Image source: TESL Ontario

As a TESL Ontario guest blogger and ESL teacher, I was excited to attend the TESL Ontario 48th Annual Virtual Conference held November 5-7. Called Resilience: Re-envisioning Language Education Together, the conference was held online using PheedLoop.

A virtual conference—who would have thought it?

Resilience is an appropriate title, considering all that teachers have been through in 2020, including moving language instruction online.

I deem the conference a success. Some people may have missed seeing their fellow teachers in person, but the virtual conference hall was user-friendly and convenient, and it felt more personal, as if the presenters were in my home and colleagues just a click away.

Upon entry, there was an informative orientation video. Attendees could post comments and participate in sessions by taking part in polls or asking questions.

The schedule was readily displayed and choosing sessions to attend was easy. I got a cup of tea between sessions, ate my lunch, and even walked my dogs.

Could this set a precedent for hosting hybrid sessions in the future? Only time will tell.

The first session I attended on Saturday was “Technology and Principles in Language Teaching” by keynote speaker Hugh Dellar. He argued that just because you are using technology, does not mean you are teaching well.

He reviewed online tools like interactive dictionaries and explored the implications of using gamified learning material and authentic texts.

He went on to ask: “Who’s paying for your time?” He also questioned if it is worth using these technologies, whether using new technology was inherently motivating for students and if it made their lives easier.

Dellar concluded by reviewing some well-known principles of teaching. He encouraged teachers to ask: is there a non-tech way that may be better? Finally, he asked teachers not to be workaholics. There is more to life than teaching, he emphasized.

The next session I attended was “Teacher Mental Well-being in an Age of Anxiety” by Maciej Blaszyk and Mahgol Izadi. Blaszyk opened by acknowledging that COVID-19 has changed teaching in many ways. It has impacted hours, led to job losses, affected the mental well-being of many teachers, and increased anxiety.

Izadi then talked about art therapy as a possible solution. She reviewed activities that anyone can do to express themselves, to reflect, and to reduce anxiety.

Examples she shared include drawing Mandala patterns, keeping a visual diary, making a “must do” and “may do” list, and creating art in the dark.

She mentioned art does not replace therapy. It can be a way to explore and share what is important, noting that the quality of the work should not be judged.

The third session I attended was “Teacher Resilience: Avoiding your Best-before Date” by Patrice Palmer. She talked about her own burnout and her ability to bounce back.

She discussed the risk factors and protective factors for resilience. Some risk factors identified include work overload, lack of support and boundaries, and job uncertainty. Protective factors include support from supervisors and colleagues, feeling appreciated, work-life balance, a sensible schedule, and financial stability.

She closed by saying that what might be a challenge for some, might not be for others. It’s important to avoid judgement. According to Palmer, we all have the ability to develop resilience.

Finally, I attended the “TechKnow: Saturday” session. Patrick Chan was host, and presenters included Qanitah Hussain, Julie Prior, Jennifer Artan, and Tessa Troughton. They gave a good overview about using tech tools like Google Chrome Extensions, peerScholar, Google Classroom, Canvas LMS, and Adobe Connect.

As teaching went online, a lot of these tools became free with a basic subscription. They can make things easier for teachers by helping to manage students’ work, keep track of assignments, and give feedback. Many are also fun to use.

Attending the conference was a worthwhile experience. It proved that a TESL Ontario conference can be held online successfully. Should a hybrid model be offered next year, I would attend the virtual sessions.

What did you think of the virtual conference? Are you in favor of a hybrid model for next year?


 



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