TESOL Convention Update: New Strand Models

Attendees at the 2019 TESOL International Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, will be greeted with something new: a new organizational system for concurrent sessions. Following the recommendations of several task forces, and a successful pilot at the 2018 TESOL International Convention, the new system will shift from the complex categorization of overlapping settings, contexts, and content/skill areas for convention proposals to a streamlined number of strands. These changes will be reflected in the call for proposals for the 2019 TESOL International Convention that will be released shortly. The purpose of this shift is to enhance the overall convention by improving proposal reviews; enabling the program to respond to new trends, issues, and topics; and helping proposal authors and convention attendees navigate the convention program more easily.

This change is the latest in the series of enhancements that have been made to the TESOL International Convention over the past several years. Many of these changes have been small or have been changes to the planning process. Although many other associations such as the American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL) and the American Educational Research Association (AERA) have been successfully using similar models for some time, this shift to content strands represents a major change to the organization of TESOL’s overall program, which itself has not changed significantly in several decades.


As the annual convention is single largest and most significant event for the TESOL profession each year, the leadership of the association is continually looking for ways to ensure that it is of the highest quality for attendees and presenters. For the past several years, the Board of Directors has been reviewing recommendations from a successive series of task forces on the convention and its role for the association and the field.

In 2011 and 2015 the board created task forces to review the shape and scope of the convention and provide recommendations on improvements to ensure it continues to meet the needs of the field and profession. Both the Convention Task Force and the Conferences of the Future Task Force made numerous recommendations to the board, including ways to improve the adjudication process and the overall convention experience. Both groups found that the categorization and content areas within the call for proposals and for the convention had grown significantly overtime, making the proposal submission and adjudication process increasingly complex. Both task forces recommended developing strands for the convention to help make the proposal submission process, and the overall convention experience, easier to navigate.

In its report to the board in 2014, the Governance Review Task Force had found that the association’s governance system had become overly complex and bureaucratic, limiting its ability to efficiently serve the needs of members and the field. One example it had found related to the adjudication and planning of convention sessions. Any major new content programming area for the convention necessitated the creation of a new TESOL Interest Section (IS), a process that could take up to two years. The task force recommended numerous ways to restructure the governance system so that it was more agile and responsive, including creating more leadership opportunities, and changes to processes, structure, and culture. One outcome of the governance restructuring was the creation of the Conferences Professional Council (CPC) in 2016, which now oversees content planning for the annual convention and other conferences.

As part of the 2018 TESOL International Convention, a pilot was planned to see how a strand model would work. Four specific strands were developed and incorporated into the call for proposals. The adjudication process was monitored, and the strand model worked well. Subsequently, plans were developed to expand the strand model for the 2019 TESOL International Convention. A 12-member advisory panel of IS leaders was identified to help guide the work of the CPC in developing this new strand model. After the proposed model was drafted, additional feedback was collected from IS leaders, Professional Council members, and the Board of Directors. This feedback is being reviewed now, and final changes are being made to the strand model in preparation for the 2019 call for proposals.

The strand model will not only make the proposal submission and the convention program easier to complete but will also provide greater agility in the program to respond to new trends, issues, and topics. Moreover, the strand model will help improve the quality of convention sessions by providing the opportunity for specialized training in the proposal review process. This training will be facilitated by a new leadership position: the strand coordinator.

Strand Coordinators and Assistant Strand Coordinators

To help organize the strands at the convention, new leadership positions are being developed to work with the CPC. Strand coordinators will work with assistant strand coordinators in recruiting qualified reviewers, vetting potential reviewers, providing specialized strand-related input to reviewers regarding expectations and commenting strategies, and facilitating the review and proposal selection process. Strand coordinators (SC) and assistant strand coordinators (ASC) will be selected by the CPC through an open call for applications. SCs will serve for two to three years: one to two years as an ASC, and one to two years as SC. It is hoped that these terms of service will give continuity to and sustainability in the strand leadership and administration. The number of SCs and ASCs per strand will be determined according to the projections for 2019 and the actual statistics from 2019 for 2020. The application process for SCs for TESOL 2019 is now open. For more information, please visit the TESOL volunteer webpage.

IS leaders will continue to play an important role in shaping the convention program by planning and developing nonadjudicated sessions such as academic sessions and intersection sessions. In addition, IS leaders will play an important role in suggesting competent professionals who might serve as SCs or ASCs and supporting the reviewer recruitment process based on the criteria listed in call for volunteers. Moreover, the CPC will solicit input and feedback from IS leaders on other aspects of the convention program, such as the selection of invited speakers.

These new procedures represent significant changes to the way the program for the annual TESOL International Convention is planned and developed. Feedback from members and leaders will be critical in ensuring that these changes are successful in improving the convention experience for everyone. As these processes move forward, feedback will be regularly collected from members. Comments will be collected from proposal submitters and reviewers, other TESOL leaders, and convention attendees at different points over the course of the next year and any necessary adjustments will be made to future convention programs. The goal is to seek continual improvements to the quality of the convention program, so your continued input and feedback will be vital as we move forward.

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