As members of the TESOL International Association will recall, in March 2014, after years of meetings, consultation, and gathering feedback, the 85-page report of the TESOL International Association’s Governance Review Task Force was made public. In the Executive Summary of the report, the task force noted their finding that “there is no coherent or readily obvious leadership pipeline [in the association]” (p. 4), and that “many leaders [in the association] felt unprepared for their jobs when they began their positions” (p. 5).
This important finding would make leadership development within the association a recurring theme and one of its priorities in the years ahead. However, the notion of a “pipeline” was problematic. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a pipeline is “a very long large tube, often underground, through which liquid or gas can flow for long distances.” Pipelines should be for petroleum, not for people. Having chosen not to talk in terms of “pipelines,” the TESOL Board of Directors chose instead to talk using other, more humane metaphors, such as “leadership ladders” and “leadership pathways.”
Growing out of the work of the Governance Review Task Force, two task forces were struck in 2015: the Interest Section Task Force (ISTF), and the Affiliate Task Force, two organizational entities that have been part of the association since it began. After 50 years, it was time to step back and reflect on how the first half-century of these entities had fared, with a view to planning for the second half-century. The Interest Section Task Force report, (99 pp.) which was made public in March 2016, contained a number of references to the importance of training and supporting TESOL members in leadership roles. For example, the report stated that “research by the ISTF as well as the ISTF’s personal experience show that the level of success of an [interest section] is highly dependent on who is leading the group at the moment” (p. 15). In April 2016, the Affiliate Task Force report (117 pp.) was made public, and again, leadership training was identified as playing “a vital role in developing new leaders for the association” (p. 2).
As a result of the importance afforded leadership in the task force reports, a Leadership Development Working Group was set up in May 2016. The group was made up of myself and two other members of the TESOL Board of Directors: Silvia Laborde (2016–2019) in Uruguay, and Kyungsook Yeum (2015–2018) in South Korea. The three of us being spread across 13 time zones is a common challenge facing members of a board of directors like ours, but in spite of the vast distances separating us, we were able to have regular meetings online throughout the year.
One of our first tasks was to conduct an inventory of leadership development resources already available in the association. We found that TESOL provides many more resources that other associations, including the ELT Leadership Management Certificate Program, the Leadership Development Certificate Program, and the Leadership Mentoring Program, which has been running for more than 20 years. One problem is that the information about these, and other, leadership development opportunities are scattered across the TESOL website, which has grown along with the association. To address that problem, the Leadership Development Working Group has gathered association leadership resources from across the website onto a single web page, and we invited five current and past board members to create a set of leadership chronologies showing the very different routes they followed to arrive at their leadership positions within the association. We believe that these new resources could help members, especially new members, understand how to navigate the different pathways to association leadership.
As we explain in the notes that accompany the chronologies, we are not suggesting that all leadership paths should lead to serving on TESOL’s Board of Directors. TESOL International Association offers many other leadership opportunities, for example, within interest sections, affiliates, task forces, and professional councils. The association needs leaders at all levels, and the current leadership is committed to doing everything we can to support each other and to mentor and encourage future leaders. We hope that you will find these new resources useful and helpful, and we look forward to hearing from you, with your ideas for what we can do to help you become effective leaders in our association.