Image courtesy of Official GDC
Over the past weekend, I had the privilege of giving a session at the BC TEAL Lower Mainland Regional Conference in Vancouver, BC. I had a great time reconnecting with friends and colleagues, even if I was exhausted from my delated flight adventure involving long layovers in Toronto and Calgary and only four hours sleep.
The focus of my presentation was on creating a collaborative self-access library which included a bit of hands on practice with the things introduced. This is the same topic I gave at the TESL Ontario 2013 Conference in October with a number of changes made based on feedback given and my own thoughts about what went well and what didn’t. While it did go much better this time, there are still some things I would change if I do this presentation again.
Over the years, and even as recent as a couple of weeks ago, I have heard people complain about people who go to different conferences to give the same presentations to pad their resumes and build their ‘fame’ as an ELT professional. I understand this concern, but I feel that is a very shallow, narrow view of why people give conference sessions. Yes, there is the element of networking in order to possibly find a job or sell a product, but if that is the only reason for being there, people will see right through that and you will likely lose more than gain as a result. The reason I give presentations is much more diverse than that, and it is for those reasons I feel compelled to do the best I can for my audience. That means I will often do a presentation more than once in order to refine, change, correct, and improve my presentation to meet the needs of those attending that particular session. That means, even if a presentation goes well, I may make changes based on the audience to which I am speaking.
My reasons for presenting go much further than ‘making a name for myself’. Here are my general reasons in no particular order:
- Networking: I love meeting people in my profession, and not just those who are in positions of authority or prestige. I have had the best conversations with people who are just like me, the day to day instructors, administrators, and support staff who deal with students directly. I have to say that connecting with people may be the biggest reason I attend conferences. Yes, I do meet some amazing people on social media sites, but even then, I enjoy meeting those same people in person. I realize I could meet those same people by just attending the conference, but presenting helps me communicate to more people in a shorter period of time. Also, people who come to your session tend to be people of like mind or those who need to connect with someone who can help them. Turns out, I like helping people!
- Sharing: As I just stated, I love sharing with others what I have learned in order to assist them in their growth as a teacher. In turn, I learn from them about how I can do things better. Many of the things I do now are as a result of someone talking with me after a session, directing me to take a new path in my thinking. I can’t think of a time that I didn’t walk away from my session learning something new from the people who took the time to attend my presentation. Most of all, I just get a kick out of helping someone out without expecting anything in return.
- Growing: Preparing for a presentation pushes me to learn more about my craft and to understand it in such a way that I can communicate it to others in a clear and meaningful way. Even just doing up a conference proposal brings up things to think about without even giving the session! I try to find ways of balancing the theoretical and the practical so that people can see that this is something I have thought about, read about, and worked through in such a way that it doesn’t come across as being something put together on the fly. Now, even outside of the presentation, whenever someone asks why I do something in my classroom a certain way, I can give an answer that is well supported by research and experience.
I get that some people feel that conferences are a waste of time and money, put together by organizations that are looking to make a few dollars, but I think that that way of thinking is very judgemental and dismissive. I believe that conferences and presenting at these events is a vital part of our growth as a educator. We need to be willing to put ourselves out there, exposing who we are and what we think so others can help us grow while they learn something in return. Are these forums without problems? No, but there is no need to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I choose to be an active part of the solution rather than sit on the sidelines and throw stones.
What do you think about conferences? Do you ever present at them? What would you add to this list of reasons to attend and present? Share your ideas in the comment section below. Thank you!