Special interest column: Developing Teachers

By Sandy Millin, IH Newcastle

I was lucky enough to be sitting on the train home from the IATEFL 2013 conference, which took place April 8th-11th in Liverpool when I wrote this piece. If you don’t know it, IATEFL is the International Association of Teachers of English as Foreign Language. It is one of the largest associations in our profession, and the annual conference is the highlight of the year. For me, it’s a week of inspiring professional development, with the chance to meet people from all over the world and from all branches of ELT. It’s a great way to network, and a hotbed of ideas. The next conference will be in Harrogate, in the north of England, April 1st-5th 2014.

IATEFL is something of an über-conference, and the price and timing can make it difficult for people to get there. There are nearly 30 scholarships available to help people attend, with applications for 2014 opening in summer 2013. Not getting a scholarship doesn’t mean that you have to feel left out. Many of the sessions are recorded and available for you to watch at your leisure: http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org. There are many people who blog about the sessions and their response to them too. You can find these posts by searching for ‘IATEFL 2013’. My own posts are at http://sandymillin.wordpress.com/tag/iatefl-2013/. You can also look at the IATEFL facebook group or Twitter hashtag #iatefl, both of which are active throughout the year, not just during the conference. Some schools hold tandem mini-conferences, where they show talks on a screen at the school, enabling teachers to ‘attend’ at a distance, and still benefit from the sharing that takes place at a conference.

If you’re interested in conferences, but IATEFL is out of your budget, you could try a weekend one organised by a national teaching association. The TESOL Spain conference usually happens in spring, and TESOL France is in Paris in November. In Asia, you could try the JALT conference in Japan in October. The American TESOL organisation has a list of conferences and events around the world here: http://www.tesol.org/attend-and-learn/calendar-of-events. Again, these conferences usually have a hashtag on Twitter, so you can learn from them even if you’re not there. Some of them also post recordings of their sessions, such as those helpful people at IH: http://www.youtube.com/user/ihlanguages

Local conferences are also great sources of inspiration. Ask around at your school to find out which ones are taking place this year. For example, when I lived in Brno, Czech Republic, there were four different conferences every year, all of which only took a day. They are also a great place to try out presenting for the first time. You are usually in a familiar context, surrounded by supportive people who are eager to learn new ideas. Why not start off by sharing a few of your favourite teaching activities? Some people in the audience will be seeing them for the first time, while for others it can be a useful reminder of an old favourite which they’ve forgotten. My first experience as a presenter was sharing two activities in a swap-shop with two other presenters. It was an exhilarating experience and gave me a new addiction!

If you’d prefer to stay in the comfort of your own home, fear not. Online conferences and webinars (online seminars) are becoming more and more readily available. They are almost always recorded, so if you miss a session or it’s at an inconvenient time, you can still watch them. The last IH online conference took place over a weekend at the end of May 2013, and celebrated 60 years of the organisation. The largest collection of webinars I know of is that of the American TESOL institute. Their sessions take place every Friday and are hosted by Shelly Terrell: http://americantesol.com/tesol-lectures.htm. Searching for ‘webinars EFL’ will link you to the collections of recordings by most of the major publishers, amongst others. At IH Newcastle, we have watched recorded or live webinars as part of teacher development sessions, enabling us to chat about what we’ve watched.

Once you’ve attended the conference, whether face-to-face or virtually, or watched the webinar, what can you do? In our school, it’s common to have sessions where attendees share their favourite insights and activities with other teachers. You could make this a basis for a swap-shop of useful activities.

So what are you waiting for? The wide world of conferences is out there, ready for you to explore. Jump in!

P.S. For those of you expecting some ideas for how to get the most out of observations, sorry! That will be in the next issue, but this opportunity was too good to miss.

Author’s Bio: Sandy Millin is currently teaching at IH Newcastle, and has formerly worked at IH Brno, as well as in Paraguay and Borneo. She is interested in making professional development available to everyone, and to that end is an active member of the online ELT community, with three blogs and a Twitter account for teaching: http://twitter.com/sandymillin