|P.A.R.K language school in Brno.
Gareth Davies giving a plenary speech
about the importance of technology
Although most of my professional development takes place in the on-line environment, I’m a big fan of face-to-face PD events too.
I basically attend three types of off-line PD events. I’ll start off with my number one, which is definitely reserved for ELT conferences. I’ve written about the power of conferences here and here. The ones I go to are usually organized twice a year by well-established language schools here in the Czech Republic, and they always attract a number of fantastic ELT people. As a rule, each school organizes a ‘spring’ conference and an ‘autumn’ one. If I’m lucky, I normally get to four conferences per year (note: this is done in my free time, i.e. Saturdays, and is self-funded). I go to the same conferences over and over again because I already know what to expect from the organizers and how to get there safely and conveniently. This way of minimizing stress helps me enjoy the experience to the fullest. The theme is different for every conference but some of the presenters and speakers regularly come back, with brand new presentations, which is great because I love to see something old as well as something new. The most interesting moment of a conference is probably the plenary speech (and raffle too!) but the workshops are great too; they are more personal and you get a chance to interact with the presenter and the participants. I choose the workshops according to the names of the presenters, but I obviously look at the topics too. I’m very pleased when a name that was totally unknown to me before the conference turns out to be a great success.
|ILC IH Brno. Final raffle and home-made food.
Another ‘voluntary’ type of PD event is seminars which are held by regional educational centres. These provide information which I need to be able to do my job as a teacher in the state sector of education. For example, I attend seminars aimed at improving my skills as an examiner of the oral part of the final state exam – The Maturita Exam (Maturita, for short). The seminars are not obligatory but I find it useful to brush up on my knowledge once in a while. To be honest though, I don’t find the information I obtain entirely relevant to general ELT. The thing is that from the very beginning of secondary education students’ attention is drawn to the type of exercises they will once encounter at the final exam. The washback effect is always there. Also, the way we prepare students for the Maturita Exam is slightly different from the approach to FCE preparation, for example. As I see it, Maturita tends to focus on fluency, but it also encourages a great attention to grammatical accuracy, while during an FCE exam, fluency (or being able to get the message across fluently) is a little more important that the ability to speak with absolute accuracy. This is also one of the reasons why I find these seminars useful; I consider myself a liberal teacher meaning that I don’t really freak out when a student makes a minor error here and there once I understand the core of the message. Thus I constantly need to be reminded that Czech students must be able to speak fluently but not at the expense of their accuracy. I’d conclude that the type of training I get at these seminars is constricted and looks at teaching from a very analytical point of view, while conferences provide me with a more holistic view on ELT since I’m exposed to a great variety of opinions and ideas. Both types of PD are highly beneficial but one without the other wouldn’t suffice.
The third type of PD events I engage in is afternoon workshops and seminars chosen by the administrators. These happen sporadically and take place at our school. All teachers (or a selected number of them) must take part. I usually find these events quite handy and if I don’t, I’m not a spoilsport – I know the person was hired to do a job so I always try to find something relevant to my teaching context. The problem is that not all my colleagues are so tolerant. While conferences are full of like minded educators, on occasions like this you hear a lot of ranting and grumbling, mostly in the form of hateful whisper coming from all directions. Sooner or later, many of these carpers surrender and start correcting students’ essays without paying much attention to what the presenter has to say; others play games on their smartphones. This is totally understandable; we are there after our regular working schedule, tired and cranky. We didn’t choose the topic, neither the presenter. Throughout the lecture, the idea that we’d be better off spending the time with our families or doing our hobbies is constantly niggling at the back of our minds. This eventually spoils the atmosphere and consequently most of the potential learning opportunities. It’s simply impossible for the presenter to share knowledge with people who are reluctant to listen. By the way, I wrote about similar disastrous experience some time ago. So while at conferences you have full control over your learning experience, on occasions like this you only have to endure (sometimes for several hours at one go). The only advantage I can think of is that we don’t have to travel anywhere. Oh yeah.. and it’s free, of course.
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