ESP Project Leader Profile: Philip Chappell

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

It is my pleasure to introduce Dr. Philip Chappell from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, where I received my PhD in linguistics. I first met Phil in Tokyo, Japan at a JALT conference where he was head of the Macquarie University Showcase. Phil was also one of the leaders of the TESOL Research Network Colloquium (2015) at the University of Sydney and made it possible for me to present at that conference. (I am very grateful! You can read about my Sydney adventure here.) Phil’s bio highlights his expertise in TESOL:

Philip Chappell is senior lecturer in applied linguistics and TESOL at Macquarie University. He convenes the Graduate Certificate of TESOL, conducts research in a variety of areas of TESOL, and supervises research students at Masters and PhD levels. Phil regularly publishes in leading journals and book series. Recent publications are a book chapter, “Creativity through Inquiry Dialogue,” in Jack Richards’s and Rodney Jones’s, Creativity in Language Teaching: Perspectives from Research and Practice (Routledge), and his book Group Work in the English Language Curriculum: Sociocultural and Ecological Perspectives on Second Language Classroom Learning through Palgrave Macmillan. Phil is the executive editor of the English Australia Journal.

I am also excited to be able to publish Phil’s profile because this means that the ESP projects in the 23 ESP Project Leader Profiles to date have been conducted on six continents: Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Europe, and Australia!


Dr. Philip Chappell, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
Twitter: @TESOLatMQ

1) Define leadership in your own words.

I think the most productive and potentially successful form of leadership is focused on the premise that you are aiming for creative collaboration. The traditional form of leadership emphasises structure and control. The leader assigns roles, divides the task into manageable activities, tracks progress on a timeline, and coordinates the team members. Leadership in a creative collaboration approach is less structured. Following the ideas of Keith Sawyer (2007), I like to think that leadership for creative collaboration is distributed. The leader is first and foremost responsible for creating the environment for creativity to flourish. This entails creating an environment where team members are intersubjectively engaged. Each member shares the perspectives of each other member, and there are those magical moments where a member can say, “I know that you know that I know what you mean” (Chappell, 2014). This is when the team is self-managing, motivating and supporting each other, and in the creative flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997), which is “a peak state in which people are free to concentrate on a goal-oriented task, and become fully absorbed in it, letting go of their immediate environment” (Chappell, 2015, p. 134). The leader is an active participant in the task, working as a peer, ensuring the environment is conducive to creative collaboration.

2) 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?

In an EAP program that I comanaged with a colleague, we were interested in introducing dynamic assessment (Poehner, 2008) as a way to assist us with determining which level to place the students in prior to commencing their class. Our premise was that since many of the students had not been in an English speaking environment for some time, although their proficiency levels were reasonably high, they may not perform as well as they would have had they been using English recently. The principle of dynamic assessment is that an understanding of a learner’s ability is best understood by examining the process of development while it is being promoted by the teacher. Our vision was to introduce this teaching/learning principle into a placement test setting, where we could get the best out of the student, rather than merely what they could do unassisted.

The first task was to brainstorm how this might occur. As a team of four, we got away from the fast-paced college setting and into a closed-door meeting, where no one else could disturb us. As the team leader, I wanted to create a setting where we had the space to be creative. My communication aim at this stage was to ensure all four of us had a shared understanding of the problem we were setting out to address, and also the principles of dynamic assessment (all of us were familiar with Vygotksy’s work on which it is based). This took us a good couple of hours, and the outcome was that we had not only agreed on the problem and the overarching solution, but we also had some strategies to think about.

In the spirit of wanting to create the best environment to continue our creative collaboration, I suggested that we spend some time thinking about this and come back together in a few days’ time. We had several informal chats about it between ourselves in between those two meetings, and it became clear that a particular team member had developed some great ideas to take us forward. At our next meeting, this team member naturally and spontaneously took the lead and threw out his ideas for implementing dynamic assessment. I was working with the team as a peer—indeed we all were, and the leadership was distributed amongst us as we got in the flow and knocked the ideas into a manageable approach to conducting a placement test interview based on dynamic assessment.

As a team, we decided to write this up together so that we could ensure all our voices were heard and we had joint ownership of the proposal that we would then take forward to the teaching staff. That took us a good couple of hours around a computer, and we spontaneously did some role plays to work through some of the steps in the process we were developing. In the end, this allowed us to present the proposal as a team, modelling and demonstrating the steps for the teaching team. Again, this collaborative approach allowed the communication to be instructive and developmental rather than institutional and top-down.

The proposal was accepted by teachers and we instituted the new placement test interview process over the next few months, fine-tuning it with feedback from teachers and students.

Phil’s leadership definition resonated with me, particularly the following: “The leader is an active participant in the task, working as a peer, ensuring the environment is conducive to creative collaboration.” Further, he clearly outlines how the team communicated to create and to achieve the vision, which matches my conceptualization of leadership.

Please feel free to contact Phil directly, or post your comments below!  Thank you!

All the best,



Chappell, P. (2014). Group work in the english language curriculum: Sociocultural and ecological perspectives on second language classroom learning. London, England: Palgrave MacMillan.

Chappell, P. J. (2015). Creativity through inquiry dialogue. In R. H. Jones & J. C. Richards (Eds.), Creativity in language teaching: Perspectives from research and practice (pp. 130–149). London, England: Routledge.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.

Poehner, M. E. (2008). Dynamic assessment: A Vygotskian approach to understanding and promoting L2 development. New York, NY: Springer.

Sawyer, K. (2007). Group genius: The creative power of collaboration. New York, NY: Basic.

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: Philip Chappell

  1. Nahida El Assi says:

    This sounds really awesome!! I am wondering if it is possible to elaborate more on the steps followed in the implementation of the collaborative approach and the group dynamics.

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