Three 30@30 Specialists Travel Through Europe Sharing Their Diverse Expertise
After a record 2020 year – that saw a 3000% increase in our virtual programming – the Specialist Program is celebrating our 30th anniversary throughout 2021. Since 1991, over 800 English Language Specialists – representing the best of America’s educators from all 50 States – have encouraged critical thought and erudition, celebrated their cultural diversity, and showcased their American values and civic engagement strategies to millions of educators and students in 130 countries.
In January we introduced our 30@30 –a group of 30 alumni who have had a profound impact on the Specialist Program as well as the field of English language education. In addition, upon returning to their home states, these leaders have added immense benefit to their local economies, communities, and institutions.
In our June 30@30 story, three Specialists – Gregory Orr, Paul Kei Matsuda, and JoAnn Crandall – share how they brought their expertise in needs analysis, academic writing, and TESOL leadership to the Europe region.
Dr. Gregory Orr always has tried-and-true tricks up his sleeve to make the most of his work as a Specialist. Take, for example, the needs analysis he did in Georgia in 2010. The national Ministry of Education had a brand-new minister who wanted to look at the state of English teaching throughout the country – no small order! The method Orr used is a good example of how he gets at the clearest possible picture in a short amount of time. Needs assessments, he explained, require an honest demonstration of what is going on in the classroom, not just which books and materials are being used.
Paradoxically, the task is made more difficult when his arrival is announced to stakeholders in advance, as Orr discovered during his five-week road trip to both “cities and boonies” throughout Georgia. Orr, a representative from the Embassy, and a ministry official crisscrossed the country visiting schools, resource centers, universities, libraries, and English teachers’ associations.
It seemed like a good plan, except Orr soon realized that “because schools were alerted that these big guys were coming, they felt they needed to put on a good show for us.” Understandably, teachers wanted to look good in front of administrators and they may have altered their usual curriculum or teaching lessons.
To compensate, the group added a couple of impromptu school visits. “We would go and knock on their door and say, ‘We’re here. Can we visit an English class and the library?’” These surprise visits meant there was no chance to create a “Potemkin Village,” which is what other schools were doing; there was simply no time to mount a make-believe façade for the official visitors.
Orr quickly found that the pressing needs of Georgian schools went beyond instructional issues. There were schools without electricity that were so cold that he had to find a sunny place in the classroom to withstand the February chill. The schools always needed more books, which were so precious that they had to be guarded carefully. Textbooks might be used during the class, but they had to be returned to the teacher who would lock them up until the next day. Libraries often allowed the use of books on their premises but forbade taking them home.
Furthermore, without electricity – and therefore no internet, the computers at schools lucky enough to have them were worthless. “There are so many resources [online]. But without classroom internet, teachers had to ask pupils to search for certain materials at home and bring them to class.” Nevertheless, he was continually impressed with the Georgian teachers’ ingenuity and perseverance in dealing with the paucity of basic infrastructure.
Orr also was eager to interview Peace Corps volunteers whenever possible. As a former Peace Corps volunteer in Benin, he knew they would have a bead on the issues that teachers may not have wanted to air. “Truancy was a big one,” he said. To address that problem, Orr suggested following several best practices he encountered in a few Georgian schools, for example, one school created a Harry Potter book club, a movie club, and an Olympiad, so students could work toward something outside of class. “When we took into consideration the interests of the students, participation increased and truancy declined,” one teacher reported.
The U.S. Embassy also benefited directly from traveling with Orr. The public affairs assistant who accompanied Orr and the ministry official was well versed in the State Department’s many exchange programs, fellowships, and international visitors’ programs, and at many of their stops, he spoke to teachers, teacher trainers, and students about these opportunities. At the end of the five-week project, Orr met with the ambassador, public affairs officer, and public affairs staff, to present his recommendations for programs, including an annotated list of key individuals he had met and who would profit from participation in State Department opportunities. Orr’s role was critical, as was theirs: “I could make suggestions, but it was the Embassy’s decision on the next steps.” Orr’s 50-page final report was essentially a roadmap and model for the Embassy to use in the future.
Orr summed up what he learned from his work as a Specialist:
- You have to be humble. Going in with the attitude that “I am an expert and this is what you have to do” is counterproductive.
- You also have to be realistic. Teachers know what they lack, need, and want, and they also know what is feasible. Your role is to work with them to see how you can best support and supplement what they are doing now in the classroom.
- And you have to give them hope that their voices have been heard, that their work is valued, and that there are initiatives underway to provide them better tools, resources, and opportunities.
Paul Kei Matsuda
Many English Language Specialist assignments are just two weeks long, with an itinerary that sometimes resembles that of a rock star. The Specialist is given a very limited time to make a significant impact. Dr. Paul Kei Matsuda is a master at this. Between 2014 and 2019, Matsuda was invited three times to visit Turkey to share his expertise on academic writing. On each visit, he travelled to three or four cities, giving workshops, conducting site visits, and presenting at conferences.
Wherever he travelled there were opportunities to meet with local teachers and administrators to discuss their concerns. While always recognizing what was unique in their questions, Matsuda could also predict what their issues would be. “I’ve done so many of these workshops that I’ve seen all the variations,” he explained. “There are maybe 50 different issues and concerns that are always brought up.” The strategies he teaches to address these issues may differ somewhat from China to Qatar, but it’s a matter of degree. There can also be differences within a country. In Turkey, in one city, the teachers were more concerned with academic honesty and motivation; at the next stop, they were anxious to maximize educational benefits.
Another frequent “top 50” question is how to teach grammar rules and to get students to memorize them. The first thing Matsuda does is challenge the very notion of memorizing rules. Workshop participants are often caught off guard. There response is, “But, but, but . . .,” recalled Matsuda. That’s when he gives them alternative strategies, with concrete examples. He then gives the participants a chance to generate strategies for their own situations, which helps participants accept what was initially a difficult concept. “If [I were to] come in and just say, ‘You are doing this wrong,’ they won’t listen,” Matsuda said. “What I do is change people’s mindsets.”
From experience, Matsuda has found that his role is not just addressing the problems teachers have already identified, but those they aren’t even aware of. Frequency of grammar correction is a common problem in this category. In Turkey, “some teachers provided lots and lots of correction,” said Matsuda. “They insisted on correcting every error. What I asked them was, ‘Why? Do students request corrections?’ The assumption is always that students want the answers in order to pass the test or avoid hurting their scores.” At this point, Matsuda introduced the idea of not correcting every error, providing alternative strategies within the context of how languages are learned.
A key part of any workshop is reflection, allowing the teachers time to pause, process, and share with each other and with Matsuda. Often teachers say, “Why do you care what I think?” to which he replies, “I want to hear what you are learning.”
Of course, with so little time to reinforce the ideas of the workshop, Matsuda emphasized that he was “not some one-off specialist to come in and tell participants what to do.” Rather, Matsuda continues to meet with many of the teachers in his workshops online and at conferences, both in-country and through teacher exchanges to the U.S. “I try to create networks to continue to talk and share ideas,” he said. With this value-added approach, he lends depth and meaning to his in-person Specialist work, which is just a start to what can become an ongoing conversation.
It’s one thing to be a leader of an organization. It’s another to ensure there are leaders in the pipeline to ensure the organization’s future. Senior members must actively recruit and train younger members who have fresh ideas and a vision for the association.
Dr. JoAnn (Jodi) Crandall has had extensive experience as such a leader. As past president of TESOL, International; WATESOL (serving Washington, D.C. and area); and the American Association of Applied Linguistics, Crandall knows the importance of mentoring members into new leadership roles.
Crandall sees young people around the world as the engines of change. Of course, they need English skills to help them be competitive in today’s academic world, but they must also know how to become leaders in their chosen field and allied associations. How to develop this potential was the focus of a multi-stop English Language Specialist project in Kyiv, Ukraine and Budapest, Hungary, in 2013.
Crandall’s journey began in Kyiv. At the invitation of Regional English Language Officer Jerry Frank, Crandall led a conference on “Best Practices in Organizing and Administering Professional Teacher Organizations” for 30 TESOL Ukraine Executive Board members and regional coordinators. “We began by exploring the strengths and challenges facing TESOL Ukraine with a SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) and identified a number of potential goals for further development of the association, including expanding potential leadership and reducing reliance on a few leaders,” explained Crandall.
In Budapest, Crandall presented a four-day institute, “Leadership for Professional Associations: Developing the Next Generation of Association Leaders,” which was attended by twelve young leaders of TESOL and related English language teaching associations nominated by RELOs George Chinnery, Jerry Frank, and Fran Westbrook, and Public Affairs Officers in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Hungary, Kosovo, Moldova, Russia, Slovenia, and Ukraine. Participants were required to submit in writing their statements of interest in this leadership development experience and what they would hope to learn over time.
Crandall said, “The goals of the institute were to further develop their knowledge and skills to function as leaders of their associations with increasing responsibility over time.” The result would benefit the individuals during their career development as well as the organizations they served. “I believe professional associations are the lifeblood of English language teachers,” Crandall said, “because they provide professional development, resources, and networking, and they represent our professionalism.”
The institute covered topics, such as leadership styles and roles, what makes an effective (or ineffective) leader, how best to lead a meeting, how to recruit and retain members, and much more. “These young people had been through a real change,” Crandall said, referring to the recent geo-political shifts in the region and about their diverse backgrounds, and they were still developing their own sense of what a leader is.” It was important to give the participants time to reflect on the ideas they were encountering during the day, and at the end of each day, Crandall gave them an assignment to think about. Their overnight observations were used to kick-off discussions the next day.
The final activity was the development and presentation of action plans for follow-up, including increasing membership (especially of students), increasing branches/chapters of the association, internationalizing membership, and increasing funding sources. The strategies proposed by the participants included creating a Student Coordinator, providing free conference registration for student helpers, moving meetings and conferences to different locations, creating or improving association websites, and identifying services that could be used to raise funds such as providing online professional development.
Crandall concluded that mentoring young leaders is crucial if the field of English language teaching is to grow. “A lot of times, what happens in associations is that you get a core of older leaders, and it’s difficult for a young leader to find a role and get into a leadership position. We need to find ways to let young people in.”
From Crandall’s report on the leadership institute in Budapest, Hungary:
“The following song, to the tune of “Those Were the Days,” was written and performed by the participants during the last day of the leadership conference held in Budapest, Hungary, in October 2013.”
“Once upon a time there met 12 leaders,
And among them, Jodi, guiding them.
Remember how we spent away the hours,
All in downtown Budapest.
They are the days my friend,
We thought would never end,
We challenged George* and Gergo** every day.
We’ve seen a lot of sights,
And looked with wider eyes,
At what we’ll have to do upon return.
We are a leader team,
We know how to dream,
We’ll change the world one day
To a better place.
We’ve done a lot of tasks,
And many questions asked,
We have to answer
When we’re back again.
*George Chinnery, RELO Budapest and host of the event
**Gergo Santha, RELO Assistant Budapest
Gunay Babayeva Zakir (Azerbaijan)
Ildiko Daranyi (Hungary)
Larisa Guzun (Moldova)
Nina Jeroncic (Slovenia)
Danka Kezunovic (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Fitim Krasniqi (Kosovo)
Ekaterina Mashurova (Russia)
Irida Mehilli (Albania)
Shushanik Melik-Adamyan (Armenia)
Giuli Mikeladze (Georgia)
Elena Nadtocheva (Russia)
Svitlana Zubenko (Ukraine)