a working mother and an imperfect lifelong learner, trying her best every single day.

I fight so that evil ceases to exist in the world
I feel most alive when I am working with young minds, preparing them for an unpredictable future
I touch the hearts of many, daily, and intermittently ponder: How lucky am I to have such a privilege?
I worry when I think about my loved ones or hear loud sirens passing by
I cry when I see refugees escaping their war-torn countries, only to be treated even worse elsewhere. Aren’t we all refugees in a way, fighting to survive in search of a better life?
I am a passionate educator, a working mother and an imperfect lifelong learner, trying her best every single day.

I understand that life is not always fair for everyone, but adversity will take turns visiting us
I say we are all connected through our shared humanity, so explain to me please: How is it that one person can live in starvation, poverty and even danger while others obliviously go unmoved?
I dream of a peaceful, nonjudgmental and equal world: war, pollution and disease free
I try to make everyone around me laugh, for life is so fragile and brief. We need to enjoy it more!
I hope to live a life of purpose and make a difference in the world, before it is time for my sun to set
I am a passionate educator, a working mother and an imperfect lifelong learner, trying her best every single day.

Warifa Sobh is a middle- and high-school English and English-language teacher. Previously, she had taught internationally for eight years, teaching English in American and international baccalaureate (IB) schools. She holds a Masters in TESOL from Eastern Michigan University and is deeply interested in researching and studying about refugees and language acquisition.