Denise Murray examines the future of the TESOL profession in preparation for next month’s international summit
What are the megatrends (political, economic, social, intercultural, legal, and digital) that are impacting English and English language education? How
can we overcome the native speaker as the standard and address the changing realities of English language use around the world? How can practice shape and inform policy and research in TESOL? How can linguistic diversity be leveraged while teaching English?
These are just some of the questions that will be addressed at the Summit on the Future of the TESOL Profession. The summit, an initiative of TESOL International Association, is aimed at groups or individuals actively engaged in planning, facilitating, resourcing, assessing, researching, and making decisions about the teaching of English to speakers of other languages.
The use of English around the world has increased dramatically, bringing both opportunities and challenges for individuals, governments, and English language educators. To meet the challenges and broaden opportunities, the TESOL profession needs to examine its knowledge base, its values, and the diverse contexts of English language teaching. Through this examination, the profession can ensure a more inclusive, collaborative approach to English language education in the 21st century.
The summit is guided by three principles that express the values for both the summit and the teaching of English worldwide:
Equity: English should be accessible in varying contexts and cultures and should not supplant home language(s).
Professionalism: Professional development should promote sustainable, continuous, collaborative, and coherent activities. The TESOL profession should re-examine its body of knowledge with a focus on change and innovation as opposed to only academic outputs.
Inquiry: TESOL practice and policy should be inquiry based, with practice informing research as well as research informing practice and policy.
The summit will help re-envision a future grounded in these principles by generating a strategic conversation around four major themes: futurology, English in multilingualism, reimagining English competence, and the profession as change agent. The ultimate goal of the summit is to develop a framework for the future of the TESOL profession that will guide policy, practice, and research. Stakeholders will be asked to commit to this renewed vision.
Futurism. Futurology is the study of the future. Using various models that consider the social, political, economic, legal, intercultural, and technological dimensions of the changes likely to be encountered, futurists plan scenarios for the years ahead (e.g., Schmieder-Ramirez and Mallette, 2007). This broad, holistic perspective is essential for understanding the English language profession both today and in the future. Current and expected disruptive changes in several of these dimensions are affecting and will affect the TESOL profession:
Population mobility results from competing ideologies, political and economic power shifts, economic inequality, and climate change.
Governance structures and processes of traditional institutions are too inflexible and sclerotic for the current rapid change. Decision making is therefore caught between immediate responses without full knowledge and thought and stasis or immobility while processes take their time.
Free courses and websites, online programs, and for-profit corporations have proliferated to meet the demands for both English and teachers.
Instant social technology amplifies these issues.
The TESOL profession therefore needs to become more agile and entrepreneurial.
English in Multilingualism. This theme explores the role of English as one language in the linguistic repertoire of learners and educators. There is an image of English as the ruling language that may eradicate linguistic diversity. Yet the TESOL profession, in its mission to teach English, must embrace the opportunity to simultaneously support multilingualism. To this end, the summit recognizes the multilingualism of students of English and TESOL professionals (particularly nonnative-English-speaking teachers) as a societal asset.
Trends around the world have led to practices and policies that do not support the home language(s) or view multilingualism as such an asset:
Native-English-speaking teachers are often preferred over nonnative speakers, even if they have no qualifications in TESOL. Yet research shows that nonnative speakers bring advantages to the language classroom (e.g., Braine, 2013; Llurda, 2006).
English is being introduced at younger and younger ages in the hope that these learners and their countries will have a competitive advantage because they will be English speakers. However, insufficient resources are allocated to meet these policies.
Similarly, English has been introduced widely as the medium of instruction, especially for science and mathematics, such that learners no longer have the discourse of science or mathematics in their home languages (Klippel, 2008).
Schools and governments institute English-only policies in the English language classroom, which deny the linguistic resources that learners and teachers bring to the language classroom.
The vast majority of English language teaching takes place in countries where English is not a national language and therefore the teachers are most likely local, speaking the local language(s).
Reimagining English Competence. Building on the theme of the role of English in multilingualism, the summit will explore what it means to be a competent user of English. English competence has traditionally been defined in reference to a “native or ideal speaker” norm and in terms of the grammar of the language. This definition has been challenged, not only for nonnative-English-speaking teachers but also as a goal for English learners. Traditionally, this “native speaker” has been from the English-dominant countries of the UK and U.S., despite the viable and valid Englishes (Kachru, 2001) used around the world. English then is a global family of languages, not a single language with one set of grammatical rules (Jones and Bradwell, 2007).
English use also varies according to the purpose for which it is used, so that children learning English as immigrants to the U.S. or Australia, for example, need to develop the academic discourses for schooling if they are to be successful. In contrast, the business woman in China learning English to interact globally in English with companies around the world needs the discourse of negotiation and business. The summit will explore the nature of these multiple Englishes that arise in different contexts and determine how they can be incorporated in frameworks, standards, large-scale tests, and rubrics.
The Profession as Change Agent. The knowledge base from the three previous themes will help empower all TESOL professionals to foster positive change within a risk-tolerant culture. Policy often occurs without input from TESOL professionals, especially practitioners, researchers, and professional associations. Innovation and enquiry need to be encouraged among practitioners, and practitioners need to be better positioned to influence research and policy. The summit seeks to reinvigorate educational institutions, policy making, and practice to ensure a sustainable, inquiry-based profession for the future.
Organization of the Summit
The summit is a hybrid event, with virtual and face-to-face components. In the virtual environment, TESOL professionals from around the world will engage in discussions around the four themes. They will be guided in these discussions by twelve respected and innovative thought leaders from six continents, who will posit questions that challenge current thinking and provide a springboard for participants to discuss their own contexts and how the themes resonate for them. These twelve leaders will challenge common misconceptions and will help re-envision a future grounded in the guiding principles and drawing on the virtual contextual discussions.
Our twelve virtual leaders are also the summit’s featured speakers, who will use the intensive online discussions to enrich the knowledge base for the face-to-face event in Athens, Greece. This meeting will feature an invited audience of 200 industry leaders from around the world who influence English language education, policy, and practice. These summit delegates will hold high-level strategic discussions generated by the twelve speakers on what it means to be a TESOL professional and take part in the creation of a roadmap for countries and institutions seeking to upgrade or reform their language-education policies.
Following the face-to-face component will be another online segment to discuss the outcomes of the face-to-face meeting and generate broad agreement on a shared vision for the future of the profession that will influence advocacy efforts, innovation, research, policy, and practice. This vision will be articulated in a framework that stakeholders will be asked to support and implement. The document that provides this framework will be released at the 2018 TESOL International Convention and English Language Expo, March 27–30, 2018, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Braine, G. (Ed.). (2013). Non-Native Educators in English Language Teaching. New York: Routledge.
Jones, S., and Bradwell, P. (2007). As You Like It: Catching Up in an Age of Global English. London: Demos.
Kachru, Y. (2001). “Discourse Competence in World Englishes.” In E. Thumboo (Ed.), The Three Circles of English (341–356). Singapore: UniPress.
Klippel, F. (2008). “New Prospects or Imminent Danger? The impact of English medium of instruction on education in Germany.” In D. E. Murray (Ed.), Planning Change, Changing Plans: Innovations in Second Language Teaching (26–42). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Llurda, E. (Ed.). (2006). Non-Native Language Teachers: Perceptions, Challenges and Contributions to the Profession. New York: Springer.
Schmieder-Ramirez, J. H., and Mallette, L. A. (2007). The SPELIT Power Matrix: Untangling the Organizational Environment with the SPELIT Leadership Tool. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
Denise Murray chairs the steering committee of the TESOL Summit. She is professor emerita at Macquarie University, Australia, and San José State University, California. Denise has worked in language education in Thailand, the UK, the U.S., and her native Australia. Her research and practice center on the intersection of language education, society, and technology; language education policy; and leadership in language education. For more information or to sign up for the online conversation, visit www.tesolsummit.org.