Teacher Key Takeaways from ACTFL 2015

Gisele Vazquez Falls Tallwood High School“If you were to design the ultimate professional development learning experience, what would it include?”

This is the question that ACTFL posed to prospective attendees prior to the annual conference. The theme this year responded to that question: “Inspire, Engage, Respond.” As I reflected on that weekend, I tried to focus on that theme and how I was affected by those three powerful words.

Inspire – The word “inspire” can be looked at two ways; who and how am I inspired and who and how do I inspire others? I was inspired by so many while attending ACTFL. Allow me to state the obvious, I am greatly inspired by my colleagues. When I listen to the work others are doing in their states, schools, classrooms, I am amazed. Some working with few resources accomplish so much. How? I think that we are all inspired by someone or something that pushes us to want to do our best as educators. To look for ways to do things better or more efficiently, and especially we look for ways to reach our students. We try to instill in them a love for language and culture. We try desperately to make our classes lively and authentic. When it comes to sources of inspiration, we have an abundance; teachers, students, group chats, new technology. This is why, given the opportunity, educators attend conferences. Many times we sense that others know something we don’t, but really, very often, it is simply an idea that someone sparked in us. That spark is what motivates us to try something new. To inspire or be inspired one must take risks, collaborate, share, and take the time to learn.

Engage – This is the “buzzword” of the educational environment. But what does it mean? Even if you aren’t sure how to define it, you certainly know it when you see it. To be engaged is to be connected. The dictionary offers several definitions: to hold the attention; to induce to participate; to attract and hold; and my favorite, to bind to do something. I like this because it implies a reactive relationship. “I am engaged therefore I must do something!” How great to get that reaction in class. Life-long learning is important to the role of an educator who is engaged. Teachers never stop learning. The only way we can connect with our students and in turn engage them is to keep up with changes in our field, our community, and our culture. It is not possible to be connected or “bound” to your students and them to you if you can’t understand the world they live in. Likewise, to feel connected in our profession, we have to be able to reach out and be supported and support others in our field.

TransformIt is interesting to note that in order to transform, one must be inspired and engaged. True transformation doesn’t happen when someone is forced to do something but rather, it occurs when one has been moved to do something. Personally, my desire to transform has occurred when I have been inspired and motivated by someone in a workshop, for instance, or from a book or blog that I have read. I have only wanted to change when I have participated in something that has been engaging and motivating, where I have thought, “Wow, what a great idea; I want to try that!” There are many areas in education that need to be transformed, such as policy, mindset, funding, inadequate programs etc. However, it is possible to transform on a smaller and more realistic scale. Conferences like ACTFL are a great place to get ideas about what people are doing. Not just at the sessions (although these are great) but also just sharing a meal with a colleague and talking about what you are trying in your classroom is a great start.

There is so much work to be done in our field in order to meet the demands of the 21st century. We need state and federal policies with strategic plans to expand world language programs; we need to conduct authentic assessments to help inform instruction; and we need resources to enhance language learning to name just a few. As technology forecaster Paul Saffo tells us, “Never mistake a clear view for a short distance.” Research indicates that that the single most important school-based factor for student achievement is a highly effective teacher. We must continue to support one another any way we can. 

About the author:

Gisele Vazquez Falls is the World Languages Department Chair in the GSWLA at Tallwood High School in Virginia Beach, VA, and has over 20 years of teaching experience. She is a self-directed, enthusiastic educator with a strong commitment to student development and the learning experience. Her skills include designing challenging, enriching and innovative lessons that address the diverse needs of students. Gisele is finishing a Master’s in Spanish Language and Culture at the University of Salamanca. Follow Gisele on Twitter: @gvzqzfalls.

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