I have a colleague and very good friend who asked me about my presentation at the SCOLT conference in Orlando (see this post). Her main question was, “How did you get to do that?” It’s a question I have gotten from lots of people since my first time presenting last year (see this post).
Attending and/or presenting at a conference is a great experience for any teacher at any point in their career. I have made friends and met colleagues that I would not have otherwise met. I have also met people I have only spoken with online through #langchat or other social media. When I met Laura, Keith, and Megan, I was completely star-struck. But the thing is, they’re normal people who want to be the best teachers they can be. Just like the rest of us. So come out to a conference and see what it’s like, then try and submit a proposal. The worst thing that could happen is they’ll say no. Last year, ACTFL rejected a proposal for a presentation. It was not very nice to feel the rejection, but at the same time, now I know what I need to do differently to maybe present there next year.
So What To Do?
The very first thing to know is that presenters aren’t necessarily invited to present. The call for proposals will go out months before the conference and the application process will begin then. If you’re wondering when your next conference is and how to submit a proposal, just search online for “(conference name) call for proposals” (For example: “FFLA call for proposals,” “SCOLT call for proposals” or “ACTFL call for proposals“).
Every state has a language teaching association. In Florida, it’s FFLA. In North Carolina, it’s FLANC. In Georgia, it’s FLAG. If you’re not sure of your state’s language teaching association, you can search online for “(your state) foreign language teaching association” and you’ll find it. Find your state’s language association and find out proposal deadlines.
Outside the state language teaching associations, there are the regional language teaching associations: SCOLT, SWCOLT, CSCTFL, NECTFL, PNCFL. Each has it’s own conference with teachers from around the region and beyond who are coming together to learn and present information about language teaching
Finally, there are the biggies: the national language teaching associations. The biggest name out there is ACTFL, but there are others like AATSP, AATF, AATG, NFMLTA, and TESOL, to name a few. Here is a list of regional and national language teaching associations from the SCOLT website. You can also check out ACTFL’ s website to see lists of all their affiliated language teaching associations.
After figuring out where and when you want to present, you will need to ask yourself some important questions:
- What language teaching topic do I like to talk about?
The topic you present at a conference should be something that you are passionate about. This will benefit you in multiple ways. This has two big benefits: (1) You’ll be able to talk about the topic at length and with passion and (2) If you are passionate about what you are talking about, your audience will be drawn in and possibly won over by your enthusiasm.
Think of sources that you consistently turn to for information and research. The topics for presentations could come from any source that inspires you to do something different from what you’ve done in the past. It could be an article or a book you read, a class or workshop you attended, or even a blog post or journal entry you wrote. I have talked before about the benefits of reflection through writing (specifically a language-teaching blog) and for both of my SCOLT presentations and for the next proposals I plan to submit in the near future, the topics came from things that I wrote about here.
***Sidenote: Think of the presentation as you would a presentation for school. Don’t Plagiarize! This might seem obvious to us, especially since we’re teachers, but it bears repeating. THere isn’t anything wrong with presenting how you’ve used other people’s ideas and methods, but make sure to cite your sources! It’s a good way to make sure you stay credible with your audience and it’s also super helpful and considerate. Let everyone know where they can find more information and where you started your journey with your topic so that they can use it too.***
2. What are you doing in your class that others will want to know about?
We all do things in our classes that no one else does. It doesn’t matter what method we use or what text we teach, we all are individuals who do things as only we can. Two people doing the same exact lesson could have 2 very different approaches based on personality and teaching style. So think about what makes you individual and focus on that. Then, ask yourself how you approach the topic you want to talk about and think about how that can inform other teachers’ practice in the classroom.
Each conference has its own criteria and rubric for what they will accept and what they won’t accept.
***A note about conference themes: Usually, each individual conference will have a theme. Make sure that your proposal includes information about how your presentation will tie into what the conference theme is.***
Each conference proposal process is a bit different, but there are a few things to keep in mind:
Create a catchy title
The title is what will get people through the door on conference day. It has to short and easy to remember. One tip I heard from a presenter this past year is to give your presentation a title that sounds a little bit controversial. That was my technique at the 2017 conference. The title? “We Don’t Learn Anything.” It sort of jumps off the page. Make yours do the same!
Keep your description short and try and have it build interest in the topic
This is where you can appeal to the hearts and minds of the conference attendees. Instead of telling you what to write, I’ll just give you some questions to think about as you write your proposal:
- Who are you and why are you presenting?
- Why should anyone want to hear what you have to say?
- What do you want the attendees to leave with?
- Are you presenting a skill or method that others can use when they get back to school on Monday?
- Are you presenting research that contradicts the current trends in language teaching?
- What can they get from your presentation?
This is where you can really let everyone know what you’re about and why they should come and see you instead of someone else.
Plan for your presentation to be dynamic and interactive
Generally, multi-media presentations that encourage interaction between the audience members and the presenters are preferred. Definitely don’t plan to just stand and read a script or a powerpoint presentation at a group for an hour without any interaction. The more dynamic you can make your presentation, the better the chances that it will be accepted and successful.
The last thing to remember when you’re at a conference: MAKE CONNECTIONS! You are in a place with more language teachers than you can shake a stick at. Make connections with as many of them as you can. Get email addresses, twitter handles, blog urls, and phone numbers. The more you put into the networking, the more you will get out. This is especially important for those of us in “Departments of 1.” We don’t have someone to talk to or bounce ideas off of every day. But just because we go it alone at school doesn’t mean that we’re alone. There is a whole world of language teachers out there eager to help and to share. All you have to do is go to them.