Hello, ESPers worldwide!
In the 49th ESP Project Leader Profile, we travel again to the United Kingdom, this time to meet Louise Greener, and we gain insights into spreading “organizational culture” and “best institutional and pedagogical practices.”
Louise was introduced to me by another ESP project leader in England, Andy Gillett. Please read her bio.
Louise Greener is currently associate professor (teaching) and head of Pre-sessional programmes in the Durham Centre for Academic Development. Louise has worked in English language teaching since 1998, first as a general English teacher in Poland and Mexico, and, since 2002, in English for academic purposes (EAP) at U.K. universities. In her current role, she manages Pre-sessional provision at Durham University, delivers modules in global Englishes and teaching EAP on the MA programmes in TESOL and applied linguistics, and supervises dissertations on related topics. She is also an assessor for the BALEAP Accreditation Scheme.
In her interview responses, Louise talks about the Pre-sessional programme at Durham.
Associate Professor (Teaching) and Head of Pre-sessional Programmes
Durham Centre for Academic Development
Define leadership in your own words.
Considering my own experience in English for academic purposes (EAP) management, and reflecting on successes and failures, I would suggest the following as a summary of how I try to approach my leadership role. I attempt to focus on:
- having a clear ethos and direction for the programme that can be communicated to the wider institution, my own department, Pre-sessional teachers, and students;
- ensuring I am aware of wider sector and institutional issues that might impact the delivery of the programme;
- ensuring I am aware of developments in scholarship and research relevant to EAP;
- ensuring everyone involved in the delivery of the programme has the time, support, and resources to contribute effectively;
- understanding that it’s not my job to have all the great ideas, but to support and facilitate others;
- ensuring there are plenty of avenues for feedback from a range of sources (including departments, teachers, students, and professional services) and providing protected space for review and reflection, as well as accepting that good ideas are not always good ideas indefinitely; and
- “treating triumph and disaster just the same” and trying to keep perspective in the face of inevitable challenges (which is often easier said than done!).
Of course, I’m still learning, and I still make mistakes!
Tell me an ESP project success story. Focus on your communication as a leader in the project. How did you communicate with stakeholders to make that project successful?
The Pre-sessional programme at Durham has grown over the years, from approximately 300 students in 2011–12 to nearly 800 students in 2017–18. Most of our students are heading to postgraduate courses in business, law, education, or TESOL, although we work with students from all departments.
I should note that we are by no means the biggest Pre-sessional in the sector; some institutions have nearly 2,000 students. However, even working at this scale presents real challenges, and delivering a successful programme requires effective communication with all of our stakeholders.
The goal of the Pre-sessional programme is to develop our students’ academic language and literacy skills and to prepare them for life in their Durham departments; we aim to deliver a curriculum and assessments that, where possible, are differentiated by academic discipline. Communicating clearly with university senior management, departments, and professional services, therefore, is crucial for both the smooth running of the programme and institutional understanding of what a Pre-sessional programme delivers.
Our students are highly able and highly motivated. The course has developed in response to our particular context; it is both intense and demanding, and we set clear expectations from the outset. Student feedback is always invaluable, and questionnaires and focus groups help ensure we are both challenging students and providing them with something of worth when they progress to their departments.
Most of our 60+ Pre-sessional teachers are hired in for the summer, and although we are lucky to work with highly qualified and experienced professionals, if we are to deliver high-quality provision across the programme, it is essential that our teachers understand our approach to EAP and the principles that have informed our curriculum and materials design. Therefore, we spend as much time thinking about the teacher experience as we do about the student experience, and it is our goal is to have as many teachers as possible want to return year after year.
We have come to appreciate the importance of a detailed teacher induction that sets out the goals and ethos of the programme, of having weekly meetings that focus on the curriculum, and of having coherent, well-developed materials that allow teachers to concentrate on how they will deliver the content rather than on queuing at the photocopier. We learn endlessly from our teachers, who provide sometimes bracing, but always valuable, feedback and insight.
Delivering a successful large-scale Pre-sessional is challenging on many levels and, as we’re often working on shifting sands (be it new U.K. Visas and Immigration regulations, new discipline areas or unexpected increases in student numbers leading to last-minute teacher recruitment), it requires endless problem-solving and real resilience from those in leadership roles. However, there is great satisfaction in delivering something, sometimes against the odds, that students and teachers have found meaningful and valuable.
I was inspired by Louise’s focus on communicating to share the “vision” in order to make the vision into reality. I am reminded of Harvard Business School professor Tsedal Neely‘s TEDxCambridge presentation titled Why Global Success Depends On Separating Language & Culture. On the website, her talk is described:
How can language be used to unite rather than divide a global workforce? Through her unfettered access to the inner workings of the globalization efforts of one of the fastest growing technology companies in the world, Harvard Business School professor Tsedal Neeley disrupts prevailing beliefs by revealing the power of treating language and culture separately…
In my classes, my students were having trouble understanding how language and culture can be separated, so I used the following examples:
- The people who live in one part of Japan (Kansai) and another part of Japan (Kanto) have different business practices, different dialects, etc. From one perspective, they have different cultures. However, they use Japanese as a common language to communicate.
- In your company, there are different departments. These departments have different leaders and different ways of getting work done. They have different technical language and business practices, but they use a common language to communicate.
- At school, there are different clubs (i.e., “circles”). The Japanese archery club and the hula dance club have different rules and different ways of doing things. They describe their activities with specialized words, but they can communicate with a common language.
In the TED Talk, I was impressed with how the Japanese company Rakuten had used English as a common language to spread its corporate culture—the company’s way of doing things. Louise, with her teacher inductions, is doing something (on a smaller scale) similar to the leaders in Rakuten headquarters, who promote the central corporate culture and business practices to Rakuten subsidiaries worldwide.
Do you have questions or comments for Louise? Please feel free to contact her directly.
All the best,