There’s Nothing Quite Like a Village of Thinkers

It is often said “it takes a village” to raise children, highlighting that everyone in a community must do his or her part to help young people grow mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Perhaps, though, this saying not only applies to children, but also to fields of knowledge.

I definitely felt this to be the case last week when English language teachers from South Dakota, North Dakota, and Minnesota gathered in the Holiday Inn City Centre in downtown Sioux Falls to discuss how to better reach out to and teach the non-native English speakers in this region.

Nearly 300 educators and community leaders met for two days last week as part of the annual Closer Connections Conference sponsored by Dakota TESL and LSS of South Dakota.  Topics of conversation and presentation ranged from “Myths and Realities of Immigration” to “Making English Meaningful” – from “Strategies for Teaching Vocabulary” to “Options for Undocumented Youth.”  In other words, the conference covered the whole gamut of topics relating to refugees and immigrants, from children to adults.

dakota TESL       Dakota TESL provides support , advocacy, and professional development opportunities for those who work with English as a second language students or English language learners. 

Susan Torres, an LSS English teacher here in Sioux Falls, who has also taught English in Spain and Argentina, said, “I got techniques to use for the classroom, I got a better understanding of the refugee resettlement process, and I also got to hear the sadness of the situation in Darfur (Sudan) from a Darfur Panel.  In other words, I have lots of things to digest from the conference.”

I felt the same way.

There is nothing quite like a village of thinkers to get you to rethink your practices, expand your knowledge, and expose you to new ideas.

Amy Vander Lugt, who also teaches here in Sioux Falls with LSS and has lived in China, said she especially appreciated a presentation about SLIFE (Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education) by Jill Watson, a professor at Hamline University in Minnesota.

jill_watson   Dr. Jill Watson is passionate about helping SLIFE (Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education) learners who come to the U.S.  Watson was a Keynote Speaker at the Closer Connections Conference.

“(Watson) has a wonderful way of helping teachers see the strengths of these students’ prior experience, while giving good ideas about how to help them transition successfully to our academic school settings,” Amy said.

I couldn’t agree more. It was especially interesting to hear Jill discuss the strengths of oral-based cultures vs. literacy-based cultures.  It is always nice to be reminded that while one’s own culture may have strengths, other cultures do too.  We can all learn from each other – and we all have things to share to make each other’s lives more meaningful.

That really was the bottom line of the conference. It is vital that we are always learning from others in our field – regardless of what that field is.  It is vital that we keep open minds, that we continue to move forward. We are a village of learners and teachers, and these roles change frequently, and that is a good thing.

Stay tuned for future blog posts about specific sessions of the conference. I can’t wait to tell you in greater detail about some of my favorites.

Posted by Julie Boutwell-Peterson

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