Dynamic speakers. Teachers and presenters from all over the world. Sudanese henna. Thought-provoking workshops. Community Engagement sessions. Multicultural artwork. Yummy tacos. I must be describing some international conference held in the bright lights of Las Vegas or something, right? Guess again! The above all came from two and half amazing, learning-packed days right here in Sioux Falls at the 2019 Dakota TESOL Closer Connections Conference.
This conference, held this year on the beautiful Augustana University Campus, is the yearly chance for teachers of speakers of other languages to come together and collaborate, learn, connect, and share ideas and resources.
The theme this year, “Building Bridges, Connecting Cultures” allowed us to learn from passionate keynote speakers like Dr. Amer Ahmed, who led sessions on identity, inequity, leadership, and social justice; Dr. Theresa Kashale-Scholten, who challenged us to become a Community of Hope and to more deeply understand the effects of trauma on refugees; and the vibrant Mr. Wilson Kubwayo, who came to the United States after spending 10 years of his childhood in a refugee camp in Tanzania and is now encouraging educators to help refugee students succeed beyond their English classrooms.
Of Dr. Ahmed’s session, new CNA teacher Becca Cromie said, “it’s great to highlight that Intercultural Competency is a communication skill that will be more and more important in future and something that we need to acknowledge in the education of our young people.” CNA teachers Heather Glidewell and Silke Hansen were especially struck by Mr. Wilson’s quote: “I appreciate the gift of life. Everything else comes second.”
Along with the workshops, panels, and sessions, there was also beautiful artwork to enjoy, especially by a local Washington High student. “A moment that sticks out to me was where they recognized the WHS student, Juan, for his art work. His painting of the culture collage depicted in one person and the sequel work of bridge presenting multiple nations by the flags under the bald eagle was moving,” said CNA teacher Rihoko Colwill.
First-year CNA teacher Kate Harris said of the Closer Connections conference, “This was my first professional TESOL conference and I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to connect with other educators and learn how to further enrich my teaching practice.”
Another first year teacher, Kevin White, attended a workshop on “Visual Thinking Strategies.” He says, “I really enjoyed this one and am using the techniques I learned in my classroom right now.”
Veteran CNA Teacher Amy Quiroga appreciated that “a few presenters stressed that to take care of our students, we need to take care of ourselves. When we are tired/stressed/burned out, we will be much more likely to react to our students’ differences from our own cultural and personal perspective, rather than a trauma-informed or multicultural perspective that our students need.”
Participants chose to attend workshops featuring cultural panels, research-based strategies, K-12 cultural sessions, and trauma-informed practices. Teacher Mary Caldwell noted, “I purposely picked sessions which I hoped would be readily applicable to my own Classroom setting, or would ‘spur me on’ to try something new. And they did not disappoint!”
There was truly something for everyone, and we all came away with our minds brimming and excited to get back with our immigrant and refugee students to put into practice what we learned! Thank you to the SD Humanities Council and LSS for sponsoring and to Dakota TESOL for organizing such an important, timely, and valuable conference!
Lindy Obach | LSS Center for New Americans
300 E 6th St | Sioux Falls, SD 57103
1-866-242-2447 toll free
Strengthening Individuals, Families and Communities