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IATEFL 2023: Highlights, Key Takeaways & Reflections

April 25, 2023

I have been attending IATEFL since around 2008. It’s such a brilliant opportunity to stay informed about current practices in ELT, meet new people, and catch up with long-lost contacts. 

Here are some of my highlights, reflections, and key takeaways!


"It’s not about the destination, but the journey."
— Ralph Waldo Emerson.

This was how my conference started... 

I cycled 264 miles from Glasgow to Harrogate to raise money for The Hands Up Project. HUP provides remote theater, storytelling, poetry, and other creative language learning opportunities for children in Palestine. I managed to raise £1,600! This was my third and most challenging ride to IATEFL. Once complete, I discovered I’d ascended 6,000 meters (19,000 ft), which is the equivalent of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro!

Learn more about The Hands Up Project.

Emily Bryson arrives in Harrogate for IATEFL 2023 after cycling 264 miles from Glasgow

Another highlight was speaking at the conference. I had three sessions to deliver. One at the pre-conference event, one at the main conference, and one at the Hands Up Project conference. 

My first workshop was for the Inclusive Practices & Special Educational Needs and Leadership and Management special interest groups. The focus was on well-being, so my active doodling meditation and inner troll vs. inner angel activity fit perfectly. I was scheduled at the end of the day because they knew my session would be interactive and they wanted me to get feedback using the feedback fairy!

At the main conference, I gave an overview of National Geographic Learning’s Teaching through Crisis series. This series provides free resources, professional development videos, and well-being support for teachers and students learning in difficult circumstances. 

The day after the conference, I was honored to deliver a similar session for NGL on developing learner voices at the Hands Up Project conference. I left this event feeling so inspired by all the wonderful things this charity does for children who really need it. 

Key takeaways

As with every conference, key themes emerged. These could be different for everyone that attended, but for me, the hot topic was diversity, equity, and inclusion.

As predicted in my 2023 ELT Trends blog post, this continues to be a popular topic. Wiktoria Allan’s session on AD(H)D was so popular that they had to close the room and many (myself included) couldn’t attend. 

Peter Fullager and Thorsten Merse each delivered excellent sessions on how to make LGBT+ inclusion more visible.

 Sketchnote of Peter Fullager's IATEFL session on taboo in ELT.

Tyson Seburn spoke about the importance of questioning language usage for inclusive purposes. He used a four-step framework. Here’s the sketchnote: 

Sketchnote of Tyson Seburn's 2023 IATEFL session on our language of exclusion.

De-centering ELT

The Hornby Scholars gave a world-changing talk about the need for ELT to meet the needs of teachers and learners in individual contexts. Their session shared the importance of materials, methodology, and professional development that reflects reality and is suitable for local contexts.

IATEFL sketchnote by Emily Bryson of the Hornby Scholars talk about the need for ELT to meet the needs of teachers and learners in individual contexts


Translanguaging is the use of multiple languages to support learning. Students can use their first language or a language they share with other learners to generate meaning, discuss questions and ideas, or take notes. The English language classroom is then a multilingual space where language diversity is embraced to enhance the learning experience. 

This was a prominent topic throughout this conference, interwoven with de-centering and de-colonizing ELT (e.g., moving away from so-called "native speaker" models) with a view to embracing all global Englishes. 

Trauma-informed practices

This may be a theme that stood out to me personally, but it seemed as if ESOL and learners facing difficult circumstances had more of a voice this year. 

Lesley Painter-Farrell gave an emotional plenary sharing the experiences of her learners, who have experienced forced displacement or migration. 

She asked us to imagine a life where we were forced to leave home, never see our families, live on a limited budget, and communicate across a language barrier. 

Powerful stuff. I cried. As did many others. 

Sketchnote of Lesley Painter's 2023 IATEFL plenary on the experiences of her learners who have experienced forced displacement or migration

At the ESOL pre-conference event, Lora Agbaso shared her own experiences of forced displacement with a touching metaphor of how seeking asylum can leave you feeling suspended in a lonely sea. She shared some great advice for teaching learners who have experienced trauma. 

Sketchnote of Lora Agbaso's 2023 IATEFL session on her own experiences of forced displacement


IATEFL 2023 was a whirlwind of a conference for me. I feel like I met so many people in short bursts, but didn’t get enough time with anyone! 

If I could wish for one thing, it would be that my drawing tablet could have been light as a feather so I could have brought it on my bike for sketchnoting. But it wasn’t, so I didn’t. And I still enjoyed creating my analogue notes. 

In many ways, IATEFL and other conferences can feel like the annual meeting of the ELT clans! It’s a time to share ideas, discuss challenging topics, and take steps to improve. 

Did you attend IATEFL or another ELT conference recently? What were your highlights, key takeaways, and reflections? 


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