TESL Ontario – Building Connection and Community in a Virtual World

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In this pandemic reality, a virtual world like no other has been born. Pre-pandemic, our members enjoyed a combination of online and in-person events that fulfilled both professional development needs, as well as authentic peer connections. Since 2014, TESL Ontario had been focusing its efforts on providing accessible online professional development to our members. Our successful webinar series has always allowed members to gain new skills and expand their knowledge from the comfort of their own homes. However, at that time they had other options available to them, if they were looking for something more. If they were seeking tangible connections, organic conversations with other ESL practitioners, or a basic sense of community, they often turned to in-person events, such as our annual conference, or local affiliate chapter conferences and other professional development events. 

With the onset of the global pandemic, the activities in the virtual world skyrocketed. Like many organizations, TESL Ontario pivoted to a virtual conference format, and began offering an expanded webinar program to include much needed professional development in online teaching, virtual classroom management, online engagement tools and more. But as the pandemic dragged on, our members were missing those connections and their sense of community.

TESL Ontario recognized a need to start looking for ways to build connection and community for our members in this new virtual world. We transformed the format and delivery of traditional online events to improve the connection among our members and the greater TESL community. Three exciting initiatives have come from this:

  1. TESL Dialogue Sessions – an open forum where participants are free to turn on their microphones and cameras to fully immerse in a discussion on a relevant topic in English Language education. An expert in the subject guides the session with thought-provoking questions to encourage conversation and offers helpful insight when needed. The goal of these sessions is to develop a community of practice which allows for as many narratives to be heard and shared as possible.
  2. TESL Mentoring Events – a series of moderated virtual events, with a group of seasoned TESL professionals from a variety of sectors within the field who provide guidance, advice, and best practices to newer educators in search of mentorship. The goal of these sessions is to provide novice teachers with the opportunity to connect and learn from a mentor’s experience.
  3. Affiliate Chapter Resource Sharing Events – a series of casual events offered by TESL Ontario Affiliate Chapters designed to enable participants to catch up with peers and gather new ideas for teaching practices in a relaxed virtual setting. The goal of these events is to encourage networking, share ideas, and engage in some “shop-talk”.

In an unprecedented time of isolation and change, our members were searching for social interactions with colleagues and peers, opportunities to have organic conversations, and ways to build personal learning networks and occasions to laugh and exchange anecdotal experiences. TESL Ontario has strived to meet those needs through these new initiatives and provide our membership with connection and community in this new virtual world. These new initiatives, initially introduced to bridge the gap during the pandemic, will continue and will provide a wider range of professional development opportunities for the TESL community.

Do you have questions, ideas, suggestions?  Please post your comments below.

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