To all practitioners

Adrian Underhill



Who is he?

Adrian Underhill is the series editor of the Macmillan Books for Teachers, author of Sound Foundations: Learning and Teaching Pronunciation and an advisor in the development of Macmillan English Dictionary. After working as a teacher and trainer for many years and as Director of the International Teacher Training Institute at International House, Hastings, Adrian now works as an ELT consultant and trainer. As past president of IATEFL (International Association for Teachers of English as a Foreign Language), Adrian started the first IATEFL interest group, which was in Teacher Development. Adrian is also a co-founder (with Jim Scrivener) of Demand High ELT. You can find out more about this on the Demand High website.

Professional life

Adrian has been in ELT since 1973, and it has been a very rich experience. In 1976-77, as an enthusiastic young EFL teacher, he was contracted to travel down to Hastings daily from London to teach a group of Libyan students. According to Adrian, who was a Director of IH Hastings until 1999, the ‘slightly Bohemian’ atmosphere of Hastings was great for students who wanted to experience both the respectable and slightly more bohemian sides of English life, like dancing and jazz. Jazz is incidentally where Adrian encountered the notions of spontaneity, improvisation and cooperation that he has been exploring and promoting throughout his career. When he started teaching, there was no single method, but rather, lots of interesting ideas to explore.

For him, the most important principle is facilitation, as opposed to just teaching, as it values different qualities in a teacher. In 1986-7 he did a two-year course in Facilitation at Surrey University and then helped organise Facilitation courses for teachers. He has been a teacher and trainer, and an international ELT consultant, running training courses in various countries, writing articles, working with Macmillan Books for Teachers, speaking at conferences, and acting as a school advisor.

Teacher training activities

From the mid 80’s to the present day Adrian has regularly conducted intensive training courses in practical approaches to humanistic and person-centred learning and teaching. These have explored facilitation styles: such as the courses From Teacher to Facilitator; SIx Category Intervention Analysis; Skilled Helping for Teachers; Personal Presence in Teaching and Training; and Stress Management in Schools.

Specific topics such as The Silent Way; Schools as Learning Organisations; Well-being in the Classroom; and Spontaneity and Improvisation in Learning. New approaches to pronunciation such as: Sound Foundation: Getting pronunciation out of the Head and into the Body; From Sounds to Storytelling; and Pronunciation, Performance and Poetry.


His current professional interests include not only teaching pronunciation, but applications of complexity theory and holistic thinking to learning and to the ways teachers teach.

What has always interested him is trying to 'see' the small inner moves of learning,  putting on spectacles, so to speak, to make those learning moves more visible. This is an opportunity that working in classrooms can present. He has also been attracted by the way that a person's engagement in their learning can perhaps evoke something similar in another learner, and it has become important to his thinking that the teacher should be learning at the same time as the student.

This outlook has led him to explore the skills of facilitation and the notion of a school as a learning organisation. From there he became interested in the new paradigm of 'post-heroic' leadership, which is needed if an organisation is to be powered by its own learning, and if the people in it are to make sense of the complexity in which they have to function.

Since complexity may be more than the cognitive mind can deal with, Adrian has started to look at intuition and hunch in teaching and learning, and at the roles of improvisation and playfulness in learning. These areas tend to merge, and bear some relation to his work with Jim Scrivener on Demand High teaching, and his work on pronunciation which he finds, like learning to dance, can be so much fun.

When not teaching, he works in his organic garden, plays in a jazz band and drinks copious amounts of tea.

Adrian Underhill

Recommended books

Freedom to Learn: A View of What Education Might Become

Carl R. Rogers

1969, Columbus OH: Charles E. Merrill. (source)

The three most important moving parts in a teaching learning relationship. And none of them touched on in our mainstream methodology or training.


Keith Johnstone

1979, London: Faber and Faber. (source)

The essence of impro, and for me one of the essential parts of teaching, along with Roger's three above.

Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World

Margaret Wheatley

1992, New York NY: McGraw Hill. (source)

For anyone that tries to organise anyone else, once you realise that humans don't go in straight lines.

The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems

Fritjof Capra

1996, New York NY: Knopf Doubleday. (source)

How everything is connected to everything, the basic ideas of systems thinking. This changes my take on everything, including teaching, being in an organisation, and leadership.

Action Inquiry: the Secret of Transforming and Timely Leadership

Bill Torbet and Associates

2004, Oakland CA: Berrett-Koehler. (source)

The most exciting form of action inquiry I have come across, and well suited to the working with the wider systems of which one is part.

How We Learn and How We Should be Taught Volume 1: An Introduction to the Work of Caleb Gattegno

Roslyn Young and Piers Messum

2011, London: Duo Flumina Ltd. (source)

An excellent introduction to the thinking of Caleb Gattegno. For me the single most important educator.

Place in HLT

Adrian’s and Jim Scrivener’s lasting gift to HLT is Demand High ELT: their idea of learning-centred teaching and the idea that language is a way for the learners to express their voices and speak from the heart. When asked to describe his methodology in just a few words, for Adrian it is “to be alive, alert and relate to the people in front of me”.

The European Commission's support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.