To come out, or not to come out? This is the question I have been facing for as long as I can remember. Born and bred in Poland, the most homophobic country in the EU (Rainbow Europe, 2021), I had stayed in the ‘closet’ for most of my life. It was not until I arrived in the UK that, at the age of 24, I mustered up enough courage to come out to my family and friends. Although I have come a long way in terms of self-acceptance and openness, I have not been brave enough to come out to my learners. I work as an ESOL teacher in the North of England, with learners aged 14-16. Many of them are of Asian, African and Eastern European origin, which increases my wariness even more, as I am aware their backgrounds may be even more homophobic than Poland. Consequently, I go to great lengths to hide this particular part of my identity from them, convincing myself I’m not obliged to share my personal life with anyone. Nevertheless, I simultaneously feel that, as a language teacher, I am, in a way, limited. I can’t, for instance, use personal stories as teaching opportunities, or build better relationships with my students by being honest with them. This inability to be a ‘whole’ person in the classroom and the constant fear of being ‘caught red-handed’ by my learners made me question the suitability of my identity for the teaching profession many times. It also inspired me to embark on a personal quest (which took the form of my MA dissertation project) to investigate whether other LGBTQ+ English language teachers working in the UK face similar issues, bearing in mind the UK is a relatively tolerant country where LGBTQ+ people are legally protected by the Equality Act 2010 and can enter into civil partnerships/marriages and adopt children (Stonewall, 2018).
According to literature, language teachers’ identities are extremely multidimensional (Schutz et al., 2018), comprising such components as one’s place of origin, accent, race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation (Yazan & Rudolph, 2018). All of these might have an important impact on one’s teaching (Varghese et al., 2005). Kayi-Aydar (2019) argues the way teachers perceive themselves may tremendously influence their professional development/relationships, pedagogical choices and classroom practices, impacting their teaching abilities. Not having to conceal a significant part of one’s identity contributes to classroom dynamics and learning processes; open queer teachers may, for instance, illustrate the importance of honesty (Lander, 2018). For some, this may even be a precondition for successful/confident teaching, facilitating richer debates, enhancing student awareness/tolerance and encouraging them to express opinions more freely (Orlov & Allen, 2014). Although teachers’ sexuality may not be an appropriate classroom topic, it is easy for heterosexuals to mention their husbands/wives, and if a female teacher is married, her name is often prefixed with Mrs (Gray, 2010), which Connell (2015:69) calls “the invisible privileges granted straight teachers”. Contrastingly, many LGBTQ+ teachers have to declare their sexuality (Gray, 2010). Connell (2015) places them in three categories:
Splitters try to separate their personal and professional life by staying in the closet. A “lack of discursive space” for non-heteronormative identities in the workplace usually renders them invisible and/or silenced (Gray, 2013a). Some do not know how/when to do it whereas others think it is inappropriate/unprofessional, too personal or irrelevant. Others claim educators should be ‘neutral’; worry about being pigeonholed or losing their students’ respect. One’s internalised homophobia may be a factor, too, and those working with children may fear accusations of ‘recruitment’ (i.e. trying to indoctrinate children into homosexuality) and/or ‘molestation’ (Connell, 2015; Snelbecker, 1994). Splitting may also impact one’s life decisions, e.g. living outside the catchment area (Lee, 2019).
Knitters implement their queerness at work, which may range from coming out solely to colleagues to a full identity incorporation (Connell, 2015). Some carefully plan their disclosure, often integrating it into the curriculum (Leal & Crookes, 2018); others do it more casually/spontaneously, when good opportunities arise (Snelbecker, 1994). Usually, a friendly relationship with learners helps (ibid.). Many feel obliged to be visible/vocal LGBTQ+ role models (Henderson, 2017, Leal & Crookes 2018), educating learners about the LGBTQ+ myths and realities and combating homophobia/stereotypes (Snelbecker, 1994). For others, hiding is simply too costly emotionally (Gray, 2013a), making them feel inauthentic, hampered and stressed (Orlov & Allen, 2014). Moreover, self-disclosure can develop one’s rapport with learners; let them be their genuine selves and evoke greater feelings of fulfilment (Leal & Crookes, 2018).
Quitters fail to achieve the above and cannot function as teachers at all, choosing a new career or moving into administration positions requiring less teacher-student interaction (Connell, 2015).
As a firm ‘splitter’ myself, I wished to discover the percentage of ‘splitters’, ‘knitters’ and ‘quitters’ out there. To achieve this, I adopted a mixed-methods approach (Dörnyei, 2007). My study, conducted in 2020, was open to practitioners from various ELT settings including EAL in primary/secondary schools, ESOL in further education, and EAP at universities. In total, 35 queer-identifying teachers completed the survey and 4 took part in the follow-up semi-structured interviews. I used content analysis to quantify all the qualitative data (Dörnyei, 2007).
The questionnaire revealed almost all of the LGBTQ+ questionnaire respondents (97%) thought their queer identity was compatible with their teaching role and they had never thought they should not be teachers because of it. However, only about half of them (54%) felt free to fully
express their identities in the classroom. 29% felt limited at work due to their identities and 34% thought it has a negative impact on their quality of teaching. 31% felt they were in a worse position than their straight colleagues (in terms of teaching opportunities and feeling comfortable) and 37% sometimes felt jealous when their straight colleagues talked freely/openly about their personal lives. When asked about their private lives by learners (e.g. about being married), 63% of the LGBTQ+ teachers told them the truth. The interviews showed that the queer teachers found it easier to be fully themselves in the UK than in other countries, but also stressed the importance of their right to privacy. Interestingly, 23% of the LGBTQ+ respondents had made career decisions based on their queer identities; 6% made life decisions based on their queer status (e.g. buying a house outside the catchment area) and 11% suffered from mental health issues caused by being a queer teacher (e.g. stress/anxiety caused by hiding from students).
While most of the questionnaire respondents were ‘out’ to all/most/some of their close friends (91%), family members (74%), colleagues (65%) and managers (57%), only 34% came out to all/most/some of their learners. Some of them neither manifested nor denied their sexuality. Those questionnaire respondents who had come out to their learners gave various reasons for this decision; the top three answers were:
(1) to be a role model for LGBTQ+ learners
(2) to broaden learners’ cultural knowledge
(3) to educate learners about LGBTQ+ myths and realities.
The ‘role model’ factor was particularly emphasised by the interviewees. The top three coming out strategies among the questionnaire respondents were:
(1) spontaneously, when a good opportunity presents itself
(2) wearing an LGBTQ+ symbol, or having it in the classroom
(3) establishing a rapport with learners first.
The significance of a friendly relationship was highlighted by the interviewees. Moreover, none of the ‘out’ questionnaire respondents reported negative reactions from their learners; on the contrary, the reactions were either positive/mostly positive (65%) or neutral (35%), which was confirmed by the interviews.
Those survey respondents who were not ‘out’ to any/some of their learners provided several reasons, however, the top three answers were:
(1) to avoid confrontation with culturally/religiously conservative learners (2) feeling this is not relevant/important to their teaching role
(3) to avoid confusing learners with limited cultural knowledge.
The interviewees additionally emphasised people’s ignorance and traditional views.
My small-scale research suggested about half of the LGBTQ+ teachers based in the UK are feeling comfortable to fully express their identities in the workplace. Most of them seem to accept themselves and feel comfortable in their own skin, and very few made career/life decisions based purely on their queerness, which suggests more and more of queer teachers are determined to live and work wherever they like.
Nevertheless, although most of the LGBTQ+ teachers are ‘out’ to their colleagues, only 1/3 have come out to their learners; therefore, they could be described as ‘splitters’. The main reason given was to avoid conflict with religiously conservative learners who have limited cultural competence. This therefore implies that teaching international learners in the UK may involve extra obstacles for queer teachers, which may be less the case for non-ELT contexts.
Those LGBTQ+ teachers who do come out to their learners do so for various reasons but mostly to act as role models for potential queer students. Others come out as they feel obliged to educate learners and broaden their horizons. Depending on the situation, my participants used a variety of coming out strategies; however, it was confirmed that developing a close bond with learners is crucial for one’s coming out decision. Interestingly, none of the ‘out’ respondents/interviewees reported negative reactions to their coming outs, which might suggest that being an openly queer teacher is not such a ‘big deal’ as one might imagine, or, simply, that these teachers felt comfortable with their students and knew them well enough to gauge that they would take this information well. This would therefore imply that the tutors who didn’t tell their students did so as they had accurately predicted that for their specific student group this wouldn’t go too well.
It seems it would make a huge difference if more LGBTQ+ teachers were brave enough to come out and fully embrace their identities. Personally, I have not yet officially come out to any of my learners, although I am sure most of them have an inkling. Am I going to? Definitely. It is just a matter of time. And courage.
If there are any LGBTQ+ English language teachers reading this article, I have several questions for you. Are you ‘out’ to your learners? Why? Why not? Do you openly discuss your personal life in class when suitable? Are there any limitations? Please share your story in the comments below or contribute to the Emerging Voices Padlet here https://padlet.com/eap4socialjustice/zwyhw6oji4pq5rlf.
If you’d like to contribute to @EAP4SJ Tweet Meet discussion, we’re launching our first #EAP4SJ #EmergingVoices Tweet Meet on Monday 11 October 2021 at 1:15 – 2:15pm BST – you’ll also be able to join the Twitter event later if the time is unsuitable. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!
K. is an English language practitioner working in West Yorkshire, England. Having previously taught EAL within secondary education, he is currently teaching ESOL at an FE college to learners aged 14-16. In the future, he would like to pursue a career in higher education, as an EAP tutor. He holds both the Cambridge DELTA and a Master’s degree in English Language Teaching. His most recent academic interests centre around language teacher identity and queer pedagogy, and their implications for the ELT classroom. So far, he has published two articles.
Connell, C. (2015). School’s Out. Gay and Lesbian Teachers in the Classroom. California: University of California Press.
Dörnyei, Z. (2007). Research Methods in Applied Linguistics. Quantitative, Qualitative and Mixed Methodologies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gray, E. M. (2010). ‘Miss, Are You Bisexual?’ The (Re)Production of Heteronormativity within Schools and the Negotiation of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Teachers’ Private and Professional Worlds. [Ph.D. Thesis]. Lancashire, UK: Lancaster University.
Gray, E. M. (2013). Coming out as a Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual Teacher. Negotiating Private and
Henderson, H. (2017). Silence, Obligation and Fear in the Possible Selves of UK LGBT-Identified Teachers. Gender and Education, 31 (7), pp. 1-17.
Kayi-Aydar, H. (2019). Language Teacher Identity. Language Teaching, 52 (3), pp. 281-295.
Lander, R. (2018). Queer English Language Teacher Identity: A Narrative Exploration in Colombia. Profile: Issues In Teachers’ Professional Development, 20 (1), pp. 89-101.
Leal, P. & Crookes, G. V. (2018). “Most of my Students Kept Saying, ‘I never Met a Gay Person’”: A Queer English Language Teacher’s Agency for Social Justice, System, 79, pp. 1-11.
Lee, C. (2019). How do Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Teachers Experience UK Rural School Communities? Social Sciences, 8 (249), pp. 1-14.
Orlov, J. M. & Allen, K. R. (2014). Being Who I Am: Effective Teaching, Learning, Student Support, and Societal Change Through LGBQ Faculty Freedom. Journal of Homosexuality, 61 (7), pp. 1025-1052.
Professional Worlds. Sex Education: Sexuality, Society and Learning, 13 (6), pp. 702-714.
Rainbow Europe. (2021). Country Ranking. Available from:
Today marks the sad anniversary of George Floyd’s murder. Whilst we are relieved to see that some justice has been served in his case, we are well aware that similar injustices continue to affect families and communities across the world. We have also seen the Covid-19 pandemic disproportionately affect people racialised as Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic. It is clear there is still a lot of work to be done to move towards race equality.
Last summer, we posted a statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. In that post, we posed a number of questions on race and racism within our EAP community and we have subsequently sought answers via events we’ve attended and some we’ve hosted. We promised that events we held would “…encourage learning, reflection and, ultimately, action”. In this commemorative post we share what we’ve learnt, where we’ve gone wrong, and how we plan to keep working towards addressing race inequality issues in EAP.
In our BLM statement, we highlighted that the absence of discussions on these topics in EAP was notable. Keen to start to address this, we put on a webinar entitled Let’s Talk About Race in EAP: Practitioner Perspectives. We heard from two EAP practitioners, Henry James Robinson and Lorraine Mighty, who shared invaluable insights into how their lived experience of how race, racism and white privilege intersect with EAP touches on a wide range of issues and practices within the sector, including those related to employment, transnational education, the internationalisation agenda, Western epistemology, critical pedagogy and decolonisation.
To help us continue our learning, we turned our attention to our foundations in the fields of English Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics, and work which was being done to examine race and ELT. One important article released in May 2020 entitled Worth the Risk: Towards Decentring Whiteness in ELT (by J.P.B. Gerald) argues for a critical examination of whiteness in the field of ELT, and the deleterious impact that it has on racialised students and teachers. Gerald expanded on his article in an IATEFL ESOL SIG webinar held in August 2020, and was subsequently invited to attend an EAP in Ireland reading group which focused on his article and the implications for our sector. This led to a fruitful discussion, which, along with Gerald’s presentation, can be accessed here. It was refreshing to see these ideas being explored in EAP circles.
We were also able to gain useful insights from turning our gaze to the HE sector in general. One promising development was the landmark Advance HE declaration that many Scottish universities have now endorsed, acknowledging that:
“Racism exists on our campuses and in our society. Call it what it is and reject it in all its forms. We stand united against racism.”
Whilst acknowledgement is a great step forward, it is not always a simple task to recognise racism in all its forms, especially with regard to structural racism, which is covert and often difficult to hold to account (Eddo-Lodge, 2017:64). Indeed, sometimes attempts to hold it to account are off the mark. In a webinar hosted by Cardiff University in May 2021 entitled Decolonising ‘Safe Spaces’: Talking Race, Faith and Culture in Post-Race Eduscapes, Prof. Heidi Mirza made the point that much of the change that has occurred with regard to race relations in HE can be regarded as performative, a ‘tick box’ culture, and that true equality, the ‘holy grail’ of social justice education, can only be achieved when teachers become transformative agents, developing reciprocal relationships with their students, and giving them their love, their care and their time. Mirza’s conceptualisation of racial justice here is not new; it builds upon the notion of engaged, ‘transformative pedagogy’ championed by bell hooks, through which a teacher helps to build community and creates an environment in which students come to ‘recognise the value of each individual voice’ (hooks, 1994:40).
This connection between equity, justice and the adoption of a relational approach in the classroom was further underlined in Dr. Maha Bali’s conceptualisation of a pedagogy of equity and care in her plenary talk at the BALEAP 2021 conference, entitled Creating Equitable, Caring Communities Online (which we outlined in a recent blog post). A particularly useful analogy which she proposed to demonstrate the role of the teacher in this relationship is that of the teacher-as-host in the space of the classroom, recognising that
“they own that space, that they have power in it, and that they are actively responsible for making students feel at home, as welcome guests. The perception that all members of a class are always naturally able to participate as equals in that space is an illusion; marginality can be both visible and invisible, and equitable conditions need to be actively and consciously created by the person who wields the most power in that space, and who therefore has the responsibility to wield it with intentional equity – the teacher.” (EAP4SJ, 2021)
That this conceptualisation is relevant not only for teachers in the classroom but for us as a SIG committee hosting discussions about race and other social justice issues pertaining to our field is a lesson we learned the hard way.
Learning from our mistakes
This lesson came about as a result of an exchange which occurred in the plenary session of the Visions of Social Responsibility World Cafe which we hosted at the BALEAP Kent PIM in November 2020. Having been discussing the concept of white privilege in a break-out room discussion, one participant expressed their view in the wrap-up session that, though they were white, they did not feel privileged, as they felt marginalised in the sector by English not being their L1, and had been getting by on precarious contracts for years. With little time, and perhaps not enough preparation to respond to this challenge, we acknowledged this form of marginalisation but failed to make clear that, despite this, the participant would still be benefitting from white privilege – as explained well by John Amaechi in this video. Thanks to feedback from another participant we realise that by not fully explaining how other marginalisation differs to those associated with race, some of our members who identify as Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic may have felt unsafe in that space. For this, we apologise unreservedly.
This critical incident prompted us to reflect deeply on our role as a SIG, and the concept of “safe space”, which we had been so keen to enact. Prior to this incident, we had felt that our role was to create spaces in which participants could be free to speak openly and without judgement about their thoughts, feelings and experiences on a number of SJ-related topics, in line with the conceptualisation of “safe space” employed by Jackson (2014, in Flesner & Von der Lippe, 2019:277). However, we were not taking into account the structurally asymmetrical nature of the power relations which can come into play in discussions of sensitive topics (Callan, 2016, in Flesner & Von der Lippe) such as race and white privilege. We realised that, as outlined by Applebaum (2008:412), by giving space to a white participant to express this position unchallenged, the effect had been one of re-centering whiteness in this exchange and re-marginalising the experiences of those who are already marginalised in our field and beyond.
In the light of this insight, Maha Bali’s conceptualisation of teacher-as-host has renewed potency. If applied to our role as hosts of SIG events, it becomes evident that, in an inequitable world, simply creating a space for discussion is not enough; a good host is responsible for ensuring that the conditions in which that discussion is conducted are equitable, and that all participants not only feel welcome but also feel included and able to contribute without fear of being (re)marginalised. The challenge then becomes how to reconcile this with encouraging an open and constructive discussion of thoughts, feelings and ideas. There is no straightforward solution to this challenge, but there are a number of steps which we intend to take to move things forward.
we have created a Padlet page containing a range of useful starting points for EAP and ELT practitioners interested in developing their thinking and practice in the areas of race and white privilege. The resources there range from short bite-size videos to books, articles and webinars with foci including issues relating to race and racism in EAP/ELT, Higher Education and wider society. We hope there is something for everyone. This Padlet can be accessed here, and we encourage you to explore the resources there and to add any further useful resources to this resources bank too
we commit to making space for colleagues to learn about issues of race and racism and discuss/share actions we can take to be anti-racist in our EAP practice and within our institutions. Our first action on this will be to hold a Reading Group on Friday 25th June 12.00-13.00 BST. The article we will be reading is Race and Language Teaching by Dr Kerry Soo Von Esch, Dr Suhanthie Motha and Prof Ryuko Kubota. Further details about this session will be available soon and publicised via our website, our Twitter feed and the EAP4SJ and BALEAP JISCmail lists
we will actively provide a platform for the voices of colleagues racialised as Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic to be centred in our conversations around the holistic enhancement of EAP practices
in response to the recent announcement of the BALEAP Enacting Social Justice in EAP Practice funding stream, we strongly encourage EAP practitioners to apply for this, and it is a fantastic opportunity for issues around race, racism and white privilege to be spotlighted in one or more of the proposals
through our work in other areas of social justice within EAP, such as climate justice, we intend to keep reiterating the links with racial justice to keep this issue on the agenda and to foster a sense of shared solidarity
We have called this blog post “Let’s keep talking about race in EAP” … and that’s exactly what we intend to do. It hasn’t always been a smooth journey – it’s been a steep learning curve for us and we’re still learning. We apologise for the errors we have made and we commit to do better.
A key learning on this journey towards creating a sector which is self-aware when it comes to race and white privilege, and is willing and able to take steps to tackle race inequality, is the vital importance of a variety of voices in the conversation, which helps us keep learning from each other. We were very happy to recently welcome Lorraine Mighty onto our SIG committee, who has brought, among many other things, the perspective of a Black EAP practitioner to our work, which is something which we were previously sorely lacking. Our thinking and development has been greatly enriched from diversifying our committee in this way.
We recognise that there are many other people who are marginalised based on other protected characteristics, class and/or native speakerism. We will aim to make space for multiple conversations to happen but as a small group of volunteers we’re conscious of the limitations on what we can realistically achieve in any given year. We welcome any suggestions on activities that our members may want to lead on which align with our broader SIG aims. So please do get in touch if you have any ideas you would like our support on.
That said, discussing issues of race, racism and anti-racist practice will be one of our areas of focus over the next year. With this in mind, we would like to reiterate our pledge from our BLM statement last year – “As the EAP for Social Justice SIG, as teachers, and as human beings, we stand in solidarity with all who have to live with such effects of racism and white privilege, however subtle or overt, every day of their lives. We also stand with those who wish to work actively towards eliminating it in its many forms”.
We look forward to working with you over the forthcoming year and beyond as we continue to make the changes needed to our individual practice and institutional structures to address race inequality.
Applebaum, B. (2008) ‘Doesn’t my experience count?’ White students, the authority of experience and social justice pedagogy. Race, Ethnicity and Education, 11:4, 405-414. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13613320802478945
Like for many in our EAP community, our minds are still buzzing from the wealth of insights gained from the rich range of sessions offered at the recent online BALEAP 2021 conference hosted by the University of Glasgow. Ever keen to identify social justice (SJ) related aspects of EAP practices and pedagogies, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on what SJ insights can be teased out from the conference. Some of these insights are more overt than others, such as in the visionary, inspirational talk given by Dr. Maha Bali, the first plenary speaker, who advocated for the widespread adoption of a pedagogy of equity and care in her talk entitled Creating Equitable, Caring Communities Online. But, as social justice goes by many names, we were also interested in identifying other, less overt references to practices and pedagogies which may be regarded as being aligned with social justice principles. This feeds into one of the key aims of our SIG – to widen the visible parameters of the field of social justice by demonstrating the range of initiatives which can be shown to fall under the SJ umbrella.
As Maha’s keynote symbolically seemed to set the tone for many of the other sessions at the conference, it seems useful to reflect this in this blog post by using some of her observations as a framework to talk about other SJ resonances from a sample of the sessions that we attended and, in the process, to show how a pedagogy of equity and care can be seen to underpin much good practice currently being developed in the EAP classroom.
Overview of Maha’s key points
The keynote was introduced by Iwona Winiarska-Pringle, who quoted an extract from one of Maha’s blog posts from 2015, which usefully summed up the importance of care in the classroom:
“Sometimes the most valuable thing we can offer our students is genuine care for them, their well-being, their happiness. Not just their grades. Not just their learning. But their whole selves” (Bali, 2015).
This unapologetic focus on an aspect of teaching which has traditionally been undervalued in terms of institutional recognition and recompense, but which many teachers and students instinctively do and appreciate anyway, was very refreshing, as was the fact that the Glasgow BALEAP Conference team gave Maha the space to spotlight these important issues in the first keynote of the 2021 biennial conference.
However, Maha was quick to emphasise that care without equity is not enough, as, for example, equity without genuine care may lead to empty tokenism, while care without equity may lead to care being given selectively. She demonstrated the interplay of these two elements through the following Equity/Care Matrix (Bali & Zamora, 2020):
She then proceeded to show that care and equity can work on a number of levels in the classroom, and that it is important to intentionally attend to how we might enact these principles at each level:
Of particular note is the fact that Maha enacted the very principles of which she spoke in the way in which she chose to deliver the plenary itself; to put it in her own words, she “walked the talk”, which is a vital principle of all social justice work. For example, she started the session with a “chatterfall”, in which she asked the audience a number of questions related to their well-being – such as “What gives you energy these days?” – and invited them to respond in the chat box. She encouraged the sharing of reflections at various points throughout the plenary, and responded to many of these, thus enacting her principle of facilitating equitable participation and responding accordingly. She also enacted her recommendation of keeping online activities short in order to keep people’s energy levels up. Another principle that was reflected in her plenary was to give participants the option of commenting on her PowerPoint slides during or after the session. This is reminiscent of an approach which she uses with her students in which she invites them to annotate the syllabus – to literally add notes to the syllabus document regarding things which they find interesting, confusing, etc. This enactment of the key principles outlined in her talk was a powerful testament to the value of adopting such an approach, and she encouraged the audience to explore a wealth of further activities adopting these principles through the Equity Unbound website she co-curated, and, indeed, invited us to add to these if we wished to: https://onehe.org/equity-unbound .
Having outlined Maha’s approach, we will now go on to weave these together with points made in other sessions throughout the conference.
Removing the doors: Tackling systemic inequality in our sector
Maha shared a powerful analogy of what we need to do to tackle systemic inequality in our sector. She suggested that simply opening doors is not enough; we need to remove these doors completely, as an opened door can still be closed by someone else at a later point:
This reflects the fact that it is important that measures taken to tackle inequality are not simply dependent on the goodwill of individuals; the systems and processes adopted by the institution and organisations as a whole need to undergo a paradigm shift in order for such measures to be truly sustainable.
That said, it is often through the work of pioneering individuals that such doors are even opened in the first place. This was reflected in the EAP for Social Justice SIG’s EAP for Refugees session, which was inspired by the visionary widening participation work of the late Carol Irvine, along with colleague Dr. Bill Guariento, at the University of Glasgow. In his testimonial to Carol and her work, Bill outlined how Carol decided to use her own position within the English for Academic Study unit at the University of Glasgow to lobby for the provision of free places for refugee students on their summer pre-sessional programme, and she was successful in this venture.
Not only this, but she and Bill were also very generous in terms of sharing their good practice with others in the field of EAP, which influenced the resultant practice of at least one other university – the University of Leicester. To expand on this, we then heard from Phil Horspool, who outlined how the University of Sanctuary work at the University of Leicester started with the work of a few individuals in its English Language Teaching Unit, and has now been extended into a university-wide sanctuary initiative, through which change has been written into systems and process in many areas of operation, though it remains the case that the model of practice employed still places language provision and EAP at the core of the university-wide sanctuary work. Examples of how this work has been embedded throughout the institution include the provision of up to 12 places for new refugee-background students on pre-sessional courses each term, and the creation of a number of sanctuary scholarships for both face-to-face and distance learning degree programmes. A pictorial representation of the network of internal and external departments / services / organisations involved in this provision can be seen here:
Has the door therefore been removed from its hinges in this instance? Phil was clear that there is still work to be done in this regard, both within the university and in terms of working together with other universities. Whilst the degree of communication between universities about sanctuary work is certainly improving, partly through simply having conversations about their respective sanctuary work, and partly through the existence of the Universities of Sanctuary JISCmail list, which provides a useful forum for the sharing of information and good practice … more can be done in terms of putting in place inter-university systems to remove unnecessary doors. For example, Phil is keen to set up a process by which universities can recognise the exit grades that sanctuary students may have gained through other institutions’ pre-sessional programmes, thereby expanding the degree of choice that refugee-background students have as to the institution they might join and the course they might take. This flexibility may be particularly helpful for people seeking asylum, who may be moved to a different city by the Home Office at short notice. It is clear, then, that more can be done at sector-level to remove more doors.
One successful initiative which is already operating at sector level (and has been since 2016) is the CARA Syria Programme, led by Michael Jenkins. The main purpose of this scheme is to enable Syrian academics in exile in Turkey to continue their academic activities to enable them to retain and continue to develop academic skills and capital, which will allow them to play a vital role in the rebuilding of Syria (when it is safe for them to return there) and the education of a new generation of professionals and academics.
Michael outlined how the EAP component of the CARA Syria scheme operates, with volunteer EAP practitioners providing weekly 1:1 online lessons to Syrian academics in exile in Turkey. Another component of the CARA scheme, outlined by Baraa Khuder and Dr Bojana Petric in their presentation entitled Established Academics’ EAL Academic Literacies Development in Exile: Research-Based Materials for ERPP Teaching, involves CARA participants working alongside UK academics to help them publish in international journals. In their study of a number of these co-authorships episodes, however, Baraa and Bojana found that collaborative writing involving asymmetrical power relations is not always unproblematic, and that “the mentoring aspect of collaboration is crucial and its neglect (as a result of prioritising the publishing goals or lack of understanding of the nature of academic literacies development) could lead to negative feelings and misunderstandings, negatively impacting development” (Khuder & Petric, 2021). An example was cited of a CARA mentor asking a Syrian academic with whom she was co-authoring a paper “why anyone would be interested in reading about a plant in Syria”. Quite unsurprisingly, this comment was received negatively by the CARA participant, who felt that the implication was that people would not know about or be interested in Syria in its own right, an implication which he found very upsetting, and he therefore deleted the comment in question. However, once the mentor and mentee sat down to discuss their feelings and perspectives about this feedback, the mentor elaborated on the rationale behind her comment, explaining that the feedback was related to audience considerations and was an attempt to limit the potential “parochialism” implicit in his linking of a plant to one specific country in a paper intended for publication in an international journal. The CARA participant felt able to accept this explanation and the pair were subsequently able to move forward from this episode. To attempt to reduce the likelihood of negative encounters such as this occurring again, Baraa and Bojana developed workshop materials and activities based on real-life co-authorship episodes in which negative feelings emerged, in order to encourage participants to reflect on their own practice, to draw their attention to such issues arising from potential misunderstandings and hidden emotions and how they might use an intervention model to address these effectively. This session highlighted the importance of not only removing doors from their hinges but of doing so with care and sensitivity. Furthermore, incidents such as the one outlined above clearly also raise the issue of asymmetrical power relations in teaching and learning contexts. Exploring these dynamics was not the focus of this research project, but please see the Teacher as Host sections below for examples of how asymmetrical power relations have been successfully challenged in other contexts.
Fostering psycho-social well-being (both students’ AND teachers’!)
The need for care, sensitivity and trust in the EAP classroom was another theme which was emphasised by Maha and echoed by others throughout the conference. Maha emphasised the idea that “building community online is more important than ever due to the trauma of the pandemic”, and she proceeded to outline a number of trauma-informed pedagogical strategies that she employs to this end, including talking to students about how trauma affects the brain and the learning process to demystify this phenomenon, and giving student strategies for tackling it. One such strategy is to build in class activities which are less anxiety-inducing, such as giving students the opportunity to introduce themselves asynchronously rather than synchronously, which gives them more time to reflect on how they wish to present themselves to others (which puts this process more in the students’ control). Another strategy is to ask students to keep a “gratitude journal”, which is often used in the field of positive psychology, and has been found to lead to greater levels of psychological well being (Seligman et al, 2005, in Falout, 2016:115). Students are then invited to share only the parts that they feel comfortable sharing with others in the class. There are many other suggestions for community-building strategies included in the website which Maha co-curated: https://onehe.org/equity-unbound/
This emphasis on the importance of community building to students’ sense of psycho-social well being was echoed in Dr Ide Haghi’s session, focusing on Students’ Affective Engagement with, and Well-being during, an Online EAP Course. She found that the students surveyed found the experience of attending an online pre-sessional course relatively stressful, and felt a reduced sense of belonging as compared with face-to-face classes. She therefore recommended that, in order for students to establish a good sense of belonging to their class and to smaller study groups, teachers should build guided relationship-building activities into a course early on. She also found that students miss opportunities for out-of-class interaction with classmates and teachers, so suggested that occasional out-of-class live sessions might be provided to help meet this need. Another recommendation was that, where pre-sessional courses are divided into smaller blocks, students should be kept in the same class when they move to the next course, in order that they may continue to develop their bonds with their classmates, bearing in mind this is more difficult and time-consuming to achieve in an online class, partly due to the lack of informal spaces to chat and build relationships.
This relates to findings reported by Andrew Northern and Rebecca White in their session entitled Surviving and Thriving in Challenging Times: Investigating Pre-Sessional Teacher Emotions on an Online Summer Pre-Sessional Course. In a survey of online summer pre-sessional tutors at Imperial College London, they found that the tutors missed personal contact with their students and also other tutors; in terms of the latter, though there were attempts by the managers to encourage the building of an informal online support network among the tutors, in an attempt to reduce the occurrences of tutor stress and burnout, this met with limited success. It is unclear as to why this was the case, but one participant speculated that “to build a staff community, there would be a benefit in having a space that can work by different rules – the only channels to post to everyone are ‘official’ and it can restrict what you feel you can say”. The implication here is that a less formal medium of communication such as WhatsApp might be preferable as a means of social and emotional connection between tutors, but the tutors in this study did not naturally use this method either, potentially because of screen fatigue, or a reluctance to intrude on people’s personal time. The question as to how to build a sense of social connection between tutors on an online course was left open, but the implication was that it is something which tutors missed and felt that would have benefited from. It would be interesting to see whether implementing some of the recommendations for community building amongst students (as outlined by Maha and Ide above) might be effective amongst tutors too.
Teacher as host: Equitable hospitality
With regard to equitable community building and ensuring that all students feel valued in the classroom, Maha furnished us with a powerful metaphor; teachers need to recognise that they are the host in the space of the classroom, that they own that space, that they have power in it, and that they are actively responsible for making students feel at home, as welcome guests. The perception that all members of a class are always naturally able to participate as equals in that space is an illusion; marginality can be both visible and invisible, and equitable conditions need to be actively and consciously created by the person who wields the most power in that space, and who therefore has the responsibility to wield it with intentional equity – the teacher.
What might intentional hospitality look like in EAP? Might it involve inviting students to employ “translanguaging” in this space? Translanguaging was the focus of the paper given by Dr. Yan Zhao, Xi’an Jiaotong and Qiwei Zhang, entitled Translanguaging and Identity Construction as a Resource for Learning in the EAP Classrooms in China. They argued that, by allowing students to “evoke and integrate different types of knowledge, discourses, norms and perspectives which they have previously gained through their bilingual experience” (Creese & Blackledge, 2015) and use their mother tongue for certain activities in the EAP classroom, the Chinese EAP students in their study were able to bring useful aspects of their out-of-class identity into the EAP classroom, leading to improved learning outcomes. For example, students’ demonstration of critical and analytical thinking skills increased when they were permitted to write initial written reflections in their mother tongue.
Another way in which the intentional hospitality analogy might be extended through a focus on language practices can be seen in Sue Teale and Rina Vokel de Vries’ session entitled EAP as a Lingua Franca: moving towards a more inclusive, internationalised standard. They reported that many English-speaking HE institutions take the deficit approach of expecting conformity to native English norms and Western academic culture (Jenkins & Wingate, 2015) and, as a result, international students’ communicative confidence can actually drop after joining the English-speaking academic community. To achieve true internationalisation, Sue and Rina advocated approaching academic English as a Lingua Franca by applying the more inclusive definition of mutual intelligibility – because, as they claimed, “after all, most HE institutions specify the intended graduate attributes of being able to operate in a globalised world, with different culturally determined communication styles and Englishes”. They held that the above has consequences for the pedagogical approach in EAP, as they defined proficiency as being able to communicate in an intercultural, international setting rather than attaining (near-)native ‘perfection’ when redesigning their Pre-sessional EAP course by integrating stimulating topics of culture, internationalisation of HE, and students’ mental health, which allowed students to explore content of their new reality in a more reflective way. By emphasising writing and speaking fluency, and offering native and non-native language exemplars, the EAP practitioners provided a more inclusive, international outlook, hoping to increase students’ confidence. It was great to see that this innovative, confidence-building approach worked and supported the authors’ original focus on lessening the dominance of native-English speakerism in academia, as the scholars shared results of the post-course survey and focus groups in which students stated that the approach taken was engaging and challenging as the vast majority indicated their academic language and general social English skills had improved.
By the same token, the intentional hospitality analogy might also be applied to teachers’ responsibility to develop equitable conditions when planning for interaction in the international classroom, as outlined in a paper presentation from the same EAP practitioner, Rina Vokel de Vries and her co-presenter, Kevin Haines, in a session entitled EAP for content lecturers in times of internationalisation: integrating intercultural and linguistic dimensions into CPD. The scholars emphasised that this interaction requires adjustment from lecturers and students alike as “lecturers need to forge pathways towards a more inclusive, internationalised approach by promoting intercultural exchange, providing equitable access to language, letting go of native speaker norms, and allowing for diverse communication styles” (Jenkins & Wingate, 2015). Rina and Kevin reflected on their involvement in integrating these skills into lecturers’ repertoire and its implications for Continuing Professional Development (CPD) which targets training in intercultural awareness and competence among staff. It was fascinating to hear that Birmingham managed to identify space for EAP tutors to play an active role in assisting educationally mobile students in adjusting to a different cultural and academic context and developing the ability to interact successfully in an English-speaking HE setting.
The presentation demonstrated the use of CPD materials and illustrated how EAP tutors can help with facilitating lecturers’ CPD. The scholars revealed their CPD utilises The EAP Toolkit including pedagogies such as grading language, scaffolding knowledge acquisition, and evaluating different communication styles. The scholars also commented on using materials found in EQUiiP, a recently completed Erasmus+ project, which offered a support platform for educational developers and content lecturers aiming to ensure quality in international and intercultural classrooms in HE. This open-access CPD resource consisting of specially designed modules on ‘Intercultural Group Dynamics’ and ‘The Role of Language in the International Classroom’ looked very appealing.
Teacher as host: Fostering student agency and awareness
In the manner of a good host, Maha invites us to always consider who may be excluded or disempowered by any choices which we make in the classroom. In the EAP classroom, this exercise can be taken further, with students themselves being encouraged to reflect on how ways in which academic arguments and texts are constructed are inclusive or exclusive to different readers. This theme was developed in Sanchia Rodrigues’ session entitled Challenging Colonial Legacies in EAP: Lessons and Limitations from a Pre-Undergraduate Programme. Sanchia described how she used the Academic Reading Circle model (Seburn, 2016) with her pre-undergraduate programme students to encourage them to challenge Anglocentrism in academic writing by identifying contextual references in the text and unpicking what assumptions are made through these about the expected reader, and deducing which readers may be excluded or marginalised as a result. This gave a useful insight into how the ARC model can be implemented to direct students’ attention to Anglo- or Euro-centric writing practices and to critically examine their implications for different readers.
This theme of fostering student agency by encouraging them to uncover and question underlying systems and power structures was also picked up in Symposium 2, entitled Facing the Internationalisation Challenge with Agency: The Pedagogical Work of the Laboratory of Academic Literacy (LLAC), by Dr Marilia Ferreira, Gabriella Pavesi and Daniela Cleusa Carvalho from the Universidade de Sao Paulo. They outlined how staff at the LLAC work to facilitate the development of students’ agency both through helping students become more aware of rhetorical structures at the levels of sentence and genre (Hyland, 2009; Swales & Feak, 2012) but also by questioning the activity of academic knowledge production and dissemination of which these academic conventions are a part (Engstrom, 2015). Marilia showed that, by implementing principles of Paulo Freire’s Critical Pedagogy and encouraging students not only to notice but also to question academic rules and conventions, students are able to implement both theoretical and critical thinking with agency to make more informed choices in their academic writing.
The concept of student agency and also that of equitable community building were further scrutinised by Dr Steve Brown and Dr Tomasz John in their paper entitled Navigating No-Man’s Land: Facilitating the Transition of International Scholars towards a PhD Study (also, lockdown!). Reporting on the insights from a case study investigating the transition international doctoral students navigate through when first starting their PhD journeys, the speakers gave us some thought-provoking insights into the concepts of Trans-National Education, the myth of the “international student” and the role of EAP in doctoral education. They proposed that, when designing a fit-for-purpose doctoral induction programme with an EAP component, there are different interpretations of the role and purpose of EAP that can lead to very different outcomes. Programmes concerned primarily with repairing the linguistic “deficits” of students follow an indoctrinatory model that seeks to assimilate international students into the current, hegemonic structures of the international academy. It is difficult to see how this model can allow international students to make any meaningful contribution to knowledge, as they are only valued for their ability to reproduce what is already deemed “acceptable”. Alternatively, a focus on individual empowerment may allow students on EAP programmes to achieve greater success within the current structures, but this model still fails to engage with systemic injustices and power imbalances. A third approach, however, seeks to emancipate international students from their deficit positions by addressing structural inequities through a model of inclusion, rather than one of integration. These different educational approaches – indoctrination, empowerment and emancipation – and their corresponding outcomes of assimilation, integration and inclusion, are presented in an ‘Emancipation Continuum’ (Brown 2021, forthcoming), which is offered as an analytical framework for exploring the emancipatory impact of ESOL on migrant communities. Steve and Tomasz proposed that a similar framework can be applied to EAP programmes to explore the extent to which they promote or restrict the freedoms of international students to contribute meaningfully to the international academy.
The above reasoning and theoretical frameworks were taken into account when designing the content of the 12-week long intensive doctoral induction programme. What emerged from Steve and Tomasz’s study was that the doctoral students became ‘border crossers’ as they engaged in an exploration of their own history and to reach an understanding of self and their own culture in relation to others in the new Western context. By the same token, the students actively challenged the stereotypical label of international students by adapting to the new role of ‘transformative intellectuals’ who challenged themselves to cross the imposed barriers on the borders of disciplines and cultures (Giroux, 1992, 15).
Steve and Tomasz reported that the students benefited from the DIP, as the programme allowed for experimentation within a new, fit-for-purpose curriculum, effectively fuelling creative explorations across these ideological borders. Students appreciated that the programme embraced the knowledge they brought with them, effectively accommodating their particular cultural trajectories by de-centring ownership of knowledge through criticality and reflection on their PhD proposals. Students also started to regard uncritical acceptance of existing hegemony as a symptom of deference; as their own critical thinking skills developed, they became increasingly interested in using their own praxis as researchers to disrupt the status quo rather than to comply with it as “this attitudinal shift implied that the programme had some kind of emancipatory impact, allowing students’ perspectives to become included in wider academic discourse” (Brown and John, 2022).
The papers outlined above indicate that approaches which foster student agency, critical awareness and questioning and disruption of existing hegemonies can and have been used successfully in different EAP contexts … but, coming back to the teacher-as-host analogy, it is the role of the teacher to first lay the groundwork and then invite students to bring different perspectives and ways of relating into their academic engagement.
It has been the intention of this blog post to identify social justice related strands running through the BALEAP 2021 conference, and to weave these together in a way in which resonances between different sessions can be highlighted. As can be seen just from insights gained from the sample of sessions explored in this piece, there is much exciting SJ-informed work being conducted and developed in our field at the moment, much of which reinforces the benefits of employing a pedagogy of equity and care.
Of course, we are also mindful that there were some talks that took a cautionary approach to the concept of pedagogies of care. For example in Dr. Alex Ding and Bee Bond’s session entitled What Do Considerations of Pedagogy Tell Us About the Profession and the Practitioner?, a suggestion was made that “we need to move away from a pedagogy of care that is only a pedagogy of care … if it’s caring for students but without a focus on learning, without a focus on knowledge”. This assertion appears to overlook the theoretical underpinnings of pedagogies of care promoted by scholars such as Paulo Freire, bell hooks and Henry A Giroux. Central to their work is that care is an essential element of creating the conditions for holistic and transformative learning and teaching. Indeed, these pedagogical principles can assist both students and teachers to:
determine what and whose knowledge is deemed worthy of study the first place
demystify and critique the existing hegemonies of their disciplines and beyond
determine what languages and language variants are permitted in the classroom and deemed worthy to be studied
dictate who has the right to speak and be heard
determine who is able to access and benefit from learning in the first place.
Teachers care deeply about students’ learning, and it is this deep care that drives socially oriented educators to search for ways to recognise and meet a wide range of students’ needs, and by doing so they do not need to reduce academic rigour or focus; on the contrary, they create a equitable space where students can develop their knowledge and skills in order to challenge rather than maintain the status quo of social and environmental inequalities. We see this as fundamental to critically engaged EAP learning, teaching, curriculum and assessment – not an optional add-on.
It is clear that there are more discussions to be had about conceptualisations of social justice praxis (including a pedagogy of equitable care) in our field, and what might and might not be regarded as falling under the SJ umbrella. A move is currently being made to investigate the range of conceptualisations of SJ in our field by SJ SIG committee members Dr Weronika Fernando, Iwona Winiarska-Pringle and Jo Kukuczka. They reported on their initial findings in their session entitled Social Justice and classroom practices: towards an EAP pedagogy of transformation and empowerment, revealing a richness and complexity in tutors’ understanding of, and employment of, SJ-informed pedagogical principles in the EAP classroom. Further expansion on the results of this study will be shared in their forthcoming paper, but, in the meantime …
… we’d love to hear from you!
If you’d like to join the conversation about the SJ strands running through the BALEAP conference and their implications for EAP pedagogies, please share your thoughts on our Google JamBoard. We’re very aware that we haven’t been able to capture all possible SJ-related insights from the conference, so we invite you to share any that we’ve missed on the JamBoard (click here) or simply add your thoughts in the comments section under this blog entry. We’re also aware that, while this piece has woven together different SJ insights, it hasn’t critiqued them fully – please feel free to add critical perspectives too.
Brown, S. (forthcoming), The Emancipation Continuum: Exploring the Role of ESOL (English for Speaker of Other Languages) in the Settlement of Immigrants. British Journal of Sociology of Education (Volume tbc).
Brown, S. and John, T. (2022), Navigating No-Man’s Land: Facilitating the Transition of International Scholars towards a PhD Study at a Scottish University (also lockdown!). In Lock, D. (Ed.), BORDERLANDS: THE INTERNATIONALISATION OF HIGHER EDUCATION TEACHING PRACTICES, Springer
Creese, A. and Blackledge, A. 2015. Translanguaging and identity in educational settings. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 35: pp. 20-35.
Engstrom, Y. (2015). Learning by expanding (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Fallout, J. (2016). The Dynamics of Past Selves in Language Learning and Well-Being. In: P.D. MacIntyre, T. Gregersen and S. Mercer (eds). Positive Psychology in SLA. Bristol, UK. Multilingual Matters, 112-129.
Giroux, H. (1992). Border crossings: Cultural workers and the politics of education. New York, NY: Routledge.
Hyland, K (2009). Academic discourse: English in a global context. Continuum.
Jenkins, J. and Wingate, U. (2015). ‘Staff and Students’ Perceptions of English Language Policies in ‘International’ Universities: A Case Study from the UK.’
Khuder, B., & Petrić, B. (2020). Academic socialisation through collaboration: Textual interventions in supporting exiled scholars’ academic literacies development. Education and Conflict Review , 3, 24-28.
Seburn, T. (2016) Academic reading circles. Createspace Independent Publishing Platform.
Swales, J.M. & Feak, C.B. (2012). Academic writing for graduate students: Essential tasks as skills (3rd ed.). University of Michigan Press.
The BALEAP Testing, Assessment, and Feedback and EAP for Social Justice Special Interest Groups would like to warmly invite you to our online event.
TAFSIG and EAP4SJ recently teamed up to bring you an interview with Dr Jan McArthur in which she explored how assessment might function as a tool for social justice in Higher Education, and particularly the role of values of trust, honesty, responsibility, forgiveness, and responsiveness.
In this world café event, we will invite you to join us in this discussion, with the focus on EAP assessment in terms of the current state of the affairs, as well as the ways forward for our field in embracing assessment for social justice. Those discussions will be then followed by a short Q&A with Dr McArthur, when you will have an opportunity to ask questions about her work on assessment for social justice.
Honneth, A. (2014). The I in We: Studies in the Theory of Recognition. Cambridge: Polity Press.
McArthur, J. (2018). Assessment for Social Justice: Perspectives and Practices within Higher Education. London: Bloomsbury.
McArthur, J. (2020). Assessment for Social Justice: Achievement, uncertainty and recognition, In C Callender, W Locke & S Marginson (eds), Changing Higher Education for a Changing World. Bloomsbury Higher Education Research. London. Bloomsbury.
Register by 9:00 (BST) on Wed 29th Sep 2021 and we will email you the joining instructions before noon (BST) on the day.
Design our new SIG logo and win £25 to put towards an SJ-related book of your choice from www.hive.co.uk!
We would like to open a call for a new logo for the ‘EAP for Social Justice’ Special Interest Group. This should visually capture the main ethos of our SIG. The logo will feature on our website, social media accounts (now Twitter) and future SIG releases.
Explore our website (aims, rationale, blog entries, etc) and Twitter account to ‘get a feel’ for what the SIG is about:
Your logo proposal will enter a competition, and the winner will be chosen by a panel of SJ SIG committee members, and will be announced at our upcoming AGM on Monday 19th July. The winner will be given a prize of £25 to put towards an SJ-related book of their choice from hive.co.uk (which has a huge range of books to choose from, and supports independent book shops with each purchase made)