Proposal for Knowledge-Based Member Communities

As part of its comprehensive review of governance processes and structures, TESOL International Association has been examining the function and structure of its knowledge-based member communities (KBMCs). Currently known as interest sections, these communities have been a central means for members to engage with the association for many years, and it is important that we ensure first that we have a clear understanding of their functions and second that we structure them in a way that best serves those functions.

In June 2015 a task force was appointed to examine our current interest section model and to make recommendations for both the role and structure of these communities in achieving the overall mission of the association to promote quality English language teaching. Their report was shared in April 2016.

Taken together, the reports of the Governance Review Task Force and the IS Task Force signal the need for

  • Greater clarity with respect to function for our KBMCs, their role in association governance, and how they should internally govern themselves
  • Greater attention to the development and support of KBMC leaders and the work they are asked to do to ensure that it serves their group’s contribution to the association’s mission and vision
  • Moving KBMCs from a dominant focus on convention-related tasks to being groups engaged in year-round activity
  • Establishing clear pathways of communication between KBMCs, the Board of Directors, and association staff.

With these findings in mind, the Board of Directors has drafted a proposal. It was shared with interest section leaders during a Virtual Town Hall meeting on 14 December (a transcript is also available), and it is now being shared with the membership at large for comment.

We invite feedback from all members of TESOL International Association. Comments may be posted publicly below or emailed directly to me. Please submit all comments no later than 12 February 2017. The Board of Directors will review these comments with the goal of producing a draft policy on knowledge-based member communities as well as a timeline for implementation. The Board will discuss these documents at the annual convention in Seattle. The hope is that following the current online discussions and then the discussions in Seattle, we will be ready in April 2017 to adopt a new policy as well as a timeline for transitioning from the current and the new structures.

About Dudley Reynolds

Dudley Reynolds
Dudley Reynolds is the 2016-2017 president of TESOL International Association and a teaching professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, where he teaches first-year writing. Over his career he has also taught elementary school learners in Egypt, intensive English students at Indiana University, and MA TESOL candidates at the University of Houston. His research focuses on teacher development and second language literacy issues.
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15 Responses to Proposal for Knowledge-Based Member Communities

  1. I was quite excited to see the TESOL International Association embracing Professional Learning Networks (PLNs). However, I’m afraid that the proposal for PLNs seems to be too top-down in terms of applying for PLN status and using TESOL’s online platform.

    I’m already a member of several formal and informal PLNs focused on TESOL-related issues. Is there a way for TESOL to officially approve certain pre-existing PLNs instead of creating new ones? I think it would be in TESOL’s best interest to seek out some thriving independent PLNs that already have TESOL members and develop a partnership with them. I believe this friendly gesture will grow membership. With social media, it is easy to publicly develop and publicly renounce partnerships with online groups. This transparency would also help advertise TESOL’s principles and commitment to professional growth.

    I’m seeing more and more TESOL professionals starting and growing their own PLNs outside of TESOL. This has me worried for TESOL’s future. I value an engaged professional community of teachers, and my hope is that TESOL can be at the center of this community. There are so many new English language teachers out there on social media that would love to see greater support from TESOL and TESOL members. This is my area of research interest, and I enjoy watching the evolution of and relationship between PLNs and professional teaching organizations.

    • Deborah Short says:

      It is beneficial to have a proposal for the knowledge-based member communities shared widely with the membership for review and comment. I would like to commend the Interest Section task force for its hard work gathering input from TESOL members and reflecting on the findings of the Governance Review Task Force.

      As I read through the proposal, I considered what was broken with the current IS system and what was not. Areas of “brokenness” (when viewed in light of TESOL’s mission and goals) seem to be the following: 1) Some IS are only active around the convention; 2) Some IS have too few members; 3) There may be too many IS in TESOL resulting in an unwieldy organism; 4) Some IS have difficulty with leadership transitions; 5) Some IS members feel disconnected from TESOL International; 6) IS members want improved communication within and across TESOL entities; and 7) Procedures across the ISs are inconsistent.

      This proposal addresses a number of these areas well, in my view. The procedures manual to be required of all professional knowledge sections would be very useful, and with a similar template to be used by all, the manuals should yield consistency across the groups. Requiring each group to have a Chair and Communications Manager is valuable, although the role of the communications manager would best be broader than just developing newsletters. Such a manual can set guidelines for leadership transition within the group and for communication networks within and across groups.

      Having each group write an annual plan that sets out year-round activities and shows how the group connects to and hopefully advances TESOL’s mission and, where relevant, strategic initiatives is an excellent proposition. This concept would keep the group active throughout the year, give members a chance to engage on developing and carrying out activities, and relate to TESOL International in a more meaningful way.

      Potentially short-term, flexible professional learning networks offer an effective way to connect members around important issues. I question though if 20 members should be the minimum for a group application. I would suggest fewer (10?) with the requirement that by a certain time frame (3 or 6 months), the group must have 20 members. Because, once formed, the PLNs’ purpose can be more widely disseminated and more members could join.

      Some aspects of the proposal, however, are unnecessary or maintain a bureaucratic focus that the governance review process has been trying to reduce. For instance, one thing that is not broken is the term Interest Section. This is a clear term and used by many professional associations. Switching it to Professional Knowledge Section (PKS) is less communicative, not to mention more wordy. Having PKSs and PLNs as acronyms for groups with similar functions can be confusing as well. I suggest we keep Interest Section.

      Reapplying annually to be an IS (or PKS) is an example of added bureaucracy, in my opinion. What is the purpose? Having an annual plan, is a good thing but a full reapplication is unnecessary. There should be an easier way to make sure the minimum number of members is present in a group, doing frequency counts with online data sources from member profiles perhaps.

      Finally, while TESOL is rightly seeking ways to promote leadership among the members who are interested, must it be the responsibility of the IS/PKS to mentor leaders? Some might want to, some might have members who are less interested in taking on leadership roles. Instead, TESOL might form a Leadership Professional Council that plans for organization-wide mentoring.

      My remaining comments are questions raised by the proposal that may still need answers:
      1. What happens once an IS/PKS’s procedures manual is written and shared with Board? Will there be a review process? Are there criteria for acceptance?
      2. What criteria will the Board use to determine if a proposed IS/PKS should be a PLN instead?

  2. Tony Silva says:

    For me, the Interest Sections are the beating heart of the TESOL International Association and the main reason why I continue to be a member and to attend the annual convention. With all due respect to the creators of this document, the changes called for in it with regard to Interest Sections seem to me to be at best unnecessary and at worst punitive. Its enaction, I fear, would hasten the already troubling exodus of (the most active and engaged) members from the Association.

  3. Laura Jacob says:

    I do believe that some changes to the current structure of Interest Sections would be beneficial. It is important to move forward–in both the organization and field, and moving forward involves taking a deep look into the current structures/functions, being transparent and seeking change.

    Aspects of this particular proposal are troubling for me, however. This feels less like a “proposed change” and more like a total makeover.

    The aspect that most troubles me is the yearly application and the required 100 signatures.

    Perhaps initially this would be a good idea, to require that all Interest Sections dig deep and provide rationale for their existence within the larger organization.

    After an initial application, could the PKBS receive status within the organization that does not require a burdensome annual application process? This seems like it would be more beneficial for all involved.

  4. Doreen Ewert says:

    I appreciate how hard the work has been of overhauling the expanding and cumbersome structure of TESOL to become a trimmer, transparent, and more nimble organization that will be more inclusive and more sensitive to the expanding global membership of the organization. However, one of my ongoing concerns, which is once again and perhaps more obviously apparent in the IS overhaul, is the extremely brief time periods for special groups to work without needing to make transitions in leadership or reapply for existence. If one of the goals of the organizational revision is to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy, these decisions do not achieve that goal. I completely support the desire to make sure that entities supported and promoted by TESOL be active, inclusive, and working to fulfill the mission and strategic goals of the organization, and I know that not all ISs have the same profile in terms of meeting these expectations. For this reason, some equitable “recommitment” activity is warranted. However, a yearly application and the clumsy new name seem completely unnecessary.

  5. Christopher Hastings says:

    As others have already commented, the proposal seems to add more roadblocks to conference participation and to the maintenance of a PKS (IS) with yearly applications, which like Elizabeth commented seem a lot like a yearly teaching contract. The proposal seeks to move attention from the convention to yearly tasks, which is valid, but the convention is also the center of the year for many TESOLers. Without the benefit of a guaranteed session, many active TESOLers who participate in ISs wouldn’t have funding to attend the conference and network with other TESOLers.

    While the annual plans, succession plans, communication plans, etc. sound very beneficial, I question if these will be adding more bureaucratic work to TESOL and to the ISs (PKSs).

  6. Carter A. Winkle says:

    I have been in conversation with Elisabeth and others in the SRIS and share many of the ideas she and David have expressed. For the purposes of clarity–in my own mind, at least–I will continue to use the original IS/Forum language as I briefly expand on a few ideas below:

    * I am not sure what the added value is of the name (and acronym) changes for ISs (and Forums). Most academic professional associations have an “interest section” or “special interest group” structure; it is a recognizable type of community within the academy. I expect that from the perspective of many member volunteers who are elected to serve in leadership positions within the ISs/Association, this ‘recognizable’ descriptor for an area of service is important when one prepares portfolios for rank and promotion or retention in university settings. Related to this, I am not sure I had clarity from the proposal or town hall in terms of the role of the ISs (KBMCs) in the adjudication process for academic sessions/presentations. Specifically, this peer-review activity is at the heart of what is valued in this form of academic professional service. Beyond the optics of it, I feel the decision-making about what sessions are accepted should reside as closely to the membership (through peer review) as possible. The members pay registration fees to attend the convention, and they and their elected leadership should be among those determining the convention program. (IMHO)

    * I am ‘on the fence’ regarding the proposal’s impact to Forums. On one hand, it could be that well-supported Forums *could* be able to ‘advance’ to the level of an IS more easily. I think the loss of the academic sessions is a real hardship, however. This proposal seems intent upon marginalizing the Forums. Unfortunately, I think what may have happened was that the association allowed for the creation of Forums around frivolous or non-academic topics (e.g., “TESOLers Who Like to Bake Bread” — okay, maybe not literally bread baking — but I think you get my point) — and by doing so, created a system that appeared to give equal value, for example, to LGBTQ related scholarship in TESOL with… well, bread baking or some other social activity. Perhaps the criteria for becoming a Forum could be made more rigorous, specific to the aims of an academic association. Otherwise — the ‘new’ version of Forums (…the PLN) are just an opportunity for listservs or discussion board space: an enormous demotion and disappointment to those of us who have invested a lot of time and energy into developing academic Forums within TESOL.

    * Unclear if there will still be Intersection Sessions? Can ISs communicate with one another to develop (non-adjudicated) Intersection Sessions? Can Forums still participate in such Intersection Sessions?

    I am sure a great deal of time and thought has gone into the work so far, and I sincerely appreciate the efforts of those involved. What I have not really seen/heard is a clear articulation of “the why?” On the face of it, this seems a solution in search of a problem?

    • After reading the proposed changes to the Interest Sections for TESOL, I am very concerned about the future of the organization as I know it. Although I am not an advocate of the adage, we should keep doing something just because we have always done it that way; maybe more strategic changes rather than asweeping overhaul would be more justified. I have been a member of TESOL for thirty years, and been active in the Secondary Schools IS and the Refugee Concerns IS, serving as chair of both groups. Although we have many members in both groups, very few are able to attend the convention because of limited financial support from their workplaces. If we have to ‘reup’ every year, both groups will die within a couple years. I can envision a time when only the large, university-supported IS groups will be able to fulfill the new requirements and those of us in other areas will die on the vine. The organization will lose many members, and attendance will continue to drop at the annual convention, as people in smaller interest sections such as K-12, Bilingual education, and refugee concerns stop attending because they don’t see any sessions of interest to them. I strongly oppose many of the recommendations in the proposed changes, and hope that the Board of Directors revisits this document.

  7. Nikki Ashcraft says:

    In the IS Leaders Forum on myTESOL, I inquired whether current Interest Sections would automatically convert to become KBMCs. I received a response from Rosa Aronson that said “No.” That is, every IS/KBMC has to be recreated from scratch. This seems like it will put a huge burden on the current IS leadership teams to gather member signatures, develop strategic plans, and submit other documentation in order to reestablish their groups.

    Like Elizabeth, I wonder why it is necessary to change the names of the groups since I am sure most of us already consider our Interest Sections to be “knowledge-based member communities.” It seems like it would be possible to make some changes to how Interest Sections function while keeping the same names.

  8. Paula Baird says:

    I agree with Linda Grant. I would not want to attend a TESOL convention that did not have a variety of presentations across the field, including the areas of SPLIS and other IS’s. Without involvement in the convention planning, how will an IS (or PKS) be able to guarantee that its group will have a full range TESOL presentations that represent both the research and teaching sides of the field? Also, how will newer members be drawn into this process if not through the IS meetings and publications?

  9. Henry N. Caballero says:

    Although I have been a member of TESOL and of several ISs since 2004, I have never attended an IS meeting at a TESOL convention. I believe that the new myTESOL platform will energize my IS participation. I also noticed the “achievements” one can earn under the new platform. Thanks for that, TESOL.
    However, Elisabeth Chan and David Royal have voiced valid concerns regarding the proposed Knowledge Based Member Communities. I agree that the new model would create undue bureaucracy with the annual application procedure. Elisabeth likens the process to a one-year teaching contract – “Having that instability or uncertainty together with feeling the need to continually prove yourself is not conducive to building strong community bonds or working on a multi-year vision.” I think the annual report (ISs) and convention focus is enough for the potential PKS/PLN leadership and membership.
    It has been mentioned that most ISs would easily qualify for PKS status under the proposal, so if the annual application process is simply a means to provide documented activity which justifies TESOL’s support, then that is just a waste of time for everyone. I know that equity is a concern, but perhaps all PKSs/PLNs should have a two-year re-application schedule. If a PKS fails to meet the application criteria, they could receive a one-year probationary PKS status. If a PLN fails to meet the criteria, then perhaps it’s time to move on.
    Some interest sections within the field of TESOL are core while some may change over time. Giving the TESOL members two KBMCs is a great way to increase member participation and connection with their interests and expertise. The proposal gives opportunities for the KBMCs to participate in the convention. Still the membership should decide which KBMCs get sessions at the convention. Perhaps a survey monkey or something would suffice.
    BTW – I dislike too many acronyms 😉 Maybe the communities can create their names. The acronyms just designate a status within TESOL.

  10. Elisabeth Chan says:

    The initial feedback from some leaders who attended the Town Hall meeting and/or have reviewed the draft document has indicated there are many concerns and questions.

    The proposed 2-tier structure appears to mirror the current IS & Forum structure, so it doesn’t appear that there would be much re-structuring at all. One major question is whether Forums would gain official or governance status or the proposed PLNs are in addition to the unofficial current Forums. Aside from this question, the main changes seem to be in requirements in the group organization and the potential benefits, including non-adjudicated convention slots.

    (A minor note here on the names of the groups- if they are counterparts to our current system, why not keep the names the same? Many IS’s have somewhat branded the IS name. It’s also much easier to say, for example SRIS than SRPKS or SLWIS than SLWPKS. In fact, BEIS just voted to change their name. I think people are invested in the names of the ISs, so if there is not a drastic change in the function of the groups, don’t change the names. In addition, the terms interest sections and interest groups are common names for member groups across professional organizations, so they are more easily recognizable by members. This could help ease the changes. Now on to the major parts.)

    One of the major oppositions is about the proposed annual application cycle for PKSs. I liken this to the idea of a one year teaching contract. Having that instability or uncertainty together with feeling the need to continually prove yourself is not conducive to building strong community bonds or working on a multi-year vision. Rather than encouraging KBMC leaders to be visionaries and alleviating bureaucratic duties related to the convention, this proposal adds more bureaucracy in asking the group to create and revise the procedure manual, annual plan, leadership succession plan, communications plan, and new member engagement strategy annually, which only shifts the current once-a-year convention focus to a once-a-year reapplication focus.

    Another point of contention is with the reapplication process required of all ISs without differentiation between high-functioning ISs who would prefer to request the opportunity to roll-over into a PKS without gathering 100 signatures and completing the entire application process again annually.

    The “cost to benefit” ratio is also arguable. As a David posted on SRIS’s discussion board (shared here),
    “In my opinion, this is a step backwards. They’re making the barriers to entry for conference sessions for groups much higher. All of the guaranteed sessions for Forums would be lost. Furthermore, the increasing level of documentation / planning required for ISs doesn’t come with a corresponding rise in support.”

    I agree that the “cost to benefit” ratio is problematic, with the functions identical and the only difference being organization versus benefit, the PLNs appear to simply be downgraded versions of the PKSs. The feeling may be “If you’re not good enough to be a PKS, you can be a PLN.” I don’t think I can paste tables in this blog, so I’m linking to a comparison table I created of current to proposed KBMCs.

    Although the association would like to move away from a convention focus toward a year-round focus, it must be acknowledged that the convention is still a large part of the very identity of the KBMCs. ISs and Forums wish to be a part of the convention, and one huge loss for Forums if they are replaced by PLNs is the loss of the non-adjudicated convention sessions. As the Diversity Collaborative Forum has demonstrated, its sessions were extremely well-attended at TESOL Baltimore 2016 with over 80 attendees at its workshop.

    These are some initial thoughts and ideas of mine woven in with ideas from other leaders I’ve spoken with. I encourage other members of TESOL to join in the discussion with their ideas and points of view on the different aspects of this proposal.

    • Elisabeth Chan says:

      In addition to my earlier reply, I do actually like the proposal for the Procedure manual, Detailed annual plan required, Leadership succession plan, Communications plan needed, and New member engagement strategy.

      I would hope that these would not have to be recreated and submitted each year, and that there would be a great deal of staff support in creating these documents.

      I also like the idea of leadership training and would like to know more about how that is proposed to be set up.

  11. Elisabeth Chan says:

    Copied from SRIS Discussion on myTESOL:

    It looks like they’re proposing a PLN to replace Forums, and a PKS to replace ISs. For the PLN, it looks like the requirements are similar to a Forum (20 members, one leader, statement of purpose, etc.), but all you’ll get is an online message board (no Convention sessions). I’ve been out of the loop for a year or two, but I know that Forums I’ve been involved with typically got one or two sessions. Plus, Forums could collaborate with ISs on intersection sessions.

    The requirements for a PKS are stricter (100 members, annual plan, communication / succession / engagement plans, etc.) and you get a 1.75 hour session at the Convention. It isn’t totally clear to me if this session is an intersection, or if you get a stand alone session PLUS an intersection.

    In my opinion, this is a step backwards. They’re making the barriers to entry for conference sessions for groups much higher. All of the guaranteed sessions for Forums would be lost. Furthermore, the increasing level of documentation / planning required for ISs doesn’t come with a corresponding rise in support.

    I think the current Forum structure, which makes it possible for a group of 25 (or more) members to create a group with guaranteed sessions at the Convention is much better. For one thing, the Convention session review policy is somewhat of a crapshoot, so giving guaranteed sessions to groups is a good idea. Every time I went to the Convention, I was always interested to see what sessions that the Peace Forum, the Environmental Responsibility Forum and the LGBTF Forum were going to have.

    I also don’t think any of the additional requirements for IS planning documents are necessary. To put it another way, I don’t think these changes are made with in order to enhance the experience of people participating in (or leading) the group. These changes all seem geared towards limiting the number of groups that are guaranteed Convention sessions, and increasing the amount of supervision of these groups.

    I apologize if I misunderstood something. All in all, though, these changes would make me less interested in attending future Conventions.



    David Royal
    University of South Florida

  12. Elisabeth Chan says:

    Thanks to you and the Board for your clear efforts to be transparent about the KBMC proposal and restructuring process. I’m sharing a post from the SRIS discussion board on myTESOL from David Royal and following that up with some of my personal thoughts on the proposal, and some questions/suggestions contributed from other SRIS leaders. I also plan to cross-post these thoughts to the myTESOL discussion boards to increase discussion on the topic, but so soon after the move to the myTESOL platform, I realize that many of the members have not yet acclimated or moved to the new platform, so I believe some important participation may be missing.

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