Rather than saying my thanks at the end of this post, I think it’s fitting given that we’re in awards season to put them at the beginning. To Zena Hilton and also to Joe Dale and Jo Rhys-Jones can I please say a huge, huge thank you. Last weekend at the University of Southampton for the ICT Links into Languages conference was the best teaching event I’ve been to in many, many years. It continued the fantastic spirit of the Isle of Wight conferences in that every presentation was relevant, of the highest quality but also, and crucially for me, sparked off learning conversations. Teachers were discussing pedagogy, not just methodology- the why and not just the “how?!”. There was no separation of presenter and delegate and no whizzes and bangs for the sake of it- everything was about the learning. About the impact of the 2 days I don’t think there can possibly be any debate. I just wish I’d got the chance to listen to Isabelle Jones, to Alex Blagona or to Suzi Bewell but alas there really just wasn’t time to be inspired that many times in what felt like an incredibly short weekend. But I think Lisa Stevens sums up that element far better than I could ever express.
Another reason why I enjoyed #ililc , and to some degree the main reason why I feel like I personally benefited, was that I met knew people. I’ve commented many times before that some conferences tend to include the same faces presenting and in the audience, the same conversations take place over a cup of tea and the impact isn’t what it should be. I met some great practitioners who I felt like I knew so well from the community that is Twitter (Alex Bellars thank you for a lot of fun and interesting... exchanges), finally got to meet Sean Terry (honestly, check out his ideas and resources, well worth a few minutes of your time), met folks from the MFL Resources support network and also met many who’d never even heard of either support mechanism, people reaching out to learn. And I loved it. Looking around the room on Sunday morning as Chris Harte presented his inspirational thoughts on Languages: reboot and the SOLO Taxonomy (thanks to John Connor that section can be seen here) I saw a lot of people for whom those words were a total departure from what they’d always been told, but not from what they’d always believed. That was impact. The message had spread. And yet so many people again said to me that they’d be returning to a school on Monday morning where those messages would not be well received. They were prepared to fight, to evangelise and to convert, but could they and should they necessarily have to? So the question we need to ask again is how do we keep spreading the message of dynamic, engaging teaching and learning? And not just to those who are keen to listen right now.
At this point I feel I should step away for a moment. This is a conversation I’ve had many a time and yet I don’t feel like I’ve got any closer to the solution. On Twitter not too long ago I had an impassioned exchange of message with Bill Lord, Dughall McCormick and David Rogers about the very concept of spreading the message- in that case about cross-subject Teachmeets (if you don’t know what a Teachmeet is then don’t despair, just watch this video from BETT). It was suggested, I think by Bill, that we need to initiate a “bring a virgin to a Teachmeet” plan. Taken out of context I could see that being a problem, but the concept was very straightforward- that we need to spread the word about peer-to-peer training and support, and the best way to do this is to keep introducing “new” people into the mix. And yet nothing’s come of it, and it’s very rare that it does, because it always relies on one or two individuals to grab hold of the reins and really slog. Especially where the principle might need to include economic inducements at a time when it feels like we’re having some of the support removed- especially, and sadly, Links into Languages. And at the end of it all there’s always the risk that we’ll end up with the same conversations when we do get people there because how do we get them involved, enthused and sharing as well? This time, however, I'm hopeful as that concept and the need to talk about how we brake down barriers is spreading. To read a far more eloquent description trust in Alex Blagona.
So as both Rachel, in her really quite moving keynote, and Chris said, language teaching in this country is far from dead, in fact to a certain degree it’s in reasonably good health because of the grass roots... activism of many high-quality professionals. Professionals from across the country who were prepared to give up their free time and come to the south coast to learn and to engage in at times heated (but always open and constructive) debate. I was asked the question a couple of times whether this happens in other subjects, and my answer was that I genuinely didn’t think so (except to a certain degree in Geography!). Great active-research and experimentation are taking place in the world of MFL- not just amongst those who were present over the weekend but across the country, including many great teachers who have no desire whatsoever to become "connected", all overcoming some of the many barriers that have been put in our place over the years, and continue to be today. But what I passionately believe we need to do is ensure that this verve and passion can reach the places it needs to more- and that’s where the debate really is and needs to be. I guess I'm just greedy- #ililc was superb... I just want more, especially in the long term.