This special issue of the Language Scholar, which focusses on content-based language education, is dedicated to our friend and colleague, Cheryl Greenlay. Before her unexpected and untimely death on Wednesday 6th of February 2019, one of the many extra voluntary tasks Cheryl had agreed to take on was that of guest co-editor of this issue with Caroline Campbell.
Many of the papers in this issue are the result of a one-day EAP Summer Conference that Cheryl organised and co-ordinated for all Language Centre staff in July 2018. In this editorial, then, we focus specifically on Cheryl’s contribution to the development of, and impact on, the Language Centre and its approach to content-based English for Academic Purposes (EAP) teaching and learning.
In 2016 Cheryl became Deputy Director of Student Education for the Language Centre, and in doing so took on responsibility for the planning and organisation of our summer programmes, including 9 content-based, disciplinary pathway programmes for taught post-graduate students. This is a highly complex, and continually growing task, involving the recruitment of around 100 extra tutors for the summer and, in summer 2018, almost 2000 students enrolled on the various programmes on offer. Whilst there are many people involved in ensuring this happens, Cheryl was the official ‘face’ of the summer, and the person who took on direct day-to-day responsibility for its smooth running. One of the most difficult aspects of this role is around Quality Assurance. Essentially this meant, for Cheryl, trying to balance the many competing ideas and approaches to teaching EAP that are held by colleagues in the Language Centre (examples of which can be seen in this and previous issues of the Journal), attempting to ensure that all students across all 9 content-based pre-sessionals enjoyed the same learning experience and were assessed in a fair and equitable manner, whilst also acknowledging the pedagogical and disciplinary differences that have an impact on the language, genres and discourses that would be covered across the different programmes. In other words, Cheryl needed to work towards programmes that were both different but equal, and work with programme leaders who also have differing priorities and understandings as to what content-based EAP teaching entails.
In doing this, Cheryl often had to make difficult, and unpopular-with-some decisions. She tried to do this in an inclusive a manner as possible, working to develop a sense of collegiality and collaboration between the different programme leads, asking them to both support and provide critique to each other’s programme. Through this approach, she hoped that there would be natural cross-fertilization of good practice and that leaders would notice any gaps in their own work by seeing how others had developed their programme. However, when a final decision needed to be made, Cheryl was not afraid to do this, to take ownership of the decision and to put in a lot of hard work to see it through.
Under Cheryl’s leadership, then, the number of students taking a summer programme in the Language Centre at Leeds almost doubled over a two-year period. Despite this rapid increase, and the challenges this brought, all programmes continued to achieve high levels of student satisfaction and to prepare them for their future disciplinary studies. There was also a high return rate of teachers taking up offers of work for the summer period, with an increased development of expertise in specific disciplinary discourses. The Language Centre also regained accreditation from both the British Council and BALEAP in summer 2018, with a range of points of excellence highlighted. One of these highlighted points was the EAP Summer Conference, the proceedings of which form part of this issue. Much of this was down to Cheryl’s hard work.
This conference highlights and exemplifies Cheryl’s contribution to life in the Language Centre. Her intention with the conference, running for the first time in 2018, was to provide a unique opportunity for teachers, many of whom who work on precarious or short-term contracts, to participate in an academic conference, but one that also worked to provide an overview and general induction to the context, content and (diverse) approach(es) to EAP that make up the Leeds pre-sessional programmes. Despite some scepticism about the timing and purpose of the conference, and some reservations of her own, Cheryl persevered and organised an event that was purposeful, developmental and appreciated by those who attended. However, it was Cheryl’s response after the conference that particularly epitomises her approach to her work. The conference was not an easy even to organise and involved a large amount of work on Cheryl’s part. The easy option would have been to run it as a one-off and forget about it. However, Cheryl looked carefully at the feedback, listened to the opinions of others, reflected and learned from the experience. She then came to the decision that the work had been worth it but that some changes needed to be made. Cheryl was in the process, with others, of developing the plan and theme for next year’s EAP Summer Conference when she died.
This process reflects another of Cheryl’s strengths. She was a highly reflective practitioner, and she built levels of reflection into her oversight of the content-based summer programmes. She invited feedback, and took that feedback very seriously, on all aspects of her work. She was also, to some extent, her own worst critic and was both modest and humble about her achievements, her experience and her knowledge base. Her work ethic was matched by a strong desire for constant improvement and development, and for learning. This was something that shone through her expectations of herself, her students and the design and delivery of programmes. This is also clear in the paper that we have made the lead article of this issue. This paper was written by Cheryl for the PGCAP (Post-graduate certificate of academic practice) she was working towards. It was therefore not intended for publication and we would like to thank OD&PL (Organisational Development and Professional Learning) for allowing us to have access to her work and publish it here. The paper is, in our opinion, an exemplar of reflective practitioner writing. It outlines Cheryl’s developing philosophy around learning and teaching. Within it, her modesty as well as her desire and drive to improve her practice are clear, as is her willingness to push herself outside her comfort zone and challenge her current beliefs. It can also be read as something of a manifesto as to where Cheryl would have gone next in terms of programme development and approach. We hope from reading it that we will all gain a better insight into who Cheryl was as a professional, but also that we learn and adopt some of the ideas she explores in our own practice.