5 Ways That InnovateELT lives up to its name!
I’ve just arrived back home after attending a conference held at Oxford TEFL in Barcelona. Travelling from Brazil to Spain may seem like a long way to go for a small one and a half day event but InnovateELT is far from your ordinary conference. So, when the opportunity came up to present at it this year, I jumped at the chance. The team from ELT JAM and Oxford Tefl have joined forces to create a really unique experience and I’m not the only one who thinks so. I kept hearing this from almost everyone I spoke to. Many of the participants, like me, had travelled a long way just to be there for the weekend. So what is it that makes this event so special? Here are the top 5 things which make InnovateELT different to anything else on your ELT calendar.
1 – The Structure
When I talk to other people about InnovateELT, I always mention how the event is organized to deliberately maximize opportunities for people to get together and talk. This is what I think many people love most about going to conferences but for some reason the real networking usually happens after the whole thing is over. Well, this event STARTED with drinks in the garden and mingling activities (in true TEFL style!). This structure forced us to meet new people and set the tone for the rest of the conference. As a result, I ended up having more meaningful ELT conversations with people that I normally would not have spoken to.
2 – The participants, speakers and take-aways
You won’t find any of the usual big ELT names on the plenary line up and there are a lot of new names on the speakers list, too. Despite this, people came from over 27 different countries for the event this year. It says a lot about the enthusiasm and mindset of the crowd. One teacher I spoke to described her experience like this: “I met some amazing people I have no box to put in. After two days, my head was spinning with ideas.” What I also noticed was that most people weren’t there to simply find a new idea for class on Monday morning. They were looking for something bigger that would challenge what they think about teaching and learning.
This year, it was Nicola Meldrum’s closing plenary that had the biggest effect on me. Her message was simple yet powerful: don’t let the ideas you have end up in the ‘conference graveyard’. I am often guilty of walking away from a professional development activity with lots of new insights about my teaching only to go back to business as usual on Monday. If you check out #ielt2017, you’ll see that lots of participants have been sharing what they have learned and what they are actually going to DO post-conference.
“As a result of attending this conference, I can now say that my ELT dreams have turned into goals. If you can, make sure you do not miss out on this conference, and become the teacher you have always dreamed of. We will see each other sooner than you think, speaking at the BRAZ-TESOL convention has become my next goal!”
3 – The location
Holding this event in Barcelona was a very clever idea. The city offers so much art, culture, beauty and sunshine. It’s hard to resist spending a few extra days there to go exploring. If that wasn’t good enough, Oxford TEFL is one of the most welcoming and well run schools I’ve ever visited. Great staff, beautiful classrooms, reliable tech and… that garden out the back!
4 – The theme
The theme of the first InnovateELT looked at innovation in our industry in its many shapes and forms. 2016 focused on empowering the teacher with opportunities to discuss things like teacher rights and welfare, gender discrimination and NNEST issues. This year, the focus shifted back to reconnecting with the people who are the life of the ELT industry – the learners! As Nick from ELTJam stated in his opening speech, “Learners should be present and contribute to our professional development and help make sure that we give them the best that we can. …The minute we step away from the classroom, into management, into materials writing, into publishing, into assessment, learners start to become an abstraction. And the more abstracted we get from learners, the harder becomes to empathise with them.” Now, I know there are many ELT events which are on the topic of students so maybe it doesn’t seem like such a new idea. But how many conferences have you attended where the learners were there with you, participating in the talks, plenaries, demo lessons and networking? This happened at the conference this year and it was refreshing and insightful.
5 – The thoughtful extras!
The fact that this conference is still relatively small means that there is a personal touch that a bigger event just doesn’t provide. I loved those details like the awesome freebies that came in our cool canvas event bag, the discounts on courses, great prizes, and the quality of the food and drink. The staff really went the extra mile to make sure we all felt welcome and looked after both before and during the event.
My favourite event-extra though was the free workshop that all the speakers were invited to attend before the conference started. Shaun from Word Power gave us some excellent and practical advice on giving a successful presentation. It made such a different to the delivery of my talk the next day.
So, I’ve arrived home this week feeling incredibly inspired by the people I met, the colleagues I reconnected with and the atmosphere at the event itself. I could list many more things that I love about InnovateELT but it’s best summarised with this. When people dare to do things differently in the spirit of celebration and community, real change can happen on both an individual and industry level. I hope this conference stays small and preserves the spirit with which it was started. However, I have no doubt that the repercussions of the relationships, insights and experiences that it offers will have wide reaching influence thanks to social media and the next steps that people take as a result of attending.
I’ll be going back again next year and I invite you to join me and #teambrazil in 2018. I wonder what they’ll do next!