Conferences, Content and Criticisms

The conference season is well under way. It kick started with the American Association for Applied Linguistics in Toronto, quickly followed by TESOL Canada. TESOL Greece has had its conferences in both the north and south of the country and IATEFL is next up on the list along with TESL Toronto.

Image courtesy of Matthew Noble (@newbieCELTA)
Image courtesy of Matthew Noble (@newbieCELTA)

All of these conferences, and many more, are spread across the globe. The cost of attending alone is significant, never mind the additional cost of flights, hotels and food.

Given that salaries in the industry are generally low, with most being at the local rate rather than at an international one, it comes as no surprise that most teachers struggle to raise the funds needed to attend conferences.

This brings it down to the schools and institutes to support teachers financially when attending conferences. However, most schools simply refuse to do this. Why? Is there truly nothing in conferences for them? Continue reading to find out…

Financial Implications

The most obvious argument for a school not to support staff is the perceived financial loss. Most school directors will be of the opinion that they will essentially spend a signficant amount of money sending a teacher on a semi-free holiday.

However, I think most teachers aren’t asking for a free ride – they just need access to the right funding. This means the school could put the money the teacher needs upfront and deduct it from their salaries over a period of months.

This way the school doesn’t make a loss and the teacher isn’t prevented from attending because of their bank balance.

Ideas and Development

The greatest part of a conference is its content. If a teacher goes to a conference, they can watch a myriad of talks on methodology, in-class activities and teacher development. These ideas can then be brought back to the school, shared with those who didn’t attend the conference through INSET sessions.

Through one person attending a conference, a school has the opportunity to develop all of its staff and equip them with potentially great lesson ideas and activities.

Networking

Image is everything in the modern world. Clients walk into stores and straight back out if they don’t like the look of it – regardless of the prices. People don’t purchase apps if they can’t instantly navigate them – regardless of how effective they might be. Books are judged by their covers – regardless of the reviews on the back.

This applies to schools as well: they need to look the part if they are going to be taken seriously. If a school funds or part funds a teacher’s trip to a conference, then they have the right to ask the teacher to plug the school during the conference.

This could take the form of using school logos during talks, sharing out school paraphernalia and possibly setting up meetings in the school’s name.

Having staff at conferences not only gives others from around the world the impression that your school means business, it can also give potential clients the same impression. Get your staff to take photos of them at the conference and then get those photos up on your website and your social media accounts, such as LinkedIn, Pinterest and Facebook. When clients check out your school, they will see your teaching staff are highly-trained and highly-engaged professionals. This might encourage them to choose your school over another one; it might also convince them that they are getting their money’s worth.

Moral Support

ELT professionals rarely do the absolute minimum. In fact, most go above and beyond what their contracts state on a regular basis: working extra hours, supporting other staff, plugging the school and making materials.

When staff as dedicated as this ask their school for support to attend a conference, it must be so demoralising to hear “no”, especially after all the extra effort they have made for the sake of the school.

Such staff also know that most schools aren’t huge money-makers: they don’t expect the school to fund the entirety of their trip. What they do expect is for the school to offer what it can.

A gesture of support, no matter how small, will go a long way with staff. It will be demoralising to hear a plain and simple “no” than something more supportive, such as:

The school couldn’t possibly afford to fund your conference trip but it can do the following:

  • Drive you to the airport
  • Give you $50 towards the costs
  • Not deduct money from your salary while you’re at the conference
  • Use stand-by hours to fill in for your lessons

Guarantees

So, in exchange for the small token of support, what does the school get? I’m sure a wide range of things could be negotiated, but one thing the school automatically gets is a content member of staff, who will attend the conference with no fear of speaking very highly about the school.

After all, this is what conferences are about, right? Networking: meeting and greeting – getting your name out there. Why would a teacher who has been downright refused any support make any effort in the name of the establishment they work for?

They say word-of-mouth is the strongest marketing tool. If schools are businesses, then they need to put more resources into the value of their word-of-mouth marketing. They probably already do a lot to make sure their clients as satisfied, so as to make sure their word of mouth about the school is positive; perhaps it is time schools considered the word of mouth of its teaching staff.

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