Conference Review: TESOL Spain 2023

It had been three years since we last all met in Salamanca. We were hosted then by the beautiful university and spent the weekend learning from one another, socialising and discussing the big ideas of the moment. We were in a state of something like pre-lapsarian bliss: blissfully innocent of what was about to happen only days later, when our schools and universities shut down; blissfully unaware of how long it would be before we saw loved ones again; blissfully unsuspecting of the fact that it would be three years before we met together again.

This time we were at the EOI Islas Filipinas in the north of Madrid. I walked into the venue, immediately recognising faces and was given a lovely welcome by the volunteers and Karen McDonald at registration. The opening plenary, given by Sandie Mourão asked us to reconsider picture books and think about how we could use them in our classrooms. Admittedly, this was an area that I knew very little about and so I learned a lot, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I discovered a respect for the medium that I didn’t have before.

We dispersed to our various chosen talks for the evening, and I have to highlight Daniel Barber‘s wonderful presentation that talked about we can help our students develop their eco literacy. He recommended the course Ecolinguistics: The Stories We Live By which I shall have to follow as soon as I have the time to do so.

Saturday started early, as conference days do! I was able to enjoy talks about teacher wellbeing from a management perspective thanks to Emma Gowing (who had been by tutor on some online courses from IH) and also about connecting with a community of teachers online thanks to Helen Armstrong and Katie Bowles from TEAL Teachers. I met Jessica Mackay, a fellow co-editor of the ReSIG ELT Research journal, and heard about a wonderful project bringing research and practice together. Scott Thornbury gave a wonderful Saturday plenary, talking about ‘The Road Less Travelled By’ which was by turns funny and informative. Matsina Gatsou told us about designing asynchronous teacher training, and I’m already applying her ideas and principles to our context. James Seymour shared some wonderful ways for connecting lessons to our students’ world (click his name and you’ll find his blogpost sharing those same ideas).

On Sunday, I enjoyed being challenged and critiquing my own views on using course books in a keynote given by Karen McGhie. For me, it’s a highlight of any conference or workshop when a speaker forces you to confront your views and ask yourself but am I right? This is the only way, I think, that can help us to evolve our thinking, and this is what developing professionally really means. I also attended a great session about peer feedback in the classroom given by Babi Kruchin and Brittany Ober, and while the context of the paper was academic writing at university level, I was able to consider the applications to my own context as well.

It was an honour to give a talk on Sunday afternoon, especially about a topic area that I’m really passionate about (and there will be a followup post where you can read about what I said in the coming days). I was grateful that colleagues chose to listen to what I had to say and engaged so warmly and enthusiastically with my ideas. For me, speaking in the last talk slot is a double-edged sword, in as much as you have both the benefit and responsibility of adapting your talk to reflect the other ideas you’ve heard during the weekend, citing colleagues wherever possible.

Before the fun of the raffle and the goodbye hugs, we were treated to a closing plenary by Libor Štěpánek which talked about creativity and told us not to fear ChatGPT!

Thank you to everyone who made the event possible: the TESOL Spain board, the volunteers, the speakers and the staff at the EOI who brought us coffee and gave us a place to meet. I’ve seen many people post about the FOMO on talks they didn’t see; my list of FOMO talks would definitely be longer than the list I attended. I think this is the mark of a great event and a great programme; there was always at least one other talk I could have been attending.

It’s Tuesday morning and I still have a wonderful energy and buzz: a kind of TESOL Spain “hangover”. Unlike the other kind of hangover, this one is positive and productive and I hope it lasts a long time. It probably won’t last until TESOL Spain 2024, unfortunately, but I’m already looking forward to that event, and not just because it’s in Cáceres, the town I think of as my pueblo!

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