This was the first IATEFL that I actually attended with someone from my organisation. One of my ex-colleagues from the British Council in Taiwan also attended. To me, that made a lot of difference because it felt like I had someone to discuss talks with and relate them directly to the context in which we work. It also meant I had someone to spend time with during the evenings!  

Overall, it was a very pleasant conference, and one which I look back on fondly. There were opportunities to meet up with friends, go out for dinner, and I did eat lots of Lebanese food, mostly because we don’t really have proper Middle Eastern food in Taiwan. We attended many sessions in between meetings and work related to my role within IATEFL, but one question remains for me. What did we actually learn? What is the point of going to a conference if you don’t learn something related to your practice?


The talks we attended

One of the first talks I attended was by the colleague from the British Council. His talk was about localisation of the curriculum, and it was a fantastic talk. It was a pity that the audience was so small, but I am sure those who were there left with lots of ideas. The talk started by looking at words commonly covered in books when we talk about breakfast and then looking at things that children in Taiwan eat for breakfast. The contrast was stark and was a perfect example of why localisation and personalisation are so important.

Another good talk was a research talk on mental health for managers. What I particularly liked about this talk was how well it was structured and the evidence the presenter had for the claims they were making. There is a lot to learn about giving good talks, just by watching people give good talks.

But then, as there always will be, there were a few talks that didn’t quite hit the mark for me. For one of them, what I really remember about it was not the talk, but the comment afterwards from somebody attending IATEFL for the first time. The person said, ‘I am sorry if I thought that was poor but now, I feel like I could also submit a talk, because I was petrified that I would be bad, and people would laugh at me. And now I see even famous people can have an off day. And everybody was really nice.’ So, perhaps one of my biggest takeaways from that was, if there weren’t speakers, we wouldn’t have a conference, and it is about so much more than the talks you went to.

What did I learn from this? Anyone can and should submit a talk. If it is your first time, there are lot of people who can help you prepare, ease the nerves, and you will have a great opportunity to connect with people.




Social events and lots of people


I will be honest and say that I attended none of the ‘official’ evening events. But that is predominantly because I really dislike being in places with lots of people, and this is also the same reason I didn’t attend any of the plenaries. I watched the plenaries online and for me, they were very good. There were two that really stood out, but so much has been written about the plenaries, that I think it will be unfair if I single out a specific plenary.

However, just chatting to people during talks and workshops, or while we were browsing the exhibition area was a highlight for me. What was also very nice was having evenings to spend with a few people I really enjoy spending time with. The highlight for me was the Hands Up Project event on the Thursday. Although this was a somewhat bigger event than my usual evenings, it was great seeing lots of people support the same cause.

What did I learn from this? There is something for everyone. Official events where you can meet new people, smaller gatherings, often arranged by sponsors or SIGs, and lots of people who would love someone to talk to.




And now?

It is very easy to forget what you learned at the conference. You have taken pictures of lots of slides, spoken to lots of people, and then on Monday, you are back at work, and a week later, most of what you had learnt has been forgotten.

While I was writing this blog, I had to go through all the pictures I took. I did stop for way too long at the food pictures and remember people I was with. And to me, as I have written and said before, the human connection part of the conference is the best.

For many of the talks, there was something that might make me either remember something about my own practice, or something that I had perhaps not done as well over the last year. An example of this would be the use of music in the classroom. I went to a talk where I thought there was very little applicable to my context. But 10 minutes into the talk, I realised I had gotten so busy with exam preparation, and running the school, that I had completely forgotten about many of the music lessons I had. So, my first week back in class, I did music in all the lessons I teach, although it is only three classes a week.

There was a talk on communication, and the main thing I walked away with was how I had neglected clear communication with some of the staff and how I could improve that when I got back. And, in the last two months I have actively tried to improve that.

What did I learn from this? You need to actively think of how the talk is applicable to you. Speakers come from all over the world, so listen to what they are saying, but also keep thinking about how you can apply that in your own context. And be open to the idea that the talk might not be for you, but it could trigger really good ideas.


Next year

For a few people I work with, whether they are staff or friends, the last few weeks have been all about applying for scholarships. And this includes thinking about what to submit for a talk. Now, we plan our focus out for months in advance, and when I wrote about how relevant CertTESOL and CELTA was we were already planning changes to our courses. And now, one of our submitted proposals (probably from my academic manager) will be on how we have planned these adaptations and hopefully by next year, they will effectively be in place.

Another is about how we are trying to use a book club as a professional development drive for teachers. There might be a talk on IELTS research, and perhaps something again about localisation or emergent language. And we are actually hosting a small PD event at my school where we will do a workshop on localisation, emergent language, and task analysis. So, don’t wait for next year to make the most of the conference, why not start today. And if you cannot make it to the conference, submit a webinar proposal to IATEFL next year.

What did I learn from this? Always be thinking about the next year, the next few months, and what you can do to contribute. Is there research you want to do? Something you want to get better at and then you could tell others what you did? Start now, because you can be part of the action next year.


Looking forward

Having been to quite a few IATEFL conferences, I found this one very different, simply because I had two people from Taiwan with me. When reflecting on the conference, I think the main thing that stood out for me was the importance of everyone that attended, and how anyone could be there next year. But also, how nice it was having people I see often at the conference with me. So, get your friends and colleagues to apply for scholarships, submit talks, and let’s all add to the fun next year in Edinburgh. And while this blog is quite different from what I usually write, I hope it encourages many of you to apply to attend the conference, maybe present a talk, and definitely talk to us.