When you join IATEFL, you get a choice of 16 Special Interest Groups (SIGs) you can choose from within your standard membership. These SIGs provide members with opportunities for professional development in specialised areas. For a long time, I was ‘just’ a member of a SIG. I even swapped SIGs a few times when I renewed my membership. But more recently, I have come to realise that just joining up and reading the SIG’s newsletters is not really making the most of my membership! Getting more actively involved can open the door to new ways to network and share knowledge on that area of ELT – the heart of what IATEFL is there for. Although this sounds like an advert, really the target audience of this post are already IATEFL members, so I’m not trying to convince you to spend money and join something new, but I’d like to share some ways I have made a bit more out of my SIG membership, and maybe inspire you to do the same!
Webinars: IATEFL and the SIGs organise regular, free webinars and online talks by experts on a wide range of topics. These usually last for just one hour, which for me usually fits quite nicely into my schedule. I’ve learnt new things from these webinars, even when I thought I already knew quite a lot about the topic! Also, I’ve noticed that I recognise the names of people who attend the same webinars as me, which has opened up a connection for us to be in touch more often (usually on social media) beyond the webinar setting. The list of upcoming webinars can be found on IATEFL’s website: here.
Blogs: Most SIGs have a blog section on their website where you can read guest posts by various SIG members. I’ve volunteered a couple of posts, mainly because I had some ideas relevant to the area of ‘special interest’ and wanted to share and discuss them with SIG members. In my experience, the SIGs are very happy to find people willing to contribute a blog post, so do get in touch with the committee if you have an idea. Also, some SIGs look for ‘roving reporters’ to blog about their experiences at SIG events, so if you’re going to one, ask the SIG committee about that opportunity, too! I’ve not done that yet, but it sounds like an easy and fun way to contribute!
Competitions: Some SIGs host competitions on various themes relevant to their ‘special interest’. Often, competition entries will be posted on their website, and you could win a ticket to one of their events or other prizes relevant to the theme. I’ve only entered one competition so far and I found it much easier than writing, for example, a scholarship application, but still very inspiring for my own work! These competitions are usually publicised on the SIGS’ websites and on social media, and I think they’re a nice starting point for someone who wants to get involved a bit more but can’t commit much time.
Meetups: These are local, informal events where members of a SIG and those interested in becoming members get together for a coffee / glass of something cool and a chat. If you find out about one near you (they’re usually advertised on the SIG’s website and on social media) then I’d definitely recommend going along! I’ve found them to be a great way to meet people I have professional interests in common with, in a cosy, friendly setting. Or, if there don’t seem to be any near you, then volunteer to organise one yourself! (That’s what I did 😉 ) Just contact one of the SIG’s events coordinators to get the ball rolling, and you’ll see it’s an easy way to get involved and give something back to the IATEFL community!
Social media: Most SIGs have groups and/or accounts on popular social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter, and some also have discussion lists. I’m in a couple of the Facebook groups and follow several SIGs on Twitter. Twitter is a great way to find out about upcoming events, competitions, etc. And on Facebook there is more scope of discussion; if I have a problem or question about something I’m working on, I’ve found I often get help in the relevant Facebook group really quickly! These are great spaces for finding support and colleagues with similar interests. And ‘meeting’ people on social media means you have people to grab a coffee with at face-to-face events, if you’re worried about not knowing anyone. (Note: for this to work you need to have a recognisable profile photo!)
Conferences: Alongside hosting a SIG Day at the annual IATEFL conference, and a PCE (pre-conference event) the day before the main conference, most SIGs organise or co-host other smaller conference-type events throughout the year. You can find these by looking at the SIG’s website, where you’ll usually find information about how to register and also submit a proposal to give a talk or present a poster, etc. For me, it is often easier to fit in these shorter events than a whole week at the annual conference, and they’re often a bit easier on the budget, too! I’ve also found networking easier at these smaller face-to-face events, and they’re a perfect opportunity to talk to SIG committee members about how else you could get involved.
As a closing point, I should probably tell you that I have recently been elected to the committee of a SIG (yay!), so I’m taking my involvement to the next level. But the aim of this post is not to advertise just one SIG (which is why I haven’t mentioned which one I’m in 😉 ) but just to show how much more IATEFL members can get out of whichever SIG they have chosen to join! I hope you feel motivated and inspired, and look forward to hearing about your future SIG involvements!!