It was great to be back face to face at the IATEFL conference, and there was lots of learning. More importantly, there were lots of people, and our connections to people is what makes life special.
© Kirsten Holt
The conference was fantastic. The energy, the sessions, the meeting new people and seeing old friends, all of it made me feel really happy to be there. Many attendees have written about key themes that came out of the conference. They identified multilingualism and translanguaging, supporting teachers and supporting each other (Divya Madhavan’s plenary on this topic was fantastic), and a range of other areas. I am pretty sure next year will be the year where ChatGPT and AI gets quite a bit of traction and using AI will probably be the talk I submit, but for now, I would like to focus on the key thing for me from the week.
Too often, we think about the content of what we have learned rather than the people we have connected with, and I think it is something that can be evident in classes as well. So, before I write about the people I met, I want to clarify the main reason for doing so is to encourage you to get to know your students and colleagues very well, because they are the glue that holds us together. I am not using anyone’s real name here, but the stories are 100% true. And for me, the highlight was not what I learned from people, but rather about them.
Sambuca Espresso – No garlic
We went out to dinner with a few LAMSIG friends one evening. The waiter was absolutely amazing, and what really stood out was how textbook his customer service was. The way that he, as a ‘young kid,’ established both trust and authority when we were ordering wine was a pleasure to see, especially as someone who is quite interested in management of organisations. Just for context, I am allergic to garlic, and it was quite a mission to find out which of the meals had no garlic in them, but at the end when we ordered dessert coffees, he looked at me and said, and I will make sure yours has no garlic. Now, there’s nothing exceptionally special about that statement, other than the fact that it was really funny and showed how he connected with us ensuring that we all had a great time, and actually went back to the same place.
I spoke to him to him for quite some time another night, and as luck might have it, he is looking at traveling in Asia and we might see each other again sooner rather than the next time I am in Harrogate. And with a teacher qualification, I think he might be a fantastic teacher if he can connect with students, the way he connected with and served his customers.
My lesson: Teachers should serve, but that doesn’t mean as servants. Just like we were served wine by an authority, teachers, like doctors, should serve with authority. And there is a lot to learn from people like our waiter.
© Kirsten Holt
Another night out, lovely dinner, and then after dinner chatting. I was speaking quite a bit to a person I met earlier at the conference, mostly based on a slip they had in their session and us laughing about it, followed by stories of presentations gone wrong and how funny it is afterwards, but not at the time of presenting. There were lots of other people, and it was a very pleasant evening. And then, after we had connected properly, the person turned to me and said, ‘I’m lonely.’ I listened to the story of their life, and my heart broke for them. This might be their last IATEFL, but I will make it part of my trip to visit them again next year before Brighton if at all possible.
What stood out for me was how easy it would be to assume everyone that is outgoing and having fun would automatically be happy. I looked back on the night and realised one of the main reasons we connected was something about our personalities that is very similar. When we left the restaurant, the group suggested we take another route back to the hotel, and they all did. Except the two of us, who were not too keen on any changes. And in those few minutes, a new friendship started and my second IATEFL lesson.
My lesson: When someone tells you about difficulties in their lives, there’s a very strong possibility that they trust you, and they just want you to listen. We need to consistently work on becoming better listeners. And also, don’t assume people are happy because they look happy, or sad because they don’t look happy. You will only really know if you connect with them and build trust.
I remember my first IATEFL quite a few years ago. I went to as many sessions as I could, was afraid to speak to people I viewed as ‘big names in ELT’ and spent my evenings going over notes from sessions and having a few beers on my own. By the second night I was exhausted. Someone invited me to join their team for the quiz night. And my entire conference changed. This year, there was again a number of social events arranged around the conference, but different from informal social gatherings of which there were many. These include the quiz night, board games, Pecha Kucha, Mindful Mingle from IPSEN SIG, and many others.
These events made me realise the importance of socialising at the conference. It also was a reminder of how much I had missed that aspect of the conference having not been able to be at a face-to-face conference since 2020. Even something as silly as playing Wordle and Worldle (two different games) with a new friend at around 11pm each night before heading to bed was weirdly satisfying.
My lesson: The talks are important. But you can get copies of the slides, make notes to review later, take pictures of the slides and all that. You can review these later. But being in the moment with other people is what really makes the conference special. It is important to be in the moment with other people.
A quick search of key themes from IATEFL 2023 will give you lots to read, but to me, my most important takeaway was the people. The interactions. The meeting of new people, eating together, sharing, making friends, and learning about other people rather than from them. My message from IATEFL is to be more interested in learning about people, whether they be students, colleagues, or clients, than to be interested in learning from them. Simply because that is what connects us as social beings. And in my honest opinion, as much as there are many benefits to connecting online, nothing beats being there in person and in the moment and I look forward to doing it in Brighton again next year. Especially with the lovely Pavilion ELT team.
© Kirsten Holt
If you were at the conference this year, we’d love to hear your top three takeaways from Harrogate. If you weren’t able to be there, but followed online, or went to a similar local conference, do share what your takeaways are from that. Please add your comments below or after our related social media posts.