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Werklund prof Sarah Eaton tapped for her expertise in English language learning
January 17, 2017
The Werklund School’s Sarah Eaton was the only Canadian expert tapped for President Obama’s English for All initiative, which promotes the teaching and learning of English in support of U.S. foreign policy programs. Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

The Werklund School’s Sarah Eaton was the only Canadian expert tapped for President Obama’s English for All initiative, which promotes the teaching and learning of English in support of U.S. foreign policy programs. Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

Sarah Eaton in the Indian Treaty Room of the White House shortly before a discussion on teacher training and professional development for international English teachers. Photo courtesy of Sarah Eaton.

Sarah Eaton in the Indian Treaty Room of the White House shortly before a discussion on teacher training and professional development for international English teachers. Photo courtesy of Sarah Eaton

A few years ago, Washington D.C.’s Georgetown University was looking for someone to help promote their program to recruit American English teachers to apply to work as citizen diplomats for overseas teaching assignments. Georgetown was in a partnership with the  U.S. Department of State called the English Language Fellows Program.

They came across Sarah Eaton’s PhD thesis online — about the marketing of English as a Second Language (ESL) programs — and reached out to her.

That was the beginning of a long and growing relationship between Eaton and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

It’s also the reason the assistant professor in the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary found herself in the Indian Treaty Room of the White House late last year, the only Canadian among three dozen or so American experts as part of the English For All initiative.

Event a catalyst for big thinking

“We don’t often think of governments as being catalysts for big thinking events that bring together experts from academia, industry and government,” says Eaton, “but that’s exactly what this event did.

“We got to engage with other people who were equally passionate about education and technology, but who may work in a different sector.”

As detailed by Eaton in her post-event report, the English for All initiative was announced by President Obama in early 2016. It was developed to promote the teaching and learning of English to support U.S. foreign policy programs including the Peace Corps, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program, English Language Specialists Program, and the English Language Fellows Program. The U.S. government invests more than $200 million a year in English instruction programs.

Scholars and industry leaders share ideas

The goal of this most recent symposium was to bring together individuals with combined expertise in English language teaching and learning and educational technology to celebrate the launch of the E-Teacher  program, which falls under the English for All initiative.

The participants included scholars, representatives from the educational technology industry and association leaders. Eaton attended as a representative of both the Werklund School and the University of Calgary.

Eaton says she was impressed that industry leaders were invited to share ideas — not to make sales pitches, but to engage in deep dialogue on questions of how education might be used to advance foreign policy objectives, as well as to think about how global learners in low resource areas with limited access to technology can find success. “The focus was on helping global learners develop their English language skills and for using technology for learning,” she explains.

Supporting global English teachers as they reach out to one another

Participants broke into groups and focused on key themes, with a goal of finding a solution to their theme. Eaton’s group looked at teacher training and professional development for international English teachers, and she says that while the project is still being developed, it will focus on peer-to-peer professional development using social media as a way for global English teachers to reach out to one another with key questions about how to improve their teaching practice.

As she wrote up her report on the symposium, Eaton took a moment to reflect. "The event at the White House itself was an amazing experience,” she says, “and while some significant work was done to advance programs that promote teaching and learning of English, the key is to not lose the momentum of the day.”

“We’re all already committed to gathering at the annual international convention for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), which will be held in Seattle in March, 2017.”

“This is the biggest convention in the world for those involved in the TESOL profession. We have committed to sharing back the results of the project or prototypes we have continued to work on since the event.”