Category Archives: English Australia Conference

Ramblings of an ELT…rambler

by Sandra Pitronaci

Hi AusELT friends,

Over the last few months I’ve been exposed to fascinating input and ideas from a few different education events, and have decided to jot down what I call the ‘nuggets’ here, in our ever-broadening Community of Practice. These are the ideas and phrases that encapsulate my educational beliefs or pry open my world view, and remain with me long after the events have been packed away; these are the notions I mull over and draw from, where I find professional and ethical validation and consolation. I hope you find they can add value to your own professional ruminations.

September saw the ever-enjoyable English Australia Conference unfold in Sydney. I had an insider’s perspective this time around via the conference organising committee, and was mightily impressed by the staggering number and quality of abstracts put forward. Respect to all you ELT teachers out there – I am so glad to be part of such a highly-engaged and dedicated group of professionals.

The theme was Thriving in Changing Times, and as a committee member, chairing individual sessions was both a privilege and an exceptional learning curve – responsibility for one room/stream led to me attending sessions I may not have otherwise chosen, and as a result, I learnt many random pieces of information, such as the fact that Australia has the highest visa processing fees in the world, courtesy of Tim Eckenfels (IH). Denise Metzger (UNSW Global) encouraged us to embrace a growth mindset, with specific advice on how to effectively praise students. Turns out that “You’re a natural, I know you can do this!” is in fact de-motivating, as it is not rewarding genuine effort. I cringe in guilt at the vacuous platitudes I may have sincerely offered to my students over the years…

Fiona Wiebusch (UQ ICTE) and Clare Magee (UTS Insearch) reminded us that PD can happen in many different and unique spaces and places. I indulge in an inner grin as the image of our staff kitchen where deconstruction of lesson plans and lunch plates, so artfully blurred, flashes by. Donna Cook (ACU), Vickie Bos (UQ ICTE) and Nicole Patterson (Study Qld) encouraged us to consider that it’s not all about us providing for international students – they bring a richness and energy of their own into our community and we should go about recognising, fostering and promoting it so that others may see and learn from them. Again, chagrin.

Plenary speaker Antonia Clare, much admired for her bright energy and the passion she has brought to the Speakout series, lifted our hearts by helping us remember that emotion and cognition are closely linked, and that for our students to learn well, we need to engage their emotions. And a great big shout out to those of you who honoured Barbara Craig (Flinders), and me, Sandra Pitronaci (MQ ELC), with your presence at our Servant Leadership workshop. We valued your honest discussion, and we thank you once again for participating so enthusiastically.

The highlight of the conference for me, besides watching a bunch of ELT folk nutbushing the night away, and another bunch of ELT folk bravely ad-libbing through a Theatresports rite of passage, was absorbing the wisely spoken words of Sue Blundell, presenter on the Women in Leadership Panel. Organised by Aparna Jacob (UNSW Global), and including Heather Thomas (UOW), and Jenni Coster (Monash), the discussion centred around surviving and thriving in political environments. Sue’s words were a salve to my heart. “Be the peacemaker. Find solutions. Peacemakers transcend politics and focus on making progress”. A bright gold nugget clenched tightly in my fist as I spent the evenings after the conference watching our Federal Parliament transcend into the hellish depths of ego-driven leadership spills and shameless in-house bullying.

English Australia, and most especially Sophie O’Keefe, you have once again done us proud. What a profession, and what dedicated professionals. International students are being so carefully and so generously served by you all, as are we.

Soon after the English Australia Conference was over, I rambled across the ditch and over the hill, to attend and co-present at the CLESOL Conference in Christchurch. My LOTE background and a past life working with a Community Language School drew me over, along with a fascination for the strength of te reo Maori in the New Zealand linguistic space, and how our Kiwi cousins have been progressing in leaps and bounds. Language revitalisation projects are considered modest by the Kiwis, yet as an Aussie, knowing how we have neglected the languages of our First Nations People, their initiatives blew my mind. And obligations do not end at adhering to the New Zealand Standards, but also include honouring the Waitangi Treaty by embedding Maori perspective into the curriculum. I know we’re working on it back here, but I feel we still have much to catch up on. Plenaries by Paulette Tamati-Elliffee, Jeanette King and Rae Si’ilata on te reo Maori and Pasifika languages helped broaden my world view by a number of notches, and while I spent the weekend feeling slightly ashamed, I left somewhat hopeful. I might lack the knowledge and expertise to be of service in the language revitalisation of Indigenous Australian Languages, yet it was heartening to see language-teaching colleagues throwing their heart and soul into the study and revitalisation of te reo Maori, and I know there are colleagues both Indigenous and non-Indigenous doing the same in Australia. If any of you out there know any colleagues who are doing so, or who have ideas on embedding culture into the curriculum, perhaps we could do an AusELT post showcasing their work?

The CLESOL Conference also hosted a plenary by Angel Lin, Simon Fraser University, acknowledging and encouraging translanguaging and trans-semiotizing. Gone are the days of the ‘interlanguage’, and oh how I most dearly embrace my clumsily emergent meaning-making… Perhaps my countless half-finished phrased and gestures cast into the wind in either/both/neither languages aren’t so meaningless after all… Then Macquarie’s very own Phil Benson led us through learning English in the multilingual city of Sydney, where thoughtful management of ‘spatial circumstances’ can greatly enhance language learning opportunities. My nugget from Phil – that a ‘post-social’ view of applied linguistics is person-centred, and sees individuals as agents of their own socialisation. My rambler’s suitcase is now emptied, but I’m still unpacking that notion. And once again, thank you to those of you who attended my session with Barbara Craig – such a delight to immerse ourselves back in our old primary and high school teaching worlds plus hear your perspectives from current times.

CLESOL Conference, you were an intense moment of immense growth, and I recommend you to anyone. Kerstin Dofs, an honour to meet you, and Daryl Streat, sorry not to have crossed paths in the real world.

Just as my language and education immersion fortnight was almost over, along came a lucky pass to the ABC’s Q&A Teaching Special, courtesy of Angie Nazim (UNSW Global). (We would have taken AusELT’s Clare McGrath with us, but it turns out she isn’t demographically fascinating enough). I was lured in by the appearances of Pasi Sahlberg, now at the UNSW Gonski Institute, and Eddie Woo, maths teacher extraordinaire at Cherrybrook Technology High, and creator of WooTube. Joining them were Cindy Berwick (NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group), Gabbie Stroud (author of Teacher), Jennifer Buckingham (Centre for Independent Studies), and of course the ever-sharp Tony Jones. A feast of topics, and a huge diversity of ideas and opinions on the NAPLAN test, selective schools, disadvantaged schools, remote schools, demoralised teachers, teacher autonomy as professionals, teacher qualifications and school funding.

One of the final questions of the night had many wondering if there was still hope. In Eddie Woo’s words, yes, there is, as we teachers are ‘professional non-giver-upperers’. I like you, Eddie. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to put my burning question to Pasi Sahlberg: What would be the single most important thing we should be doing in this country to improve our education system? AusELT folk, perhaps you have some ideas?


AusELT group members at the CLESOL Conference (left to right: Sandra Pitronaci, Rike Tegge, Julie van Dyke, Tricia Lewis)