This is my gratitude post for the experience I had yesterday at excitELT which happened online this year. You can read about the conference at the web page.
If I could describe a ‘perfect’ ELT conference (if ‘perfect’ exists), I would say it has 3 important elements: the speakers, the format, and the audience. To me, the conference yesterday had an amazing combination of all three. Let me share why.
There were six speakers, and six sessions on the following topics:
- Anna Loseva – Overturning Norms around Teacher Conformity
- Tammy Gregersen – Overturning Norms around Teacher Wellbeing
- Team excitELT– Overturning Norms around ELT Conferences
- Geoff Jordan – Overturning Norms around Second Language Teacher Education
- Tim Hampson – Overturning Neoliberalism in ELT?
- Heath Rose – Overturning Language Ideology Norms
As you can see, the conference theme (Overturning Norms in ELT) was woven into the title of each session, as into the content and discussion questions. It may be something obvious to notice, but I have often seen how hard it may be to keep the theme of the event in the logic and flow of the whole day of sessions and discussions.
I took lots of notes during the 20-minute input time, and afterwards. I don’t want to bore you with the long list of what I learned. Instead, I will just share the questions I am asking myself now, and will try to learn/read more about this summer:
- How do/can I question accepted practice(s) in ELT with the teachers I work with?
- How genuinely do I believe in the power of strengths for (my own and others’) growth and development?
- How (else) can the ‘presenter-audience gap’ be narrowed at ELT events? (and related to that, ‘trainer-participant’ gap at training courses?)
- How can ‘international’ and ‘local’ aspect be more balanced in teacher professional development? Think about the following, and beyond: local facilities, resources, experts, teacher collaboration, teacher associations, etc.
- How is Neoliberalism reflected in teacher and trainer professional development? (and how much/little do I know about it?)
- How can I help teachers be (more) aware/respectful of World Englishes, Global Englishes, English as a Lingua Franca?
These questions, and other insights, are the result of listening to the speaker input or reflections, and then working with 2-3 colleagues from the audience in the breakout rooms, sharing experience, taking notes, asking new questions. During the 6 hours of the event, I personally managed to talk to the professionals from or based in Pakistan, Thailand, South Korea, Spain, Poland, France, Ukraine, Russia. I also ‘met’ a friend from Lebanon but we never got to work together in the same room. I only ‘met’ a colleague from Ukraine once, and with at least five of us attending the event we have a wonderful ‘information gap’ to fill in. We already chatted on Messenger in writing and shared our immediate impressions, and may be gathering for a voice chat later in the month. More about this below.
Is the paragraph above describing the great conference format, or the audience? Actually, both: having a chance to discuss the ideas in-depth without being rushed by a strict timer, having choices as to how to approach the discussion, where to start, how to make notes (or not to make them, as we ended up doing in one of the small groups), and most importantly, to learn more about the context of each other, was invaluable. Was there enough time to talk to everyone? No (is there ever ‘enough time’ for really great conversations?) Is there now a chance to continue them? Absolutely yes: we can be connected via social media, and we can keep talking. We all know that there is no ‘distance’ in the online format.
The format of all the conference sessions was the same: 15-20 minute input, 40 minute small group discussion on the topic, 5-10 minute speaker follow-up, and a break before the new session. Such format allowed depth and flexibility, the flow was comfortable and calm, the interactions felt warm and personal. The people in the audience were open, active, curious, humorous (many, many more adjectives to add!) I certainly judge by the experience in the six small groups I was a part of, but in addition, the impressions are the same from my colleagues with whom we had a quick reflective chat yesterday, so looks like it is a true statement about everyone who joined yesterday. 🙂
After excitELT 2020, I would like to do the following (in no particular order)
- facilitate a reflective practice meeting with our group in Dnipro, Ukraine about Overturning [some existing] Norms in ELT, specially about (non) conforming to the rules and ‘system(s)’ our culture has
- join a Reflective Practice Global meeting where I have been less active than I wanted to be in the past months
- initiate our ‘all-Ukrainian’ follow up reflective meeting inspired by the event theme, especially to brainstorm how to move away from ‘speaker superiority’ at our ELT events, and how to offer more ’round table’ conversations on equal terms between teachers, trainers, school administrators, and maybe parents and students
- have a meeting with our EduHub team (coincidentally, one of the two co-organizers attended the event yesterday) to think about the format and content of our Teacher Sharing Day 4.0 in 2020
- continue thinking and talking about the questions I shared here, especially with fellow trainers (and possibly, as a part of the Trainer Conversations series on this blog)
- apply to present online later this summer.
Thank you very much, Tim, Shoko and Peter, for the chance to join your event, and to learn from the thought leaders in our field. It certainly sets high standards for the events in the industry, and inspires (excites!) to keep learning and developing in the job we love so much.