ESP Project Leader Profile: Valia Spiliotopoulos

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

It is wonderful to be able to start the new year (2018) with the 39th ESP project leader profile! This profile features Valia Spiliotopoulos at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. Valia is the supervisor of the incoming ESPIS chair-elect, Ismaeil Fazel.

Please read Valia’s bio below:

Valia Spiliotopoulos completed her Ph.D. in Language and Literacy Education at the University of British Columbia (UBC), and has taught EAP and ESP for over 15 years across Canada in Quebec (Laval University), Ontario (University of Toronto), and British Columbia (UBC and SFU). She is currently the Director for the Centre for English Language Learning, Teaching, and Research (CELLTR), and an Associate Professor of Professional Practice at Simon Fraser University. Originally from Greece, Valia recognized the important role that language plays in terms of access to education and professional opportunities in Canada’s officially bilingual and multicultural context. She obtained degrees in both English and French as an additional language, and completed her teacher certification in second language education. She is currently teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in language teacher education and draws on her rich experiences of teaching English and French in various contexts. Her current research interests focus on how faculty/teacher development and curriculum innovation (i.e., content and language-integrated learning, intercultural competency development) can improve teaching and multilingual student learning, particularly in discipline-specific university environments. She has published in the Canadian Modern Language Review; presented at local, national, and international conferences; and received university and government grants in support of a range of educational initiatives. Given her current leadership role, she is also interested in broader questions of systemic educational change that supports inclusion and student success of multilingual learners, with a particular focus on the nature and impact of interdisciplinary collaborations.

In the following interview, Valia focuses on program development that includes strands of ESP training for undergraduate and graduate students in different fields.

Dr. Valia Spiliotopoulos
Associate Professor of Professional Practice, Faculty of Education
Director, Centre for English Language Learning, Teaching, and Research
Simon Fraser University

How would you define leadership?
Leadership is the ability to share your passion, vision, and values, and draw others in wholeheartedly.  A true leader models both practices and dispositions, takes action, and makes things happen based on research, analysis, and evaluation. A respected leader also demonstrates genuine caring about the professional and personal progress and well-being of team members. He or she focuses on showcasing individuals’ work, strengths, and talents, and supports them in moving forward in the face of inevitable challenges.  Effective leadership involves an awareness of the political environment in an organization, and engaging in ongoing communication, negotiation, and coordination with team members, as well internal and external stakeholders. Leading with integrity and fairness in the field of ESP is particularly important because we are ultimately advocating and supporting those who are in a position of vulnerability and who may not yet have professional power, language, and communication skills to achieve their goals.

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?

 Project: Growing the Centre for English Language Learning, Teaching, and Research at Simon Fraser University

 Project Description: Build capacity and develop a centre that coordinates language support across faculties and support units as well as engages in research and development projects that address English as an additional language (EAL) students’ needs across the disciplines.

Outcome: This project is still underway, but we have had small victories with limited resources:

  • We have gathered important data from postentry language assessments over the course of three years, developed a required second-year writing-intensive course for undergraduate students in business and in economics, as well as offered course-aligned support to undergraduate students in engineering.
  • We have partnered with faculties to provide support to graduate students in communications, as well as those in the international teaching assistant (TA) program.
  • Interest and attendance at our faculty development sessions has increased, and our co-curricular online and face-to-face programs, such as Tandem Language Exchange, Job Search Success, and Intercultural Communication, have supported inclusion, have helped develop confidence and skills and have celebrated linguistic and cultural diversity.

These small victories energize us and keep us moving forward in realizing the vision and goals of a multilingual campus community.

Stakeholder Communication
An overwhelming portion of the leadership role involves the coordination and ongoing communication with a variety of stakeholders across the university: students, program directors, student advisors, deans and associate deans, faculty, sessional instructors, TAs, staff. Five main strategies have supported the communication process:

  1. Faculty liaisons (lecturers) assigned to a faculty member within the university (i.e., applied science, business) that identify needs and issues, provide support, and report back to our centre
  2. Project agreement documentation shared with our partners that identify resource requirements, timelines, and the roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders
  3. Biweekly group meetings involving those internal to the centre where projects, lessons learned, and ideas are shared, as well as bimonthly meetings where we provide project updates to external partners and address university-wide governance, coordination, and strategic planning
  4. A website that shares details on projects and events, and offers important resources to students, faculty, and staff. A web-based, mail-out newsletter is also distributed every term.
  5. Participation and representation at faculty-level curriculum meetings, as well as regular one-on-one meetings with program directors, student advisors, associate deans, and deans to discuss needs, resources, and strategy.

The success of the project will depend in large part on ongoing communications, negotiations, and consensus-building around the most effective ways of providing EAL support across the disciplines.  In a research-intensive environment like Simon Fraser University, stakeholder buy-in will likely occur if decisions and supports are informed by previous and current research in the field, data-informed decisions, and developmental evaluation that help us understand the impact of various interventions.  It is hoped that these communication strategies will help develop a university-wide community of practice that supports and celebrates multilingual students across campus.

What I like most about Valia’s profile is that it provides us with a vision of managing multiple projects with a diverse group of stakeholders. From a leadership communication perspective, I was especially pleased to read Valia’s five strategies. I think that such communication strategies are a useful reference for ESP project leaders trying to obtain the support of various stakeholders. In her profile, I also see strands of ESP in the course-aligned support provided for engineering undergraduates and for graduate students in communications and in the international TA program.

I have learned from ESP project leader Margaret van Naerssen the importance of clarifying when we are actually ESP practitioners. For example, I was recently asked to teach three new courses in English, and the content will be business communication, small group communication, and language and culture. My undergraduate students will be from Europe, North America, and Asia (including Japan). I plan to use case studies and project-based learning to provide content-based instruction (CBI). In this case, I am not taking an ESP approach. For an introduction to ESP, please see the ESP PowerPoint on the ESPIS homepage.

Do you have any questions or comments for Valia? Please feel free to contact her directly!

All the best,

About Kevin Knight

Kevin Knight
Kevin Knight (PhD in Linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is an associate professor in the Department of International Communication (International Business Career major) and has also been working in the Career Education Center of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. In the TESOL ESP Interest Section (ESPIS), he has served as chair and English in occupational settings (EOS) representative, and he is currently the ESPIS community manager. He was also a member of the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) appointed by the board of directors. In addition, he has been a TESOL blogger in the area of English for Specific Purposes (ESP). He has more than 30 years of professional experience working for private, public, and academic sector institutions including Sony and the Japan Patent Office. His doctoral research on leadership communication (i.e., discourse) as a basis for leadership development was under the supervision of Emeritus Professor Christopher Candlin and Dr. Alan Jones.
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One Response to ESP Project Leader Profile: Valia Spiliotopoulos

  1. Karima says:

    Thanks a lot for sharing your wonderful experience and many thanks for the techniques of being a good leader,however it is always hard to succeed as a leader in certain countries because of obstacles

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