Leading and Managing Change and Innovation at TESOL

The TESOL President’s Blog

According to its website, the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) “represents more than 21,000 association executives and industry partners representing more than 9,300 organizations.” Their members “manage leading trade associations, individual membership societies and voluntary organizations across the United States and in nearly 50 countries around the world.”

One of the activities of the ASAE is to organize training and development events for people who have taken on leadership roles in their own associations, and each year, in June, the four Executive Committee members of TESOL International Association’s Board of Directors attends 2 days of intensive leadership development organized by the ASAE. It’s a good opportunity to meet and talk with leaders and mangers in other associations, some of which are also in the field of education, such as the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators and the Association of University Technology Managers.

But some are from very different fields from those we usually come across in our day-to-day work, including the National Association of Elevator Contractors and Women in Trucking Inc. It’s worth noting, though, that even associations such as these see one of their roles as the educational development of their members. So, although our association was one of those focused on education, all of the associations at the ASAE event see themselves as playing an important educational role in their respective professions.

Given the considerable diversity of associations represented, it was interesting to see that many of our associations were facing similar challenges. These included how to continue to meet the growing and changing needs and wants of our members, especially in relation to technology-driven changes, such as the growth of social networking, and demographic changes, with younger professionals not joining as many associations as their previous generation of colleagues.

Our ASAE presenters showed us a diagram of a “Life Cycle of an Association,” which I found especially useful, partly because of my medical science background, but also because of how the different phases helped me to think about where the different parts of the association are now, in terms of their development. The phases are:

  1. Conception
  2. Infancy
  3. Puberty
  4. Young Adulthood
  5. Adulthood
  6. Late Adulthood
  7. Old Age
  8. Revitalization or Obscurity and Eventual Dissolution

One of the recurring themes over the 2 days was the challenges of leading and managing change, which it seemed that all of the associations represented—more than 30 from an extremely wide range of professions—were being challenged by. On the one hand, if we leave things the same, an association ends up in the “obscurity and eventual dissolution” part of the association life cycle. But any attempt to change anything will inevitably upset some members, as many of us are programmed to resist change, because embracing change means moving into the unknown and taking risks, neither of which most people are inclined to do willingly. Given the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t nature of leading and managing change, some of the helpful things we learned are that leaders are supposed to be agents of change, and that if you are agents of change, and if you’re not getting at least some resistance, you’re probably not doing it right!

We were also reminded of the differences between Change, which can be random and negative, and Innovation, which is planned, purposeful, and positive. We applied these ideas to areas of our work, such as the implementation of the association’s new 3-year Strategic Plan and the new Governance Model, which is the culmination of 3 years of work, starting with the striking of the Governance Review Task Force, in 2012. As one of the most comprehensive reviews of how the association is structured and functions since TESOL was founded in 1966, this represents a major new development in the life cycle of our association.

We believe that this new Governance Model, our new 3-year Strategic Plan, and many other initiatives and innovations will enable a revitalization of our association, which will help to ensure that future generations of TESOLers see membership as an essential part of their professional life. We look forward to hearing from you, with your ideas about how we can continue to achieve this goal.


About Andy Curtis

Andy Curtis
From 2015–2016, Andy Curtis served as the 50th president of TESOL International Association. He has coauthored and coedited around 200 publications and worked with more than 50,000 language educators in more than 100 countries. His current research is focused on the New Peace Linguistics. He is an online professor in the Graduate School of Education at Anaheim University, and he is based in Ontario, Canada, from where he works as an independent language education consultant for organizations worldwide.
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One Response to Leading and Managing Change and Innovation at TESOL

  1. Raúl Cervantes Desouches says:

    It’s an exciting moment for TESOL, it seems. I must say that we have reduced our attendance to the yearly conventions because as EFL teachers in language institutes outside the US, we have found fewer talks that are relevant to our situation. There seems to be an offering of US-centered issues, such as Common Core, immigration, and EAP. This is understandable, but, coming from abroad, it makes the expense too burdensome and, in the eyes of decision makers, not worthwhile.

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