MittenCI 2018, 377 teachers from 16 states, gathered together in Saline, MI on the weekend of April, 20th. It was an incredible weekend, with many returning attendees from 2017 and many brand new to the world of teaching for proficiency. How did it happen and why? What keeps people coming back to conferences like this? Read on for the answers to these questions, a sneak-peek at some behind-the-scenes Mitten info, and a hint about some of the exciting things we are working on for next year!
MittenCI started as a glimmer of an idea, when Kristy Placido and I spoke about the lack of Comprehensible Input training in Michigan. The conference became a reality when Beth Gregones and I decided that we needed more training to help our district transition from legacy teaching (with textbooks, vocabulary sheets, and grammar rules) to the Comprehensible Input (CI) style of teaching. A few teachers in my district had been to multiple trainings, but most had only had a single TPRS training with Blaine Ray. If you have made the jump from legacy teaching to CI teaching, you will know what a challenge this can be; and how training with experienced teachers can make all the difference in the world to your transition. The problem was that our district did not have the money to bring in the big name trainers. The only way Beth and I could make it happen was to bring the trainers in at no cost to our district. The only way to do that was to host a conference. Saline agreed to give us the space for free, if we could bring in the trainers (if you build it, they will come).
Beth and I had no idea what we were doing when we first started working on the conference. We started by asking Carol Gaab, and Kristy Placido of Fluency Matters to join us; to our shock, they said yes! From there we quickly added Dr. Bill VanPatten, Carrie Toth, Tina Hargaden, Justin Slocum Bailey, and many other incredible talents (both local and from far afield). We emailed teachers across the state, begged the high school culinary instructor, Chef Musto to make us delicious food (priorities), and agonized over decisions like what kind of name tags to order. Not only did we do this at the end of the school year (when we both had a million projects going on for our actual classrooms), but we also did it for FREE. That's right, for free folks. Saline let us have the space gratis, but we were not allowed to pay ourselves. So Beth, myself, and our dedicated language teachers worked like crazy people to make it happen! Going into the first day of the first Mitten conference we were not sure we would hold another conference. It was an insane amount of work, and we were completely exhausted.
Why did we do it again? And why do we already have a date for 2019? Because of all of you amazing teachers out there. The joy in the halls was palpable. There were teachers literally crying tears of joy. They had never heard of this method of teaching, they wanted more. More training, more camaraderie, and more Mitten. Our conference started as a way to get training to our district, but it was clear from the first day that it was so much more than that.
Before we crawled home on that Saturday, we had already decided to do it again. Teachers coming together to support each other, and grow together is one of the most powerful things I have ever experienced. The power we have when we work together, and support each other, can literally change the world. What could be more important?
You may be wondering, where is the description of the sessions and other great takeaways? The truth is, between organizing, teaching two language labs (see a video of one of them below), and running a session on Bad Unicorn, I was not able to attend a single presentation. I did find a few great blogs about other sessions though, and you can check out one from Sarah Breckley here; and from Señorita Glasbrenner here. You can also see a great video of what the conference looked like with Darren Way below!
Want a hint about the upcoming Mitten conference? We will have 7 presenters on Friday next year AND our keynote is the incredible Dr. Krashen!
Why throw a conference if you can't even take advantage of the learning opportunities? Because it is bigger than any one teacher, or one school. This is about changing our profession, lifting each other up, and changing the world.
"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart." - Nelson Mandela
For teacher appreciation week, I posted my 'Teacher Stats' on Facebook. I realized that over the course of my career I have connected with over 4,000 students. Each student is a chance to lift a child up, to teach them another language, to teach them about the differences between local culture and new places in the world, and most importantly to teach each child how we are all the same in our basic need for love and understanding. If we can teach children to appreciate the differences, but also to see the connections between themselves and the rest of humanity, we as teachers, and as language teachers specifically, have a chance to change the world in a way that no other profession can.
We can only do that if we support each other and grow together. This is what Mitten was and will be about, and I hope that you can join us at ACTFL at the CiPosse booth, at our house at ACTFL for salon-style after hours conversations, or at one of the amazing conference opportunities below. As a teacher alone, we can make a difference, but as teachers united, we can change the world.
Upcoming Training Opportunities:
NTPRS: July 9th- July 13th
Comprehensible Cascadia: July 10th- July 12th
IFLT: July 17th-July 20th
Express Fluency: August 6th-9th
CiMidwest: October 5th-7th
ACTFL: November 16th-18th
MittenCI: April 26th-27th
I hope to see all of you amazing difference makers at a conference soon!
Erica M. Peplinski
Have you failed at anything lately? Last year I didn't succeed in one of my major goals. I attempted National Board Certification, but did not pass. OUCH! That was a major blow, and the first time in a few decades that I was unable to attain a professional goal I set for myself. After I had turned in my work, but before I knew the outcome, I attended a conference in Bethesda, MD last summer. I was changed by that conference in unexpected ways.
See all the times I used the word ¨I¨ in that paragraph? I, I, I…..Teaching can be a solitary profession. Even when we are working with other teachers, World Languages teachers can feel alone. Maybe you are the only one in your department, or the only one teaching your language. Maybe you do not see eye-to-eye with your colleagues. There are many reasons why you may feel alone sometimes. For me, it is a tendency to want to do things myself and not to rely on others that sometimes leads me to do things alone. When I was working on NBTC, I was the only teacher in our cadre who was a World Languages teacher. That, plus my natural inclination, led me to try to complete my components mostly on my own. (I hate asking for help.)
Back to that conference. I took two precious summer days, a couple hundred bucks, and my professional BFF and we headed to the CI Liftoff summer conference. It was phenomenal to spend time with two of my favorite CI mentors, Tina Hargaden and Ben Slavic. I learned a lot at that conference, but that is not what this blog post is about. After I came home from the conference the real magic started. I joined a professional group on FaceBook, I started having collaborative relationships with other members of the group, and I started moving forward on projects dear to my heart. Finding the right Professional Learning Community is an important step in professional growth. That does not always happen in your school building.
One day this winter, I found out that I had not achieved NBCT. At the same time, teachers across the country were finding out the same outcome, or deciding that they would join the next round of teachers attempting this certification. This inevitably led to discussions online in several different professional groups to which I belong. The most warm and productive discussions came about with members of the CI community. Another teacher and I were working on the same components and a third member of the community agreed to mentor us. Justin, Kim and I formed a Mastermind.
The idea of a Mastermind has its origins with Napoleon HIll, who conceived of the idea for people in the business word. The group is intended to assist you in overcoming obstacles by harnessing the collective wisdom of a group. In our context, it is a group of like-minded educators meeting at intervals they decide- taking up each other's burdens, sharing ideas and connections, and confronting challenges together. People rave about the effectiveness of these groups, and I can attest to the energy that flows from sessions of our Mastermind.
In our Mastermind group, Kim and I have both found the kind of mutual support, feedback, and encouragement to achieve excellence. I look at the level of work I was able to achieve on my own last year, and I can see tremendous growth when I compare it to the work I am doing this year. Justin is the more experienced member, and the leader of the group. He is able to gently guide our conversations, provide constructive criticism, and cheer us on. I know that in the future I will want to continue this collaborative work and form other Mastermind groups where I can work with other groups on other goals.
Don't let geography, your working conditions, or your mindset stand in your way. You can find the like-minded colleagues you need to help you achieve your goals, reflect more deeply on your practice, and be the cheering section you need. We know that it takes a village to raise a child, and it might just take a Mastermind to raise a teacher.
Where do you look? Check out professional groups on FaceBook. Search for blogs, twitter handles, and accounts on Teachers Pay Teachers. Still struggling? I am happy to help. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will see if I can put you in touch with the right group of teachers. You can form your own Mastermind and start to see the positivity flow!
- Nissa Quil