This is the second time I have helped organize a conference (the first time last year at MittenCi). Even with a great team of people (Grant, Haiyun, Marta and Kelly are incredible); it is a crazy amount of work, exhausting, and a bit consuming. Especially as I am a full time teacher, and a mom to three. However, if I am asked to do it again next year, I know I will say yes in a heartbeat. Why do we say yes to these endeavors over and over and keep coming back?
equity and Inclusivity..
Equity and inclusivity, for our students, and for ourselves. If you have never been to a conference there is nothing quite like it. As language teachers, we are often the only teacher in our school, or part of a small group. Sometimes overlooked, or left to our own devices, it is easy to feel isolated and to lose the bigger vision of our full potential. Especially when you see the benefits to your colleagues of being able to talk to others that teach what they teach every day. When you attend a language conference you realize that you have a whole family of people who are making the journey with you. Even though we can connect on Facebook, there is nothing quite like connecting to other people that are passionate about the same type of teaching you do in person. People who understand your struggles and triumphs. Who can renew and inspire you and encourage you to keep on doing the amazing things you do for your students. Your words, comments, or lesson ideas, may have helped inspired someone you've never met. You may have been inspired by someone that needs to hear that they are making a difference. When we connect with other teachers that share our passions, there is nothing quite like the inspiration it gives you to keep doing what you are doing.
"Don't reinvent the wheel" is a popular saying, but as language teachers, we often have to build our materials and ideas in isolation. Talking to others that teach what you teach, getting new ideas, and figuring out how to fit them into what you already do, is empowering. I never leave a conference without a notebook worth of things I want to try. I often bookmark great ideas on blogs or facebook groups, that I never actually make it back to because I need more details before I proceed. At a conference, I always leave with things I can try immediately. Even last night, after a full day of writing down brilliant ideas; I was sharing favorite Movie Talks with the brilliant Carla Tarini (and re-writing my lesson plans for next week in my head). Walking away from a conference, I never fail to feel inspired and ready to bring the world to my students.
Our brains are wired to see the world as "us" VS "them". This is a part of our ancestral drive to prosper. As hunters and gatherers it was critical to our survival protect our family groups and tribes in order to flourish, and to survive we had to be able to recognize dangers in others that are not part of our own groups. However, we can do better.
Neuroscience shows that when we point out the similarities between ourselves and people who look, talk, or act differently; when we explain the meaning behind cultural practices that may be scary because they are the unknown, our brains start to reframe how we see others. We are no longer "us and them" we are "us and us". We all live on this small, but beautiful rock, out in the middle of space. No matter our countries of origin, our skin colors, our religious, cultural (or even political beliefs) we are all in this TOGETHER. In a time when politicians and the forces that propel our world seem determined to point out our differences, and reinforce the "us VS them" mentality, we have a unique chance and responsibility to make a difference. One student at a time, one day at a time. We can connect our students to people and places that they might never have seen, in ways that we might never have imagined, within our communities, and with the world at large. We have a chance to connect our students to their own full potential and to help them see the beauty and possibility of greatness in others. We have a chance to create future leaders that see the "us" that humanity needs to reach a world that is inclusive and equitable for all. Walking through the halls yesterday, listening to the different languages being spoken, and connecting with new and old faces, all I saw was us and us and us and us. And that is a beautiful thing.
"Building relationships is the single most important thing we can do as teachers." - Bob Patrick, Keynote, CIMidwest2017
We all know that students do best when we personalize lessons to where they are at in their lives. To their own interests, abilities, and journeys. This can be a tricky task, and overwhelming, especially when you first start out in the CI world. Listening to other teachers share their struggles, triumphs and best ideas is the path to the skills needed to personalize what we do for our students. It doesn't matter if it is your first conference, or your 50th, the ideas that you walk away with will advance you farther along the road to a program that can meet each of our students where they are at in the moment. Which is where we need to meet them if we are to help them reach their full potential. I was not able to attend any full sessions as I had confernce responsibilities. However for the sessions I was able to sit in on I learned so much that I can use to open the world to my students. As always, I wish I could have attended ALL the sessions.
In Bob Patrick's session I learned about no stress ways to teach CI and avoid burnout. From dictations, to using a same story in multiple ways. These are important words for teachers to here. In Justin Slocum Bailey's session I found new ways to do PQA that my students will love. Craig's Klein's session had incredible ideas on how to use curiosity and humor to compel student interest in their language learning. From Amy Vanderdeen I learned new ways to increase the size of my FVR (free voluntary reading) library, and from Becky Moulton I learned about the need to mentor others, and how to do so with compassion and grace.
As always, my only true regret at this conference, was not being able to see and talk to everyone. We need a whole week, and sometimes even that is enough. I wish I could have spent time talking to all the attendees, and listening to all the presenters. Whether I learned from you, simply crossed paths in the hall, waved at you across the room, or shared a heartfelt moment of collegiality, thank you for being a part of something incredible. The chance to make our classrooms, and yes even the world at large, an equitable, inclusive, and personally beautiful place for all. Hope to see everyone next year on Sept. 29th, at CiMidwest2018.
Entering my 13th year in the classroom; I am a TPRS/CI Elementary Spanish Teacher. Passionate about TPRS/CI, Brain based learning, and using technology to bring the world to our students, and our students to the world.