I’ll admit it, I absolutely love conferences.

I’ll go to great expense and effort, and give up a lot of my time to go to one. And as I write this, it’s just ten days to go until the annual BELTA Day in Brussels, Belgium, a conference which I organize the rest of the BELTA team.

So the conference addict has become a conference organiser, and I’ve switched from simply enjoying myself to trying to make sure other people have a rewarding and fulfilling experience. To make sure that it is worthwhile, there are certain objectives which I want to meet, and I think they make a good list of reasons why you should go to as many conferences as you can.

Networking

For me, this may be the thing I enjoy most, but I should point out that I don’t mean networking in the dry, business sense where you meet people in order to get work, but in the broader, more social sense. Not everyone has a wonderfully supportive staffroom of colleagues, but at a conference you will find like-minded people who have all given up their free time in order to improve themselves, just as you have.

Make the most of this opportunity and engage with the people around you. Discuss the things you’ve seen and try to generate discussion. Meeting new people and hearing new ideas is perhaps the most rewarding aspect of conference going.

Learning

A well-organized conference will make sure that there is an interesting and varied line-up of speakers. ELT can be a very broad subject, ranging from very young learners to business English, from grammar based to coursebook free teaching, from Argentina across to Japan. Hopefully the conferences you attend will have some presentations that reflect your interests, and give you the opportunity to go and see a new perspective on something that matters to you.

You should also try to step outside your comfort zone and go to talks that will make you think about issues that you don’t normally consider. So if you love teaching with your couresebook, you could go to a talk on Dogme, and vice versa. A challenge is always good for the brain.

Reflecting and Sharing

I believe that we don’t truly learn something unless we’ve had a chance to reflect. It’s all we and good going to the conference, attending loads of talks and taking pages and pages of notes, but unless we then take the time to consider what it means to us, it will make little difference.

The next step is to then share these reflections with others, so you can see how they react and shape your feelings on the subject. This form of reflective practice is key to our development as teaching professionals.

At our BELTA Day, we try to build this into the conference. Inspired by IATEFL Hungary, and a practice they established, we host a swapshop at the end of the day where the attendees and the speakers sit in groups and discuss the things they’ve learnt throughout the day. We found last year that our delegates found it very rewarding to be given the time and space to reflect and share with each other. I would like to see more conferences follow this model.

I hope that you get the chance to attend conferences where you live (and if not you can find them online), and that you are able to make the most of them. When everything comes together, they are the most rewarding and inspiring form of professional development available to teachers. I just hope my conference lives up to this description – wish me luck!

Originally from Brighton, UK, James Taylor has taught English as a foreign language to adults in Brazil, South Korea and Belgium. Currently based in San Jose, Costa Rica, he teaches adults at Centro Cultural Britanico.
He is the current President and a co-founder of
BELTA, the Belgian English Language Teachers Association. You can also find him moderating #ELTchat, a twice weekly discussion on Twitter with teachers from around the world, presenting the #ELTchat podcast, mentoring teachers for iTDi, blogging and taking photographs.

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