The breakout rooms are closed, the coffee all drunk, and the InnovateELT conference is done and dusted for another year! It was a big one this time for Oxford TEFL, with the return of the face-to-face event. As we explored in a previous post, members of our community were telling us that they were ready to reconnect in-person. This meant doing all we could to bring back the magic of previous conferences in Barcelona. Still catering to those further afield or hampered by travel restrictions with our online event, we quickly realised that InnovateELT 2022 had to focus on our shared goals as an industry. With that, this year’s conference theme was born… All Together Now.
All Together Now at InnovateELT 2022
An invitation to join the chorus? An affirmation of wholeness? A community of shared values and practices? A return to normality? Or, all of the above? So pondered Scott Thornbury in his opening plenary. This kicked off InnovateELT 2022 with an exploration of our conference theme. Then, as the event unfolded, we saw his varied interpretations brought to life! Across online and in-person formats, we were joined by participants from over 25 different countries and our vibrant mix of teachers, trainers, leaders, authors and more was in attendance.
So, what did we learn from InnovateELT 2022? How did all this togetherness manifest itself, and what are we taking away and integrating into our practice? Using Scott’s suggestions as a guide, and in liaison with fellow organisers, speakers, and attendees, let me guide you through some of our key thoughts…
An invitation to join the chorus
On the one hand, we can take this interpretation quite literally! Just look at Rachel Playfair and her innovative workshop based around song lyrics. In it, she explored how lyrics tell a story. In a variety of creative ways, she then provided practical ideas for using this to inspire students in lessons. And she wasn’t the only presenter to look at storytelling and its place in the ELT classroom. Lorena Ojedo talked about stories as a ‘springboard’ to learning, showcasing Our Story Scape’s range of interactive books. Likewise, in her practical session, Aria Barcelona founder Sophie Wilmot explained how dance, movement and drama can bring English to life for Young Learners.
If the chorus is the repeated part of a song that brings all the performers together, perhaps the chorus of InnovateELT is our coffee breaks. Both online and in-person, these provide our speakers and delegates with the ideal opportunity to share their thoughts about the sessions they’ve attended. Not only that, though. Coffee breaks at InnovateELT also allow participants to grow and revitalise their professional networks. “It was lovely to finally meet you in the flesh”, reads a LinkedIn comment from Harry Waters to Emma Heyderman, and there are lots more like it. It seems, then, that our in-person event served to consolidate the links that our ever-ingenious community first developed online when getting all together now was impossible.
How is InnovateELT different?
But wait. Don’t conferences necessarily involve bringing people together? Is it really fair to say that InnovateELT attendees are ‘joining in a chorus’? Maybe they’re simply in the same place at the same time? Well, don’t just take our word for it. Our community of speakers, delegates and sponsors have already begun sharing their feedback. Reading this, it’s clear that both online and in-person participants agree with us that InnovateELT has a certain je ne sais quoi that other events in the field may lack. Just take a look at these comments, for instance:
An affirmation of wholeness
Scott’s second possible interpretation of our conference theme reflects one of our own aims for InnovateELT. Namely, we wanted to create an event that would encapsulate all main areas of the profession. From practical teaching tips to methodological theory, from employment advice to exploration of EdTech – if it’s innovative, we want to showcase it. A glance at our schedule shows that we achieved this in the breadth and variety of sessions on offer. More than that, though: feedback from participants shows us that the complete nature of InnovateELT 2022 was a real highlight.
Conference attendees often overlook the plenaries on offer. It’s easy to focus on deciding which talks and workshops to attend, forgetting about the speakers who will set the tone of the event. We’ve already talked about Scott Thornbury’s online plenary with its varied interpretations of our conference theme. Saturday brought us two other introductory sessions. First up was Nicola Meldrum. She burst her own bubble and shared the lessons she wished she’d learnt earlier in her varied and successful ELT career. She was followed by Oxford TEFL Director Duncan Foord. His From Diversity to Direction encouraged participants to simplify their approach and focus on the essentials.
What did delegates think? Check out this analysis from Jody Hansen:
Both plenaries (Saturday) were excellent. The reminder to simplify processes and focus on our real purpose is long overdue, and it was so good to hear Nicola and Duncan speak to these conceptsJody Hansen, InnovateELT attendee
Let’s look at just a few examples of the variety on offer. Oxford House’s own Becky Ray, for example, provided attendees with hands-on classroom tips to manage rambunctious Young Learners. Contrast this with TalkEn.cloud’s session. In the latter, Alina Korshunova and Inna Ulitko gave us a fascinating insight into the world of blended learning for teens and adults. Different again was Barney Griffiths’s very well-received session on learner coaching, to give you just a small idea of the diversity of our workshops.
Other InnovateELT Sessions
Not that workshops were the only sessions available at InnovateELT 2022. Lindsay Clanfield’s Starpower created some of the loudest buzz at the event. Places were reserved well before his interactive, in-person game was due to start. And indeed we can see why! Over the course of two hours, participants listened, negotiated, remonstrated – you name it. The conversations which took place over a glass of vermouth afterwards suggests that Lindsay’s session provided at least much food for thought as he had promised. It’s hard to imagine that ‘players’’ contemplations on power, leadership, and diversity were left behind at Oxford House.
InnovateELT wouldn’t be InnovateELT without a demo lesson or two. These allow our presenters to put their money where their mouth is and illustrate with real learners just how to employ their techniques in ‘real life’. Participants will know that this tradition continued in 2022! Vickie Kelty showed the second-best thing to a magic wand when correcting student errors, while Anthony Green’s ambitious session used real Barcelona-based learners to demonstrate what Phonema is all about. No doubt delegates far and wide are putting their own spin on the ideas demonstrated. I’m sure many of them are putting into practice the key concepts, and sharing their success with fellow attendees.
I could go on and on! This year’s conference really did bring together people, disciplines, and practices from across the whole of ELT, and it was a pleasure to unite the sometimes diffuse elements within the industry.
A community of shared values and practices
Here, Scott has touched on our own description of the InnovateELT 2022 theme. When we launched our call for papers way back in the spring, we told potential speakers:
Our industry has always prided itself on being diverse and inclusive. With teachers, trainers and students based all over the world, we have been influenced by a wide variety of ideas and perspectives. In recent years, this trend has only accelerated. The online format is increasingly popular while at the same time we have continued to innovate our in-person teaching and training. We mustn’t forget, however, that our shared goals remain unchanged: improving learner outcomes and increasing the accessibility of ELT worldwide.InnovateELT 2022 theme outline
The theme of community was present on various levels of the conference. More than ever before, we noticed that participants connected on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter profiles. Conversations about who was coming and what they’d say began even well before the weekend itself came around. What’s more, LinkedIn became a hotbed of shared observations, witty remarks, and cool photos of InnovateELT 2022. One side effect of all this online connection is that the conference seemed to extend over a period of weeks, with the event itself the nucleus of a moving and adapting organism. Haven’t shared your favourite photograph or reflection yet? It’s not too late! The conversation is still going strong – just tag #ielt22.
Community in InnovateELT Sessions
Many of our speakers also took the theme of community to heart. Consider, for example, Patricia Ramos and Ula Staszczyk. Their very personal session explored the feelings of demotivation sometimes experienced by TEFL teachers, and showed how a collaborative approach to reflective practice turned them into more motivated, critical teachers. Undoubtedly this left delegates mulling over their own attitudes towards the profession, with some going on to emply the reflective techniques shared by the Trinity DipTESOL trainees.
Patricia is really taking our conference theme seriously! She is also a Spanish Teacher Trainer on Oxford TEFL’s Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language course – talk about diversity!
The creation of a successful online community for learners was the theme of Christopher Delapp’s session, with birthday girl Helen Armstrong and her co-speaker Katie Powes outlining the challenges and benefits of developing a virtual space for teachers. Who knows? Attending one of these sessions might have been the last little push one of our delegates needed to get started with their own online community project.
Solidarity at InnovateELT 2022
There was solidarity too. Oxford TEFL’s Stephen Mander considered the plight of English learners displaced by conflict. His nuanced exploration of how CELTA training can help teachers to facilitate the learning of such students provided much-needed inspiration for the trainers and leaders in attendance. Likewise, Tamara Ilia joined us from Ukraine to provide hope and practical advice based on her experience of teaching English during the recent conflict. The ability to combine empathy and innovation was an outstanding feature of InnovateELT 2022, and we felt proud of our community and its commitment to equality.
A return to normality
The last of Scott’s interpretations of our conference theme seems like a fitting conclusion. After the necessarily online conferences of 2021 and 2022, it felt good to take the plunge and reintroduce an in-person component to the event.
Another ‘normal’ of InnovateELT are the prizes to be won! Sadly, the widely requested two-week Caribbean break wasn’t on offer. However, we were able to offer a great section of goodies to our speakers and delegates. A particular highlight was Janet Auckland’s generous donation of her €100 discount to the Grade Language School in Kyiv, Ukraine. The teachers there could choose Oxford TEFL Connect Membership, a Specialised Workshop, or put the prize towards a longer course. Shay Coyne was the lucky winner of a 30-hour Teacher Development Course and selected the Teaching Teens option. The balloon pop on Saturday led to another round of prizes: don’t say we aren’t good to you!
It would be impossible to mention all the innovative ideas and practical take-aways from InnovateELT 2022. For every talk or workshop I have touched on here, there are five equally thought-provoking sessions that got attendees talking. Likewise, a summary like this one can never hope to capture the atmosphere of collaboration and innovation that a two-day mixed-format conference like Innovate can generate. Nevertheless, if you attended this year’s event, I hope you agree with me that you couldn’t fail to take some ideas home with you. If you weren’t able to join us, perhaps this article has inspired you to watch this space and be a part of InnovateELT 2023!
As always, we depend on participant feedback to continue improving what we offer at InnovateELT. If you attended but have not yet responded to the feedback survey, we would be grateful for a few minutes of your time. Find the link in our most recent email, or by contacting [email protected].