–By Elisia Brodeur and Alis Gorcea–

On January 26th and 27th this year, more than 200 educators from around the world came to RIS to attend the prestigious annual ELLSA conference. ELLSA, which stands for “English Language Learning Specialists in Asia,” is a community of international teachers, all of whom volunteer their time to be part of an organization for EAL (English as an Additional Language) teachers in Asia to “connect, collaborate, and advocate for the teaching and learning of ELL students.” ELLSA is managed by a board—a group of 7 teachers who meet (virtually) once a month to organize chapter meetings, their newsletter, and the annual conference. RIS ELD teacher Alis Gorcea has been on the ELLSA board for the past 2 years.

One way ELLSA educators stay connected is through ELLSA chapters (groups in specific locations) as well as through Twitter, using the hashtags #ELLchat and #ELLSAPD. And once a year, international schools bid to host the annual ELLSA conference. According to the ELLSA website, the purpose of the conference is to “bring together international school English language learning specialists in Asia for professional development and networking. Topics include the latest research-based ideas, models, strategies, and tools used to facilitate ongoing improvement in the teaching and learning of English language learners across the curriculum.” Last year RIS applied to host and our bid was accepted, and thus RIS came to have the honor of hosting the 6th annual ELLSA conference.

Several RIS teachers and faculty members—including Alis Gorcea, Darcy Coonan, Maria Richardson, Michael Dempsey, Madeleine Bystrom, Tonya Parham, Dan Bench, and K. Noi— took on specific roles and worked together for almost a year to organize the conference. As soon as RIS was awarded the bid to host, Alis secured the speaker, Andrea Honigsfeld, a highly regarded educator, author, and consultant who is considered an expert in the field of co-teaching.

The overarching theme of this conference was “Collaboration: Promoting Professional Partnerships,” which incorporated three strands: establishing and sustaining relationships, co-assessing and data analysis, and differentiation within the content areas. There were 30 speakers all together: Andrea, another guest speaker, and 28 individual presenters who were selected to give workshops on topics within each of the three strands. The team made sure the range of topics were applicable to all three sections—ES, MS, and HS—so there would be content relevant to all the teachers attending.

Orchestrating a successful conference requires a lot of planning ahead, coordinating logistics, and consideration of multiple details. Among other things, the team had to build a website, organize hotels and shuttle busses, create and design registration forms, arrange for food and snacks, purchase gifts and prizes, and secure sponsors. RIS was proud to be one of the sponsors of the conference, along with WIDA, EARCOS, Boonrawd Brewery Co. Ltd, Home Fresh, and the guest speaker herself, Andrea Honigsfeld.

One of the ways the team managed and oversaw the conference was by purchasing an event app called Whova. All of the conference details were uploaded to the app so attendees could read about the sessions and workshop descriptions, select and enrol in the workshops they wanted to attend, and check in upon arrival. All communication was done through the app during the conference itself. Guests could even create and comment on any conference-related topic discussion board, and the organizers could check attendance and post announcements.

The opening ceremony took place in the PAC, where several people gave introductions and announcements, including RIS Head of School Dan Smith, James Dykman (ELLSA Board Coordinator), Ms. Alis (Conference Chairperson), and Ms. Darcy. They were followed by RIS students performing a beautiful Thai dance, and Andrea’s keynote speech kicked off the first day of the conference.

Both conference days consisted of a selection of presentations, breakout sessions, and networking opportunities. The atmosphere was engaging and lively—people were sharing experiences, asking questions, having collaborative conversations, moving around the rooms, and participating in activities; the participants were really enjoying what was going on.

The first day wrapped up with a social in the Redeemer Atrium, and then some attendees went out for dinner at a beautiful local Thai restaurant, Chomna. The final day of the conference mirrored much of the main schedule of the first but ended with a closing ceremony in the PAC, during which certificates were awarded to participants and the presenters were given gifts. There was also a fun raffle with a lot of gifts, ranging from Thai mementos like elephant keyrings, elephant pants, and coconut lotion to professional development books from Andrea, and a wireless printer that connects to a phone to print pictures. The first prize was a ticket to a WIDA workshop!

An extra-special mention goes to the 21 RIS students who volunteered their time over two days to make more than 1,000 desserts—including cheesecake, oreo mousse, brownies, and cookies— for the guests.

The conference was excellently engineered and well received. Both in person during the conference and through the (anonymous) post-conference survey, the organizers received a lot of positive feedback:

“This was easily the best, most relevant conference I have ever been to as an educator.”

“I loved the general positive atmosphere, with teachers who are not afraid to share their ideas and resources with each other. I look forward to attending the next one!”

“Collaborative teaching, the central theme of the workshop, was well presented and broadly discussed in several workshops.”

“Having a lot of opportunities to interact with teachers from other schools, both during workshop sessions and outside at break times.”

“RIS is a lovely school and it was great of them to host. All the RIS staff were incredibly supportive and helpful.”

“Thank you very much for all the work, organization, and positivity that went into making this a very worthwhile conference to attend. I will definitely come again and recommend it to others.”

“Thanks for all the hard work and making such a pleasant, informative event. Spending the weekend working isn't something I look forward to, usually, but this made work both immediately useful and fun.”