I have just returned from my first approach to the 2018 IATEFL Conference, and I must say that I am exhausted and happy. I attended a Pre-conference Event, as the real conference starts tomorrow.
Pre-conference events are always organized by IATEFL’s Special Interest Groups (SIGs), and this year they were held by two coordinated SIGs. In my case, I chose the Leadership and Management + Teacher Development PCE. It was an intense and varied day, as it was made up of three talks, two open space events, an open mike and a closing plenary.
The first presentation was in charge of two Australian managers, Clare Magee and Fiona Wiebusch: “Harnessing individual energy to empower institutions to teacher development’. They proposed to create platforms for CPD, both digital and face-to-face ones, to empower teachers in their CPD process. They offered well grounded theory, and provided their audience with key tools to help teachers. They claim that there are three things teachers really want: time space and money, and that changes can happen, but it is not a revolution what we need, but evolution.
The second talk, “Trusting Practitioners”, was in charge of Ed Russell. He shared the story of how he put forward a project of personal development groups in a language school where he works. With what he called an “umbrella structure”, he focused on special interests to organize events in which each teacher received the individualized help they needed. He encouraged to transform a problem into a puzzle, so that the challenge is to reframe the puzzle, rather than the problem.
After the coffee break, Liam Tyrrell dealt with culture change in ELT staff rooms. He shared his experience as a manager in a language school and how he set about changing the culture of the place where he worked. He suggested that to change the culture first you have to picture the change, then to find your allies among the teachers in the staff by giving each one of them a special responsibility. In that process, you have to offer a wide variety of options, and finally, if you are going to recruit new staff, it is fundamental to hire the people you need who want to be part of that culture.
The last talk was in charge of Ania Kolbuszewska, an Polish teacher of English and school manager living in Switzerland, and who dealt with the question : “What is there to offer teachers in the happiest country on earth?”. As this is a country where four languages are spoken, everybody speaks at least two languages, and are exposed to a high level of linguistic uncertainty when speaking the other two. This makes students anxious about being accurate, which makes them insecure. Apart from this fact she told about how as the teachers she manages are reluctant to do professional development, she decided to transform what she conducted as “workshop” into a “lab”, so that teachers felt that they could experiment freely. This involved re-routing CPD, which involves understanding and respect.
After these talks, we were invited to post a question or a concern on a paddle wall. After all of us had done this, the coordinators divided the questions into 6 main concerns (management, motivation, collaboration, responsibility, awareness and impact of CPD), and each one of the participants got together in their group and discussed these issues. This was a welcome and enriching experience, which allowed us to know about different realities, coincidences and contrasts. At the end, each group shared the conclusions of their discussion.
After a spicy and long expected lunch break, there was another open space, in which the old groups evolved into new topics, while others disappeared. This was followed by an open mike session, where all the participants shared their impressions on the highlights and main issues they had been discussing about.
The event closed, after an ice cream break, with Christian Tiplady (TDSIG )and Jenny Johnson (LAMSIG) talking about the conclusions that this day had brought about. One of their thoughts was that at “if managers do not smell of learning, teachers will not want to learn.”
This was a great experience, because of the SIG itself, but also because of the networking mingling opportunities that the open space sessions allowed. I met Raul, from Brazil, who teaches English in Finland. I met Katherine, a Ukranian teacher I had met three years ago in Birmingham and who is part of the LAM Sig. I met some Argentinian colleagues, I learnt about their environment and their concerns. And I had an ice-cream with Adrian Underhill! It was a highly profitable day of professional development about professional development.