Learning from Speakers. Part 1

Background: next month I am co-organizing a ELT event which we called ‘Think Different’. There will be five interactive sessions conducted by individual speakers, and one more ‘special session’ which I hope to write about in a different post.

While preparing the event and inviting colleagues to attend, a lot of conversations about ELT events have been happening. One of such conversations with my old friend prompted me to write this post. Yes, ‘Part 1’ in the title suggests there may be more in the series (before the event, or as a reflection afterwards)

What’s an ELT conference? A very simplistic definition would be ‘a professional event for sharing knowledge/skills/experience/research findings and learning from what the others are doing’.

Who are ‘the others’ we are learning from? The obvious answer: speakers, presenters, lecturers, workshop leaders who are ‘leading’ the sessions and are broadcasting their ideas to the others. ‘Sending’ or ‘producing’ knowledge to the audience who is ‘receiving’ it.

A good conference has wonderful speakers/presenters, and people come to ‘see them’, learn from them, become better teachers with their help. A great conference has super speakers, famous around the world, etc.

A good speaker then is someone who has been in the profession long enough to be ‘teaching’ the others something, and/or ‘surprise’ the audience.

Does the above sound familiar?

I’d like to share my own ‘Think Different’ insight about this: it’s not just the speakers we are learning from at an event like conference or workshop.

A lot of ideas and ‘A-ha!’ moments come from the conversations with colleagues. Some of these conversations are a part of the conference sessions (‘please-work-in-pairs-and-answer-the-questions’-types of tasks), but many happen on the coffee breaks, at lunch, in the hallway, on the train home… A funny example from the recent conference in Kyiv: we had a great conversation with another speaker who had attended my session (including some feedback on the content of what I presented, discussing the project she was working on, discovering that we are both into mindfulness philosophy, and remembering people we might know). All of this was… in the line to the ladies room 🙂 (We were even asked if we are in the line, or were just chatting 🙂 )

Besides learning from the speakers and colleagues, a lot of insights may come from… yourself! Have you ever had moments when great ideas ‘visit’ you while you are listening to a speaker or are taking notes (pictures) of the slides? Sometimes the ideas are connected to the session theme, but sometimes they don’t seem relevant at all (and/or they may be helping you with a very different project you have been working on)

An example from the recent conference: I took a picture of the metaphor cards which were not the main focus of the session, and in the chat with the presenter after her session we both agreed that these cards can turn into their own session with a tremendous variety of activities and techniques to bring to students and teachers.



My beliefs about ELT events

  1. speakers are important, because they are courageous/enthusiastic/confident enough to share what they have been doing or thinking about within the chosen topic. These are teachers who have spent some time thinking about the topic, reading on it, experimenting with the ideas in their classes, and putting that together for a presentation.
  2. non-speakers/non-presenters are important: a lot depends on how you spend the time during the event, who you talk to, how open you are to the ideas and questions.
  3. You yourself/yourselves is/are important: a lot of learning from an event is in your own hands. Just like self-help books don’t ‘do the help’ but only offer ideas to the readers, a conference can only offer a thinking/learning space for the people who came.
  4. Based on the 1-3 above, knowing Why you are attending an event is crucial. Having a goal (or a set of them?) can be helpful

A slide from my latest session

5. Cultivating reflective attitudes may be useful (this article by Carol Rodgers is a #mustread)

Some final thoughts

  • According to Wikipedia, a conference is ‘a meeting of people who “confer” about a topic’. They are people presenting and attending. Taking active part in the sessions, responding to questions.
  • A good speaker then is someone who has been in the profession long enough to inspire the others to try something new or to think differently about a familiar idea.
  • An ELT conference/event needs to be/feel safe and comfortable for you to let yourself learn.
  • An ELT event does not need to be big and involve hundreds of teachers. I am personally inspired by
  • Innovate ELT (Barcelona) and Excite ELT (Tokyo and Seoul) are great examples of ‘Think Different’ approach to conferences with their 10-min plenary sessions, long breaks, and networking time and space allocated during the day.
  • An ELT event does not need to be a conference in its traditional meaning: think ‘un-conferencing‘, as this post by Cult of Pedagogy team invites. 

Our EduHub team is organizing an ELT event for teachers next month. Not to promote a specific language school or a training center. Not to promise regular conferences in the future. We do hope to try a new(er) type of ELT events in our city, and hopefully, to inspire our colleagues from other schools and centers to organize other type(s) of ELT events. (that’s how ‘Think Different‘ theme was created). Most importantly, we want teachers to get inspired and realize that each of them has something to share and offer to colleagues. That there is a lot to learn from each other. (that’s why it is a Teacher Sharing Training Day)

Thank you for reading (and… wish us luck in this first-time organizing adventure!)

About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict https://wednesdayseminars.wordpress.com/.
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8 Responses to Learning from Speakers. Part 1

  1. Ron Bradley says:

    Always good stuff, Zhenya. A unique post on conferences, speaking of which, I submitted a proposal to deliver a work shop at the English USA conference in San Francisco, only to be turned down because, 1. My topic was too rudimentary, too basic. Here is the selection committee’s response: “The abstract is rather vague and seems rudimentary. Engaging students in learning is basic to all teaching. What specific skills or techniques will be described? The objectives emphasize grammar, which is not mentioned in the title or abstract.” Of course, they give you a whopping 50 to describe your proposal. Where is there room for examples?

    The Topic was “Creating space for learning and engaging our students in the learning process”. Much more to it than just engaging in learning–whatever that means–they may very well be interested in your entertaining lecture on the the form of the 3rd person singular, with colorful diagrams. Not at all rudimentary or basic from what I have seen if my 50 year career. Yea, I’m that ancient. So my PowerPoint is still in development stages, which I intend to complete and get out into the field. I will send it to you first, and would very much appreciate your critical eye and input.

    An additional thought about conferences. It takes humbleness of mind to learn from others, especially those with less experience.

    Warm regards,


    • Zhenya says:

      Dear Ron

      Thank you for reading and commenting: always good to hear from you! This line of your post speaks to me a lot: ‘It takes humbleness of mind to learn from others, especially those with less experience.’ I remember seeing Diane Larsen-Freeman at the TESOL Convention in Baltimore tirelessly taking part in various session activities (and some speakers looked very new in the field!), then sharing how much she loved conferences and learning more about teaching. A good example to me.

      I am sorry to hear about your proposal being turned down. Hm, interesting that even though ‘engaging students in learning is basic to all teaching’ (or should be, if we can say so), it does not seem obvious in many Grammar classes, in public sector, and seemingly internationally. I wonder if sometimes discussing the ‘obvious’ topics can be a chance to formulate and share beliefs about the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the skill, idea or activity. Maybe there could be a mini-conference on ‘re-considering the obvious’, or something along the lines.

      I love how your topic sounds. Also, if you would like to share the ideas for that session and need audience, you are more than welcome to be a guest author on my blog (a small space, of course, but wanted you to know that you are very welcome!)

      Looking forward to being in touch through various communication channels! 🙂



  2. Pingback: Learning from Speakers. Part 2 | Wednesday Seminars

  3. Pingback: Learning from Speakers. Part 3 | Wednesday Seminars

  4. Sandy Millin says:

    I realise this isn’t the point of your post, but the metaphor cards look a little bit like Dixit cards. There are lots of ideas about how to use them in lessons, for example these could start you off https://teachinggamesefl.com/2017/08/24/how-to-use-dixit-in-the-classroom/ 🙂


    • Zhenya says:

      Thank you for the comment and link Sandy! Yes, Dixit cards were mentioned too (and even given out for the sample activity). I agree they are more ‘ESL/EFL’ kind of materials (for story telling and vocabulary skills, etc.) My personal point from the metaphor cards was in fact that they had been borrowed from the school psychologist, and that reminded me of the whole different opportunity for reflective practice, and more.
      Always good to be in touch!

      Liked by 1 person

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  6. Pingback: Presenting Skills, or Learning with Speakers | Wednesday Seminars

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