With a mind open to learning as much as possible during a conference weekend trip (*before, during and after!), the 7 hours of the conference itself is just one opportunity. Lessons on life, another country, others, myself.
But as this is an ELT blog (if you’re looking for something else, Google it), let’s focus on the ELT-related lessons from this weekend in Budapest for the inaugural IH Budapest Teacher Training Conference…
1. Friday 6.30am – Value > Price (re. teacher training)
Listening to Russell Brand’s podcast Under the Skin #015 with former Greece Minister of Yanis Varoufakis on the first flight from Riga to Warsaw.
Varoufakis: ‘Oscar Wilde’s definition of cynicism – someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’.
Flights aren’t free, hotels aren’t free, meals aren’t free, karaoke’s not free, but the value of everything else you get from these events, pedagogical and personal, is (as MasterCard says), priceless. It’s the mark of a good school that it invests in the people who work there, and I’m fortunate at IH Riga-Satva in that regard.
2. Friday 7.00am – Constructive > destructive discipline
Same podcast as in 1., descending into Warsaw, still pre-dawn but I was three coffees in.
Varoufakis – ‘Alienation is what kills the human spirit’.
Brand – ‘Yes, it denies the connection between human beings…It disconnects us’.
Erring towards the stick is a reflection of how I was disciplined when I was regularly out of line/clowning around at my state school (I mention that because I wasn’t the only little scamp – Tanbridge House School isn’t Eton, but nor does it have a gun problem). I was a regular visitor to all-day isolation in the ‘Discipline for Learning’ room, whose name Orwell could have coined in his classic 1984, and the lowest point was a 2-day suspension.
The result? Alienation. Think about it: you’re ostracised, you develop contempt for a place, you crave the escalation of confrontation, and you’re more likely to want to burn it down (metaphorically). I don’t want this to be my Unique Selling Point as a teacher/teacher trainer (ELT Bad Boi 4 Lyf?), but it does give me another perspective. For me it’s not just empathy with a problem child; it’s personal memory.
A possible alternative? AT ILC IH Brno in October, Ben Herbert opened my eyes to this when I asked if he favoured the carrot or the stick with problem students. “There is no stick”, he replied. Instead, he recommended empathy, listening and adapting. A whiff of confrontation and I’m 15 again, not 28, limbering up for the battle, but this isn’t the best way long term. I’m working on it!
3. Friday, 9.30am. It’s what you know AND who you know.
Reflecting on the airport-city centre bus in Budapest.
You can only blag your way so far; there needs to be substance behind what you have to offer. Substance is usually time, effort, experience. But, and this is an extremely short version (WARNING: 3rd conditional flurry coming up): if I hadn’t been invited to present at IH Torun in April (cheers Torun DoS Glenn and Riga DoS Ian), I wouldn’t have met Budapest DoS Zsofia. If I hadn’t been invited to speak at ILC IH Brno (cheers DoS Dave), I wouldn’t have met Zsofia again. if I hadn’t met Zsofia twice, she might not have invited me to speak at IH Budapest. Knowledge is great but meeting good people is even better.
4. Friday, 9.30pm. Drilling can be fun
I couldn’t make it to Kylie Malinowska and Gianni Licata’s session, so it was cool to get a preview during dinner. One of the many highlights was Game of Thrones drilling, in which to get past each character students need to say the sentence then win a game of rock-paper-scissors, usually resulting in multiple repetitions.
5. Friday, 10.30pm. Catyou should sell as many books as Dogme.
The antagonistic antedote to the whole ‘philosophy’ of dogme which is based, as far as I can see, on winging it. Yes, the Bitcoin of ELT, a celebration of bluster dressed as a revolution, packaged in delicious irony in a material that it rejects – a paperback book. Catyou should be taken just as seriously: always use the coursebook; materials heavy; don’t listen to the students. I prefer Adrian Underhill’s concept of having a plan and adapting it – a ‘non-stick plan’ as he calls it
6. Saturday, 1.45pm. Neil Anderson’s session – Theory and practice.
Yes, I did attend other presentations apart from the one I gave! There were several practical classroom activities in Nick’s ‘Have a Communicative Christmas’ session, but the key concept that could be applied across the board and far beyond just these activities was his list of ingredients for a communicative task: 1. Stimulus. 2. Thinking. 3. Interaction. 4. Goal. I appreciated the theory as well as the practical stuff – give someone a fishing rod rather than a fish, as they say.
7. Saturday, 3.30pm. Nick Kiley’s session – Everything is your fault.
Nick’s still revered as a former DoS here at IH Riga, and has vast experience of presenting, managing and teacher training across the IH network, so it was great to see and learn from one of the masters at work. It was a very useful session titled ‘Projecting your Teens into Space’ (with TBL, rather than literally). My favourite bit was a quote Nick accredited to a colleague and friend that he used to stress the need for effective teacher planning for any activity to work well: “Everything is your fault”. It reminded me of a Rocky Balboa quote telling us to take responsibility ourselves before looking to shift blame:
8. Since mid-October and all day Saturday. How to organise a brilliant conference.
Growth mindset dictates that feedback is detailed and constructive
, and as I filled in the feedback form on Saturday afternoon, I was scratching my brain for anything to improve from my perspective as a presenter in the first two sessions and a participant in the last two. Throughout the last six weeks, there’s been clear and regular contact to all presenters, including help with hotels and transport.
On the day, all was on point: scheduling; interesting topics/speakers (well, I didn’t experience my own presentation
objectively; I’m talking about the others); catering; raffle; a positive atmosphere that is created by a million details that the organiser can’t overlook. Oh, and although it’s unbelievable, it was Zsofia’s debut as conference organiser. Bravo Zsofia, and thank you!
A lot of valuable lessons to soak in as we consider organising our own conference at IH Riga-Satva in March. Watch this space…
9. Sunday, 11.30am. Stereotypes of our industry (based on reality!)
Gianni sent me this after breakfast after waxing lyrical about English Droid’s cutting humour all weekend. Extremely funny and on point!
10. Sunday, 12.45pm. Blocked filter.
The morning after the karaoke-geddon before (life lesson, not necessarily ELT-focused), Gianni and I walked up to the castle. Alycia met us up there, and as a future PhD psychology academic and current IH Budapest English teacher, she was dropping knowledge bombs on the psychology of learning.
I asked Gianni why even simple psychology isn’t filtering down into mainstream ELT psyche as a vastly experienced ELTer: “It’s not even dripping down. The filter is blocked”. We need Alycia’s information, to box it and apply it for the good of our students.
Coincidentally, this idea was reinforced on the bus to Budapest Airport that evening, listening to Russell Brand’s Under the Skin podcast #24 with Jason Hickel. They were discussing wealth from rich to poor countries and the sentiment seems to apply to the findings of educational psychology studies’ effects on mainstream ELT:
Brand: It’s barely trickling down at all. It’s barely even getting there. It will be a vapour by the time it’s halfway down.
11. Sunday, 1.30pm, Qualified to share useful information?!
I was wondering if Alycia had shared her applicable psychology knowledge with other teachers at conferences.
“I’m not qualified to speak at conferences”, she said. Nor am I…is anyone? Is it a module on the Delta course that I skipped over? Why do you have to be qualified in this? I hope I can watch an Alycia presentation at a conference some time soon
12. All weekend, noted down Sunday, 7.30pm. IH is an outstanding organisation to be a part of.
Budapest Airport, no WiFi so mentally reviewing the weekend.
This is pretty much a copy and paste from my reflections on my last IH conference in Toruń
in March and more from ILC IH Brno’s
in October: ‘Having worked in a private language academy in Spain for five years, I moved to IH Riga mainly because I wanted to be in the International House fold. I took a significant pay cut (taking into account salary-cost of living ratio) on the understanding that personal and professional development motivate me day-to-day like money never can’, and that still rings very true. This Budapest conference also came a few days after my latest IH Journal article ELT 2.0
was published, and I appreciate the opportunities available working in IH World Organisation as well as the fantastic people I’ve met along the way. I think I’ll be here for a while before it’s time to do my own thing.
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