ESP Project Leader Profile: Robin Sulkosky

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

In this ESP Project Leader Profile, we meet Robin Sulkosky, who is a leader in the TESOL ESPIS, as you will read below. Born and raised in central Alabama, Robin currently lives in Japan with his wife, an Army veterinarian. He serves as an EFL instructional technician to Japanese engineers and planners at a naval ship repair facility. This year, Robin has plans to conduct a needs analysis on behalf of his division and introduce an ESP course for his students on integrated fleet maintenance. Robin taught ESL at Auburn University Montgomery for 4 years, and, before his post in Japan, he served as a composition lecturer at Auburn University and Howard University.

Robin Sulkosky
Robin Sulkosky
EFL Instructional Technician, U.S. Navy, Japan

Define leadership in your own words.

In a professional context, leadership is taking care of your people, whether those people are students, supervisors, or colleagues. It’s anticipating needs and wants, and fulfilling those needs and wants. It’s this idea of leadership that informs my current undertaking as member-at-large on the ESPIS Steering Board: the Practitioner Reading Group.

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 Practitioner Reading Group is an open access reading group that encourages ESPIS members to read and discuss scholarly articles pertinent to the discipline. In starting this group I had frank discussions with several other leaders in the interest section about the possible needs and wants of members. The group is only newly minted, so I’m ever mindful of facilitating it in a way that is both engaging and inviting by listening to colleagues’ needs and wants.

For example, the group was initially envisioned as much more interactive, with members contributing and eventually selecting readings for the month. However, it quickly became apparent that the group was too new—too amorphous—for this interactive element to work well. Participation in early stages need not extend, I found, to the selection of the scholarly work itself. I quickly set this aspect aside in order to get the group off the ground. I think it’s important to be ready to make changes to shape a project into something useful, not force it to be something it’s not. In keeping with this mantra, the group changes slightly from month to month. To really find that sweet spot that combines interesting and useful, I expect it will continue to do so!

I believe that the way members interact with the group from month to month can and should inform continued improvements to the group. In fact, communication from members need not always come directly, but also in the way members silently interact with the framework of the reading group. I do my very best to “listen” to both sorts of feedback—that’s what “taking care of your people” means. Part of this silent feedback is data from the message boards. It’s very easy to see how much traffic and impact a running thread has, and the numbers can and do suggest things that work and things that don’t.  Again, “listening” is much more than being open to direct and clear communication: It’s anticipating and adapting to more subtle messages.

The final thing to note about facilitating the reading group is thinking practically about the timing of group communiques. With the modern practitioner inundated by communications of all kinds, it’s important to consider exactly how often to reach out to members. Even welcome communications can become tiresome if they fill up a mailbox too often, or come at inopportune times (such as during a finals week!). Hence, I always try to keep in mind the frequency and type of communications sent to stakeholders. There’s no perfect formula, but I find that considering these things keeps the group toward its goal of being interesting and useful.

More information on the reading group

The Practitioner Reading Group generally hosts a new open-access article at the beginning of every month. The article is open access to ensure all IS members can read it without violating copyright law. Discussion takes place on the message board on the community page. There are discussion prompts provided for each article, but generally any relevant topic can be introduced. The group is a great opportunity to ask timely questions on ESP or to be introduced to new aspects of it, or it even acts as a refresher on familiar topics.

I recently noted Robin’s activities to launch the Practitioner Reading Group in another TESOL Blog post that addresses professional development for ESPers. In connection with professional development (of pre-K–12 educators), I also found Judie Haynes’s TESOL Blog post to be helpful. Judie writes:

Karen and I strongly advocate using Twitter chat groups to deliver professional development to educators of ELs. There are important benefits to teachers who participate in Twitter chats, especially if they don’t have a  learning community that supports their professional development in school. It is our opinion that teachers of ELs need to find ongoing PD that is geared to their teaching requirements. Teachers require a venue where they can ask questions, discuss issues, share resources with colleagues, and support the learning of their students. #ELLCHAT gives teachers of ELs access to thousands of educators around the world, and it’s free!

The ESPIS Practitioner Reading Group could become the ESPIS Practitioner Reading Chat!  We need to continue to seek ways to interact effectively for professional development purposes.

Do you have any questions or comments for Robin? Please post those below or contact him directly. Thank you!

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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