Who is he?
Richard Rossner has contributed in a variety of roles to the field of language education. His career has often involved a tension between academic or pedagogical work on the one hand, and management of different kinds on the other. In both the academic and the managerial areas, a key preoccupation has been high quality. This has been the case, for example, in his long engagement with Eaquals, an association that aims to foster high quality in all areas of language education.
Having been one of the ten co-founders of Eaquals in 1991, Richard later served as Executive Director from 2006 to 2011, then as Chair from 2014 to 2016, and throughout as consultant, project manager, and school inspector. Eaquals offers a good example of the necessary synergy between pedagogic and managerial concerns in the pursuit of quality in language learning, and their inspection and accreditation scheme and related consultancy services fully embrace both these areas.
Eaquals has participatory status with the Council of Europe, and Richard has contributed to the Council’s language policy programme since 2007, notably in the area of language support for migrants. Among other assignments, this has involved contributing to ‘toolkits’ designed to serve as resources for providers of language support to recently arrived migrants, including asylum seekers and refugees. He has also contributed to the work of the Council of Europe’s European Centre for Modern Languages (ECML) in Graz, including co-coordinating a research initiative on the impact of the Covid pandemic on the future of language education, a think tank on developing transversal competences through language education, and a current project focusing on language-sensitive education across the curriculum. This is also the focus of a recently published handbook for teachers of all subjects, co-authored with Rod Bolitho.
The theme of teachers’ professional development links back to Richard’s work on various EU projects, one of which was the 2011-2013 European Profiling Grid (EPG) project, which developed and validated an interactive tool for language teacher assessment and self-assessment. Simultaneously, he coordinated an internal project that developed the Eaquals Framework for Language Teacher Training and Development.
The activities described above followed Richard’s retirement from his role as Chief Executive of the Bell Educational Trust (1998-2005). In that role, unlike those in his previous career at Bell (1984-1998) which had a clear academic remit (director of studies at the Cambridge centre, head of the Trust’s language teaching operations etc.), management preoccupations regrettably outweighed the academic focus so fundamental to the success of the Trust’s then international network of Bell Centres and Bell Associates.
Prior to this, Richard had served as editor of ELT Journal (1980-1986), a role that combined managerial, administrative and academic work. It involved a reorganisation of the Journal, ensuring that submissions were for the first time objectively refereed by a panel of leading experts in the field, selecting and editing content, and recording and publishing interviews with, among others, Caleb Gattegno, Earl Stevick, Pit Corder and Dick Allwright. This meant a radical change from his early career, in which, after qualifying as a teacher of German and French, Richard had spent the first ten years of his working life (1967-78) at the Anglo-Mexican Institutes in Guadalajara and Mexico City. The years in Mexico between 1972 and 1978 gave him a first taste of that tricky balance between pedagogy and management. Teaching English to mainly enthusiastic learners and later training equally enthusiastic would-be teachers was one thing; overseeing the work of over 60 Mexican and Anglo teachers and managing a large branch of the Anglo in Mexico City without a director of studies was quite another.
2007-present.: The Council of Europe’s Linguistic Integration of Adult Migrants (LIAM) Project and Toolkit.
2011-2014. the EU: Network of Language-labelled Initiatives and Projects (NELLIP) (source)
2013.The Eaquals Framework for Language Teacher Training and Development. (source)
Under the auspices of the ECML
2016-2019. A Guide to Teacher Competences for Languages in Education. ECML.at
2021-2023. Building Blocks for Planning Language-sensitive Teacher Education. (dedicated ECML website)
2021-2023. The Future of Language Education in the Light of Covid. (dedicated ECML website)
2022.Transversal Competences in Foreign Language Education. (dedicated ECML website)
Council of Europe and Eaquals Conference and Workshop Presentations
2008: ‘Quality Assurance in the Provision of Language Education and Training for Adult Migrants – Guidelines and Options’. The Council of Europe Symposium on the Linguistic Integration of Adult Migrants, Strasbourg. (source)
2012. A Self-assessment Handbook for Providers of Courses for Adult Migrants. Council of Europe. (Adapted from the self-assessment handbook developed by Eaquals.) (source)
2013. Richard Rossner, Sue Hackett, Deniz Kurtoglu-Eken, Laura Muresan. Using the European Profiling Grid and the Teacher Development Framework 1. (source)
2015. Filling Vessels or Kindling Fires – What is teaching, and how does it Impact on learning? (source)
2016. Richard Rossner, Marta Higueras. Frameworks of Language Teaching Competences Revisited. (source)
2017. Brian North, Richard Rossner, Mila Angelova, Elzbieta Jarosz, Tim Herdon. Supporting and Managing Language Teachers: Challenges & Insights. (source)
2017. Richard Rossner. The Council of Europe’s Toolkit for Volunteers and Others Providing Language Support for Refugees - An Introductory Guide. Council of Europe. (source)
2018. Mila Angelova, Elzbieta Jarosz, Richard Rossner. Managing Language Education: How Can the OUP-Equals Publications Help? Eaquals. (source)
2018. Lukas Bleichenbacher, Richard Rossner. Towards a Common European Framework for Language Teachers. Eaquals. (source)
2021. Rod Bolitho, Richard Rossner. Language Teachers and Subject Teachers: Where’s the Common Ground? (source)
Reading modern and 19th century world fiction
Reading and trying to write poetry
Jazz and classical music
Richard Rossner is an author, co-author, contributor, and editor of a number of language education publications and textbooks. Apart from his interest in the promotion of quality and teachers’ professional development, his other concerns over the years have included: lexicography, changes in language and education, and course planning and management.
Such a list is difficult to compile for people who have been working in language education as long as I have, and it may be of little relevance to others, but here goes.
When first given a holiday job in London in 1961 as an unqualified substitute EFL teacher (and there was plenty of substituting to be done), virtually the only textbooks available in the UK were in the Essential English series (Charles Eckersley 1938) and Living English Structure (William Stannard Allan 1947). The fact that I still have a 4th edition of the latter (1959) says something. Life in the EFL classroom was simpler then. But did these resources provide a good way into the profession? Not sure, but teaching and some learning happened.
By the time I first had a full-time job in Mexico in 1967, series of textbooks by a number of other British specialists had been published, among them Frank Candlin’s Present Day English for Foreign Students (Nelson, from 1961), and Louis Alexander’s New Concept English (Longman, from 1966). ‘Situational’ approaches to ELT were in full swing, and my colleagues at the Instituto Anglo Mexicano, Ethel Brinton, Walter Plumb and Colin White, were also already working on the Active Context English series (Macmillan, from 1971), which influenced my time there as a teacher and teacher educator, not least because Jim Taylor and I later had the task of producing a related full colour sequence for secondary school learners in Mexico. Meanwhile, back in Europe the ELT textbook industry was entering its halcyon years, starting with Kernel Lessons by Robert O’Neill and others (Longman, also from 1971). There were too many others to mention and I had little if any opportunity to use them at the time, although later I observed many teachers in Mexico, England and elsewhere who used them well.
By 1972, Jeremy Harmer had joined the team in Mexico, and he and I were both heavily involved in training teachers of English on year-round courses. The first of many editions of Jeremy’s hugely influential Practice of English Language Teaching (Pearson Longman) was, I am told, originally inspired by that very formative experience, and I’m full of admiration for the way in which Jeremy has consistently updated this book since the 1980s. Although many of them are also to be recommended, very few of the other books on the subject of ELT principles and practice span such a wide range of issues and considerations,
In the late 1970s on an MA program in London run by Chris Brumfit and Henry Widdowson, I was influenced by more academic writings such as Widdowson’s Teaching Language as Communication (Oxford University Press 1978), and The Communicative Approach to Language Teaching edited by Chris Brumfit and Keith Johnson (Oxford University Press 1979). The ‘communicative approach’ was closely examined during that course in the light of background readings from the works of Hymes, Austin, Halliday and various other renowned linguists.
The principles and practices of the so-called communicative approach were also explored from various angles by many different contributors to ELT Journal during my period as editor (1980-1986). The selection in Currents of Change in English Language Teaching edited by Rod Bolitho and myself (Oxford University Press 1990) exemplifies the range and diversity of the debate in those volumes of the Journal. I should also mention Peter Skehan’s Individual Differences in Second Language Learning (Edward Arnold 1989), which dealt with this important topic in a research-based but in a very readable way, and the work of Rod Ellis, starting with Understanding Second Language Acquisition (Oxford University Press 1985). It was a privilege to have been exposed to all those influences in that period and to the rich array of guides and handbooks that have since been written, such as the wide span of Resource Books for Teachers edited or written by Alan Maley (Oxford University Press).
Jumping to more recent times, below are a few of the titles that have influenced my work with the Council of Europe and its European Centre for Modern Languages.
- The Common European Framework for Languages (obviously), now superseded by the CEFR Companion Volume (Council of Europe 2020), which offers an updated and more clearly focused way into the key concepts and scales of the CEFR.
- Insights from the Common European Framework edited by Keith Morrow (Oxford University Press 2004). Some of the contributions to this were helpful in getting to grips with the original CEFR, which was not the most readable of works in spite of its influence.
- A Handbook for Curriculum Development and Teacher Training - the Language Dimension in all Subjects by Jean-Claude Beacco, Mike Fleming, Francis Goullier, Eike Thürmann and Helmut Vollmer (Council of Europe 2016).
I like the scope of this and its useful appendix 3, in the form of a checklist for teachers (based on Thürmann, and Vollmer’s 2012 paper Schulsprache und Sprachsensibler Fachunterricht: Eine Checkliste mit Erläuterungen).
- The three volumes of the Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic Culture (Council of Europe 2020)
This is a the result of very important work designed to inspire the 46 member states of the Council of Europe to incorporate the wide range of such competences into educational curricula. The first volume outlines the concept and model, the second contains the actual competence descriptors, and the third is a guide to implementation that makes a useful link between democratic culture and democratic approaches to teaching and learning.
- Incidentally, many other influential frameworks and descriptions of ‘transversal competences’ which influenced us during the preparation of our 2022 ECML ‘Think Tank’ on the subject are to be found at https://www.ecml.at/ECML-Programme/Programme2020-2023/Transversalcompetencesinforeignlanguageeducation/Resources/tabid/5527/language/en-GB/Default.aspx
Some of these ideas link back to earlier influences such as:
- Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970, now available from Penguin), written in the context of dictatorship and exile.
- Douglas Barnes’s From Communication to Curriculum (Penguin 1976), which has chapter headings such as ‘The Teacher’s Control of Knowledge’ or ‘Transmission and Interpretation’ and considers the value for learners and their teachers of ‘exploratory talk’ in education.
- This theme was developed further in, for example, Neil Mercer’s How We Use Language to Think Together (Routledge 2000), a book he and Steve Hodgkinson edited, Exploring Talk in Schools (Sage Publications 2008), and in Robin Alexander’s short book Towards Dialogic Teaching – Rethinking Classroom Talk (Dialogos 2008). Their writings and others like them were important in the work Rod Bolitho and I have done in the books we have recently co-authored.
I seem to have missed out management books, which were not explored in great depth during my years as a manager but examined in more detail when running summer courses on management and academic management for Bell and for NILE. Below are a few that I found useful.
- Effective School Management by K.B. Everard, Geoffrey Morris and Ian Wilson (Paul Chapman 2004) is a no-nonsense practical book aimed at managers of mainstream schools in Britain, but I think it is also enlightening for people working in independent language centres where languages are taught to adults and youngsters.
- Kathleen Bailey’s Language Teacher Supervision – a Case-Based Approach (Cambridge University Press 2006) takes a very thorough and well-researched approach to this important area of management.
- From Teacher to Manager - Managing Language Teaching Organisations by Ron White, Andy Hockley, Julie van de Horst Jansen and Melissa Laughner (Cambridge University Press 2008) is more of an all-round management book taking in marketing and financial concerns as well as human resources management, change management and general management areas.
Given how long it is since I last taught languages or trained language teachers, it would not be appropriate to recommend books for either. However, iIn the current ECML project entitled Building Blocks for Language-sensitive Education, we are currently exploring and developing materials aimed at teachers of all subjects that focus on language sensitivity. Interestingly, there are precious few in English.
Place in HLT
“Although ‘humanistic language teaching’ seems to be well-established and is supported by at least one well-read journal, I have a problem with the concept, partly because it implies that some language teaching may not be humanistic. I have yet to see a definition of humanism as it might be applied specifically to teaching or language teaching. But maybe I’m wrong in thinking that inhumane, non-humanistic or anti-humanistic (language) teaching is a thing of the past.
The definition in the Amsterdam Declaration on the ‘fundamentals of modern Humanism’ purports to be the one based on a degree of international consensus. All of the principles are easily applicable to language teaching and indeed all of education, and they also reflect the values of the Council of Europe (human rights, democracy and the rule of law).
I think that I have always tried to bear these so-called ‘fundamentals’ in mind in my work, and in my life, So do I need to call myself – should I from the start have called myself – a ‘humanistic language teacher, or humanistic teacher educator, manager etc? I am, however, all in favour of initiatives and interventions in teacher education and educational management that foster adherence to the fundamentals described in the Amsterdam Declaration and encourage us to reflect on their practical implications and innovate creatively.“