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#iFLT18: Conference of Love by Meredith White

“There wasn’t much session variety.”

“No one explained anything.”

“But, what does that look like?”

“I don’t know where to find the presenter’s resources.”

“The coaches and presenters weren’t accessible.”

In capturing what makes iFLT such a special event, I reflect on the aforementioned statements that (spoiler alert!) were not overheard at iFLT 2018 in Cincinnati.

So, what was heard, you ask? Emily Truitt (@ehtruitt), for example, noted hearing that iFLT 2018 was “a conference of love!” and I could not agree more.

When one talks about a “conference of love”, what does that mean? What does that look like? I will use counter-arguments to the quotes above to describe the experience of iFLT 2018.

Session Variety:

At a typical conference, sometimes the session topics can feel like they are all over the map. At best, an attendee can choose a thread or a stream and proceed through the day(s) accordingly. At worst, presenters and session content contradict each other leaving attendees feeling overwhelmed and exasperated.

Because iFLT is organized under the same guiding principles, this is a non-issue. Aligned with the high-leverage habits of teaching with Comprehensible Input, the sessions then can touch on hot topics such as management, culture, authentic resources, classroom setup, and more. Because the philosophies are supported by CI and, in fact, many of the presenters have years of experience working together, they are able to allude to others’ sessions, encourage attendees to peruse a range of resources, and more. There isn’t room for ego in the sessions, only support for each other and a lot of variety – simply put, many conferences cannot say the same.

Explanations and Expectations:

In the context of the aforementioned variety, sessions were 75 minutes. This means that presenters aren’t flying through pedagogy, resources, simulations, explanations, and more. Rather, there was time to get through a couple of specific areas, or a little of each, or focus on one, depending on the description.

Moreover, several presenters had follow-up sessions so that they were able to piggyback off of what they had already presented, continuing the conversation, more or less. Presenters’ work ethic was clear here: with many presenting multiple sessions, plus participating in coaching, they were constantly on the go and willing to share anything and everything.

Frankly, iFLT was not a conference where a presenter could arrive, present, and hit the road. They were there for the long haul, sharing as much as attendees could glean, and offering other session suggestions to follow up with, either with themselves presenting or others.

Coaching:

What is this “coaching” you speak of? I find the real-time coaching to be the most unique aspect of iFLT, sort of an entrée to the side dishes of sessions. Neither one can stand alone, but the coaching definitely steals the show. Coaching allows for vulnerability and honesty when it comes to questioning, describing, circumlocuting, and more, and it boils down to teaching in the moment, and getting feedback afterward from the other attendees who played the roles of students. For example, in my cohort, one asked, “I don’t do a very good job of checking if my students are understanding, or following up when they aren’t, can we work on that?” Wow – a significant question and she was asking for honest, true feedback from people who she felt safe to teach in front of, a far cry from a standard sit-and-get conference session. This happened several times in my own cohort.

Furthermore, there was after-hours coaching for those who wanted to stay after it was over for the day and hone certain aspects of their teaching. And, again, the dedication of the coaches and presenters was evident: the expectation was to stay behind in case anyone needed additional instruction, not to hit the road and save it for 8am the next day.

Culture of Sharing:

Not only was the time shared, as I’ve mentioned; shared, too, were an abundance of resources and advice, both going hand-in-hand with each other. Two attendees that I heard tell presenters and coaches they were overwhelmed were given a streamlined process: “Listen, choose one thing you want to change. The rest will be fine. Go from there.” Additionally, I witnessed one who stated she felt more underwhelmed than anything was given a list of follow-up blog posts and resources to bring back to her department, taking her iFLT experience in a different direction than just that of learner.

Overall, participants were encouraged to do what I call “sift and shift,” one step at a time. We have so many resources and so many paradigms to reconsider or bolster, it can feel as if we need to do it all at once, and before the 2018-19 school year starts, quick, hurry, now! Presenters and coaches were consistently reinforcing the message of “baby steps,” “sift and shift”: be picky about what we decide to do/change/delete, and then commit.

When it comes to that deciding, too, attendees don’t just need “thinks”, they need “things”, too. The culture of sharing was on fire on social media, in person, and on the Attendify app. Links, blog posts, pictures, screen shots, documents, and much more, for free, could be found before, during, and after sessions. If the resource was housed somewhere on Teachers Pay Teachers or required a membership, attendees were advised to, again, be choosy and vet the resources.

Access is Everything:

Just like the language we are helping our students acquire, information and people must be accessible. If a teacher uses Fluency Matters’ comprehension-based readers or Mira Canion’s novels or Señor Wooly’s materials, they were right there in person to speak with and were happy to lend their time. If attendees wanted extra help in getting coached, it was, “OK, let’s go, make it happen,” without a second thought. Truly, along the same lines as the sharing, access is a key component of what makes iFLT an outstanding conference, to the presenters, their resources, other materials, and more.

So, I take it we’ll see you at iFLT 2019 in St. Petersburg, FL?


Meredith White is a Georgia transplant and earned her B.A., B.S., and M.Ed. from the University of Georgia. Currently, she is working toward her Ph.D. from, you guessed it, the University of Georgia. Over the past eleven years, she has taught in private, public, and charter, urban, suburban, and/or rural settings. Her focus on novice learners works to ingrain proficiency, authentic resources, genuine tasks, student-centered thematic units, student-guided lessons, and making language learning enjoyable. Addicted to collaboration and professional development, you can typically find her at state, regional, and national workshops, attending and presenting. She teaches high school Spanish in Gwinnett County, GA as well as educational methods at Georgia State University, blogs at path2proficiency.com, moderates the online PLN #langchat (@PRHSspanish), and serves as a SCOLT and a SEALLT Executive Board Member.


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