I was delighted to be invited to two events recently, namely the 21st Annual IATEFL Ukraine National Conference in Kiev from 8 – 9 April 2016 and the International House, Toruń International Teacher Training Day in Toruń, Poland on 23 April 2016.
What struck me about both of these days is that they were organized and run by local people and the workshops and talks addressed the needs of local teachers. When invited to events such as these, getting to know the people and the culture are a major part of the event. I was very lucky in that both of the organisations organized tours of the cities for me, an opportunity not to be missed.
I was very happy to have the opportunity to see Kiev, a city I had heard a great deal about from exchange students here in Graz. Some of the structures and buildings I got to see were breathtaking and having a tour like this before the conference really sets the scene for the rest of the stay.
IATEFL Ukraine, with support from the British Council, has set up winter and summer schools to train local teachers to train others. This programme, which includes focuses on methodology and English as a life skill, has proven to be extremely successful and the cascading effect means that knowledge is passed on from local trainer to local teacher. This was also evident at the conference where the vast majority of talks and workshops were held by Ukranian teachers from all over the country as well colleagues from a few other countries including Poland, India, and the UK. The focus of the talks were both general topics for teaching and specific to issues being faced by Ukranian teachers which included a discussion of the new methodology curriculum and how to select course books. Other topics were digital literacy, learner autonomy, critical thinking in the EL classroom, SEN (special educational needs) and English in the context of an emerging economic powerful nation such as India.
Two weeks later, I headed off to Toruń, Poland, an absolute jewel of a city with an intact medieval old town. It is also the birthplace of Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. Here the trip also began with a walking tour of the old town, somewhat different from Kiev where we needed to be driven to the various sites. The number of fascinating buildings and the history of the city had us all enthralled.
The international training day itself was all organised by a small group of dedicated professionals at IH Toruń who had been working to set this up for months. There was an excellent mix of presenters, from various cities in Poland as well as guests from neighboring countries such as Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Germany. Again, local context and local issues were addressed as well as more general topics for all. The workshops I went to were excellent and even after 35 years in the classroom gave me new ideas for my teaching.
I was thrilled to be able to take part in both PD events and work with such enthusiastic teachers and trainers. It was truly inspiring to see what teachers in their local contexts are interested in and what issues they deal with in their classrooms. Having the chance to both attend their sessions and chat with them in breaks or in social events organized by the association or the school is the perfect way to gain insight into another culture and teaching/learning environment. I would highly recommend these events and hope to be able to attend them again as well as similar ones in different places around the world.