For quite a long time, I have watched recordings, seen photos and read accounts by the biggest names in the area of ELT getting together at conferences and all kinds of professional development events around the country and abroad. Although I have never doubted the importance of such experiences, it always sounded like a fairly distant dream of mine either because the circumstances didn’t allow me to attend such events or simply due to lack of planning ahead. Then I heard about the BRAZ-TESOL SIG Symposium happening in the beginning of July, in São Paulo. With a bit of planning and a bit of a devil-may-care attitude, I found myself packing my bags and heading to the big city for what promised to be an ELT extravaganza.

The whole idea sounded wonderful: all the BRAZ-TESOL SIGs (Special Interest Groups) together for two days of sharing, learning and networking. Little did I know I was about to experience one of the most inspiring weekends of my life.

Hard though it may have been, choosing the sessions was already an exhilarating task in itself. I tried to select the ones that reflected my areas of interest, but I was positively sure I wouldn’t be disappointed regardless of my selection. I cannot stress strongly enough how much each and every one of the sessions I attended helped me better understand my role as an English teacher.

It all began with Fernando Guarany’s talk on ‘Bruce Lee and the Essence of Relevant Teaching’. Fernando underlined the importance of drawing inspiration from other professional fields to come up with potentially innovative ideas in our teaching. He used Bruce Lee as an example of an expert in his area and, like the renowned martial artist and cultural icon, reminded us to be adaptable (like water, my friend) and stay focused on our main goal as teachers.

My good friend and mentor Higor Cavalcante encouraged us to think about the importance of teaching pronunciation and, most importantly, why we tend to neglect this essential language system. By inviting the attendees to do fun pronunciation activities, he proved his point that even though you may not need to know much about pronunciation to effectively help your students improve, learning as much as possible about it makes a huge difference to your practice.

Another area I have a particular interest in is assessment, and Henrick Oprea’s presentation showered me with insights not only on how I can improve the way I evaluate my students’ performance, but also on how important it is for me to give them relevant and consistent feedback. Moreover, he helped me realise that assessment should be about helping students, as opposed to cataloguing their mistakes. It is a process that serves as a tool to analyse where the learner is and where they could end up. Therefore, it should not be regarded as punishment, but instead as a moment to celebrate learning.

On a different note, the question ‘Did you know that bras were never burnt?’ posed by Nina Loback led us on a journey through historical facts and areas of interest for SIG study groups formation which made it easier to understand why every cause is worth fighting for. While some people may believe that only the most serious issues in the world such as hunger and poverty are worthy of attention, Nina argued that we could all be doing something beneficial to the community around us, and this is relevant as well. Her presentation was clear evidence that the newly-formed Voices SIG is here to stay and support women and other under-represented groups in the ELT world.

The second batch of sessions on the following day started with a talk entitled ‘Face, Politeness and Rapport in ELT’. Alex Tamulis provided attendees with a glimpse of the implications of how we use language to interact. The concept of ‘face’ relates to our self-image and embraces our basic wants, desires and wishes. Positive face is connected to social action and embodies the need to be accepted and liked by others, whereas negative face is associated with freedom of action and the need to be independent. These concepts were then applied to a more effective way of giving feedback. Rather than offering our students the same good-bad-good sandwich, why not go for an ask-tell-ask approach? I certainly left Alex’s session with a lot of food for thought.

Following up with the theme of feedback, I was awestruck by Marcela Cintra’s presentation on how much it can influence teacher development and teaching quality as a result. Rarely have I felt so connected with the ideas so generously shared by a speaker. It made me believe we are all stars, as Marcela said, and should behave as such.

In the afternoon, the talk I had selected was cancelled and this gave me the opportunity to attend Ilá Coimbra’s workshop about gender and the ELT classroom. Teachers were able to discuss ways of making our lessons more inclusive by encouraging our students to think critically about issues which they might take for granted. Ilá also showed examples of gender biased activities and suggested a reflection on how we would use them in our lessons. Most attendees contributed with practical ideas to be applied the next time we meet our students.

To close an absolutely amazing series of sessions, I had the pleasure to participate in a workshop by Luiz Otávio Barros. Based on the result of a survey he conducted last year, Luiz Otávio shed new light on the commonly held belief that the exposure to English inadvertently improves students’ accuracy. He discussed the differences between grammar and lexis and used several examples to illustrate features of pronunciation that often go unnoticed by them. We came to the conclusion that developing accuracy through exposure is not that simple and our job is to help learners get the most out of the English around them.

In addition to taking part in such great opportunities to learn and share experiences, I also had the chance to meet some teachers I have admired since the beginning of my career. Cecília Nobre and Ricardo Barros, whose lesson plans have helped me countless times to motivate my students to speak about more controversial issues, are even more inspiring in real life. Claire Venables is one of the kindest and most supportive people I have ever met. Natália Guerreiro is adorably brilliant and delivered a plenary session to be remembered for years to come. These are some of the incredible people who made me feel immensely proud of belonging to the ELT field.

Now while looking at the photos taken at the event, I am able not only to recognize more faces, but also to see myself in a few of them. This is an experience I want to repeat as many times as possible, and I know each time will be more inspiring and enriching than the previous one. Needless to say, I thoroughly recommend it to any teacher looking for both professional and personal development. Maybe we will be together in a picture next time.

Leandro Zuanazzi
Leandro Zuanazzi has been teaching English as a foreign language since 2011. He holds, among others, a degree in Languages, the CELTA, and the Cambridge English Proficiency (CPE) qualification. He works for a language institute and teaches private one-to-one classes.