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Hyogo Skills Development Conference: A Reflection, plus the Enkai!

Hyogo Board of Education’s annual Skills Development Conference

November 21-22, 2013

Attended by 485 ALTs and JTEs

A review by two JHS ALTs:

This year’s Skills Development Conference was a pleasant surprise. Sort of. Well, there were pieces that were helpful and interesting. Unfortunately, there were more parts of the Conference that were frustrating and disappointing.

On the plus side, it is advantageous for the majority of ALTs that the conference is on Awaji. Seeing as some ALTs have a long way to go, whether to Kobe or Awaji, the easy accommodations and parking is a definite plus.

A negative point is that the planning and preparation were poorly executed from our viewpoints. The information and reservation papers were late. Not everyone received the questionnaire emails or documents. Our schools were scrambling on the due date trying to get everything ready to send back for the SDC. The reuse of a snarky document to relay information was just dreadful. It was an unprofessional beginning to a professional development conference. We would also recommend not opening the conference by stating that ALTs complain all the time. It was offensive and did not put us in a mood to cooperate.

Following the Current State of English Education in Hyogo speech, there was a keynote lecture by Matthew Rooks, an associate professor at Kobe University. Having a former JET participant as the speaker was a welcome relief. Rooks, as a former ALT, knew about the circumstances and could relate to the difficulties that surround working in Japanese schools. It was also encouraging to hear about education in the universities so we can be more forward thinking as we prepare our students for their future education opportunities.

The main point Mr Rooks discussed was the awesome educational concept of autonomous learning. However, unless the ALT is in charge of the classroom, it is nearly impossible to simply implement autonomous learning without the explicit cooperation of JTEs. Autonomous learning needs to be cultivated and encouraged in every class by the main teacher in charge. It is important to educate the main instructor in the skills and implementation of autonomous learning. Unlike many things in a school system, this concept is something that can be used in a classroom without all of the bureaucracy that is so prevalent in education. All the main teacher has to do is agree to put in the effort and actually try to involve the students in their own education. No special papers, stamps, or meetings required!

During the workshops this year, we had a lot of really thoughtful interactions between ALTs, JTEs, and larger groups. Nearly every group said, “Where is the JTE evaluation?” Should they use this method again next year, we fully expect there to be a JTE evaluation as well. Team teaching is a two-way street. We understand that the checklist was to provide communication between ALTs and their JTEs, but whenever the ALTs share their ideas—if we are to believe the opening speech—it comes across as complaining. We need to remove the stigma of ALTs voicing their concerns in the workplace. It could be as easy as a change in language from the ALT complaining about their schools to the ALT giving their JTEs feedback.

On Friday afternoon, we listened to some ALT presentations that fit pretty well into the theme of autonomous learning. These presentations were a great way to see examples of how to use the information from the conference. Unfortunately, the email for recruiting presenters was unclear and did not sound applicable to anyone other than SHS ALTs. Thankfully, the ALTs who presented showed their natural ability and left us with some great ideas to think about. Some lent themselves more easily to the JHS level than others, but it was still motivating to see ALTs thinking outside the box.

The points that stuck out to us were “No zombie! No robot!” in Ashley’s presentation about student skits and taking a poll to learn student interests and learning styles in Alicia’s presentation about motivating students. We’ve often taken polls at the end of a school year to see what the kids liked in order to adjust our teaching the next year, but no two classes are the same. It makes much more sense to evaluate your teaching earlier in the year and then adjust from there. We have used rubrics to evaluate skits before, but it was a great idea to incorporate entertainment into the grade to make sure the students keep it fun. Another gem that has surfaced since the conference is the “Say What?!” YouTube channel.  For those who haven’t seen it yet, check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/user/SayWhatJapan

It’s an ongoing project of Ashley’s that really speaks the kids’ language.

Overall, the priority of the Skills Development Conference is to develop skills. After all, it’s in the name. However, the main problem with the Skills Development Conference of 2013 was that there was little to no actual developing of skills. We are presented with great ideas and goals but no down-to-earth, realistic ways to achieve the goals and ideas. Please give specific examples of methods to use to achieve the concepts proposed.

Our annual Skills Development Conference is two long days of meetings, lectures, and workshops. It is amazing that so many people come to Hyogo’s every year. Hopefully the SDC will continue to evolve and improve so future ALTs and JTEs will find themselves better prepared for the challenges of teaching English. Otsukaresamadeshita!


Hyogo AJET event: SDC enkai

November 21st and 22nd saw the Hyogo ALTs and JTEs descend on the beautiful island of Awaji for two days’ rigorous discussion of the teaching situation in Hyogo at the Yumebutai conference centre. Having shared inspiring ideas and seen lots of old and new faces, the ALTs returned from Tadao Ando’s impressive architectural feat of a location, to the slightly less concrete Sannomiya for a little merriment. The post-conference enkai was held at the Sky Buffet where the food was never ending and the libations and conversation flowed.


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