Connect, Grow, Thrive

Inspiring women at the helm

Inspiring women at the helm

Julie Mangold-Kecskemeti

An interview with Eleanor Satlow, Chair, English Teachers Association of Israel (ETAI)
and JoAnn Salvisberg, President, English Teachers Association, Switzerland (ETAS).

Founded in 1979 and 1983 respectively, ETAI and ETAS each have around 1,000 members, publish a journal three times a year, hold conferences, and provide continuous professional development opportunities to members. While the similarities do not end there, there is one noteworthy point of interest – both associations boast a female leader at the helm. ETAS Journal caught up with ETAI Chair Eleanor Satlow and ETAS President JoAnn Salvisberg to discuss goals and challenges.

Julie: What does a Chair, or President, do? Is your role more strategic or practical?

Eleanor: ETAI is run by a Board, which currently consists of 13 people including the Chair, Vice Chair, and Treasurer, as well as the Finance Committee under the Treasurer. I would say strategy is the Board’s to develop while the Chair deals more with practicalities – but the Chair and the Board work together to develop the organisation.

JoAnn: Thank you, Julie, for the opportunity to share a bit of the inside track of the role of ETAS President. The role requires shouldering a major amount of responsibility and accountability also shared by the other Committee Members. This entails numerous daily email exchanges, phone calls, as well as regular meetings, with a wide range of stakeholders, and the position comprises both strategic and practical components.

As Spokesperson for the Association, the practical side includes, for example, welcoming members to the annual conferences and AGM, and informing members of decisions taken on behalf of the Association in the President’s Messages and the Annual Reports. As Supervisor to the one ETAS employee, the President works closely with the Administrator, and also conducts his/her annual performance review. On a more strategic scale, the President, together with the other members of the Committee, decide the changes to be made in regard to the future of ETAS, for example, overseeing the current update of the website and recent re-design of the logo, both of which the Committee feels are vitally important for establishing the identity of ETAS among the newer and future members. 

While several teams on the National Council, including the Publications Team, have been busy preparing content and updating information for the new website, the Committee reviewed the proposals presented by the Website Reboot Team. As you know by now, the decision was made to invest in this total makeover of our online presence. My job also comprises conferring regularly with the Treasurer and Web Chair to monitor progress as well as costs and make sure these remain within the fixed budget. 

Julie: What is your strategic vision for your respective associations this year? 

Eleanor: ETAI, like EFL teaching in Israel in general, is in a state of flux. Veteran teachers are retiring; younger teachers are joining staffs that impose new and often challenging Education Ministry guidelines; and our membership, spread across this tiny but diverse country, is itself diverse in its interests and goals. Meeting these challenges is going to take longer than a year, but I would like to try. So, among others, here’s what I want to see happen: new and returning members from all over Israel who feel that ETAI offers them a place to work together with colleagues, improve their professionalism, and learn more about what is going on in this fascinating world of EFL. 

JoAnn: ETAS is on the cusp of a new era. Our focus and mission are to recognise and adapt to the newer challenges facing English language educators today. We hope to provide not just more opportunities for teachers to interact, share, and learn from each other, but also up-to-date resources that will benefit current and future members as well as attract more teachers to join our Association. 

Julie: How will you put it into practice and what do you need to accomplish these goals?

Eleanor: Rather than claim that I put anything into practice just yet, I’d say I hope to learn to listen, to delegate, and to orchestrate. We have a wonderful Board which, like our membership, represents people from across the profession and around Israel. Together with the Board, and using those three skills, ETAI works miracles. I try to let the talented people on the Board, and those whom they in turn recruit, do what they do best. And I hope they would mention feeling that their contribution and their successes are appreciated. 

JoAnn: The goals of an Association such as ours can only be reached when we join forces to chart our course for the future. This is why we encourage networking among all members of the National Council, which includes the Committee, Regional Council, SIG Council, Publications, and National Events teams, and other Sub Committees. All members are, of course, welcome and encouraged to join in! 

Julie: In a volunteer organisation, how can you hold Committee Members accountable to advance a strategic vision without having performance management tools in place (as, say, in a revenue-generating organisation that compensates)?

Eleanor: That’s a really interesting point, because any volunteer organisation assumes a level of commitment on the part of its members and activists, and ETAI is no exception. I often marvel at the energy and time our Board members put into their work when they are compensated only by a sense of achievement and the positive results their team efforts produce. I think Board Members – and other active participants – generate their own accountability. There’s a certain ethos of performance, and I’ve seen it in other volunteer groups as well. It’s a kind of unwritten code that people feel obligated to adhere to, once they commit to joining. If they can’t make or sustain that commitment, they – or the organization – will draw conclusions. 

JoAnn: As a people-oriented Association, ETAS encourages everyone to get involved. Volunteers, including Committee Members, are accepted to fill various roles on the basis of trust.

I strive to maintain open communication with all members of the National Council, including the Committee, and to be kept informed of major decisions and steps being taken that will/might have a direct effect on the membership. One has to keep in mind that all volunteers have private lives and personal challenges that may from time to time affect their availability and performance. 

My position and preference has been to ‘preside’ with a light touch, and show appreciation for the hours spent keeping the wheels of our beloved Association turning. This philosophy has always worked successfully in my English language classrooms and so far with the Committee as well. 

Julie: If we’re sitting here a year from now celebrating what a great year it’s been for you in this role, what did you achieve?

Eleanor: Membership has doubled, mini-conferences have been held all around Israel, our 2015 National Summer Conference was a huge success, and proposal presenters from all over the world have been flooding in for the ETAI International Conference to be held in Ashkelon on 4th - – 6th July 2016. And our cooperation with ETAS turned out to be only the beginning of joint projects with teaching associations everywhere!

JoAnn: As President, I sense that a great year for ETAS lies ahead, with a lot of new members joining our ranks, and an increase in networking live (conferences and regional events) as well as online (Facebook, Twitter, website). The role of a President is often likened to that of an orchestra conductor. According to Roger Nierenberg, the world famous maestro Roger Nierenberg, there are a few key elements of effective governance, which any leader could adapt and implement to achieve the desired results (http://tinyurl.com/mermgb6): 

  1. Develop a clear and detailed picture of the success that is worthy of your members’ deepest commitment.
  2. Define the gap that separates the current state from the ideal.
  3. Define the action that your people need to take in order to narrow that gap.
  4. Determine how to deliver the directions so that they will inspire those actions.
  5. Choose the right moment when the direction can be effective. 

These are ideals I hope to celebrate next year. To achieve this on my own, though, is not possible, just as a conductor cannot achieve success if no one follows direction. The future of ETAS, even what is achieved in 2015, belongs to all of us and will require the dedication and cooperation of all parties involved. The outcome will be a triumph for ETAS, and a success we can all celebrate. 

A very special thank you, to Eleanor and JoAnn. We wish you the best in your aspirations and goals for 2015 and beyond. 

Julie Mangold-Kecskemeti