Why did you take the plunge?
I joined the MaWSIG committee as one of three Joint Events Coordinators in May, 2018. I’d considered putting myself forward on a number of occasions but had been reluctant to take on a role which I might then not be able to fulfil effectively because of time constraints. I’ve been a member of MaWSIG since the beginning; my first real interaction was as a speaker at the first PCE in 2014, when I was invited to speak about digital writing. It was so exciting to spend an entire day with a group of people whose working life and professional interests so closely mirrored my own. What an eye-opener! Since then I haven’t missed a PCE and I’ve formed close relationships with many other SIG members. MaWSIG is my professional home. It feels good to give something back, and to provide materials writers of all kinds with ongoing support for their professional development.
What do you actually do?
I’m currently in charge of organising MaWSIG’s PCE and Showcase Day in Harrogate. Much of the work has already been done as we had to postpone the events we had planned for Manchester 2020. When the PCE was first postponed, I was delighted to hear that all of our presenters are still onboard and that none of the delegates who signed up to make our PCE a sell-out event have pulled out. I’m about to contact people again, to check that this is still the case. The new date has been set for 18 June, and as that happens to be my birthday, I’m taking it as a sign that it really is going to be an extra special day. Selling every ticket is a cause for celebration, but the fact that it’s a sell-out comes as no surprise with the fantastic line-up we have. We decided to have a very practical focus at the next event, asking experts from different fields to come and share their tips. This was clearly something that delegates welcomed.
My role in preparing for the PCE includes writing a call for proposals, then reading and selecting the most appropriate ones, keeping in mind the need for balance in terms of focus, presentation type and, wherever possible, a mix of speaker types – considering gender, L1/L2 speakers and other aspects of diversity. Sometimes this is easier said than done, but it’s an area we are working on.
When does this work get done?
We start organising the following year’s PCE as soon as one has finished. We begin by discussing a theme, taking into consideration current or future trends and/or what we think would be of immediate value to our members. Once we’ve established our theme, we put our heads together to think of titles and the kind of speakers we’d like to invite.
Throughout the year we have weekly committee meetings on Skype to discuss all areas of MaWSIG activity. The PCE and Showcase Day are always on the agenda, and as planning progresses, action points are added to our minutes. For me, an action point might be sending an email to speakers to invite them to a post-PCE meal and to enquire about any food allergies, or finding a suitable restaurant that offers a good menu at an affordable price. There’s usually something to do.
Where does the work get done?
Most of the SIG’s work is done from our respective homes, communicating online. The only time we all meet up is at the annual conference. We take advantage of this time to have a face-to-face meeting and to socialise together. For many of us, it is the professional highlight of the year. On a personal level, it is the moment when I see a year of hard work culminate in a couple of exhausting but enriching days.
What do you get out of it?
Being a part of a group like MaWSIG gives me an opportunity to work with amazing ELT professionals from all over the world. I’m regularly bowled over by the generosity of ELT authors, editors, designers, illustrators, publishers and others when it comes to sharing their expertise. This might come in the form of agreeing to write a blog post or give a webinar, offering advice or donating a raffle prize. Knowing that I am contributing to high-quality professional development opportunities for materials writers around the world is extremely rewarding.
Last but not least, there is the camaraderie between committee members. We all have different roles but we also have different strengths and areas of expertise. It’s wonderful to be able to rely on each other for support while we’re getting on with our jobs. I love how everyone always makes the time. Some of us are freelance authors and editors working from home, so this connection is a huge plus. It takes the place of the real-world staffroom or coffee shop and makes me feel that I really am part of something big and important.
Katherine Bilsborough is a freelance ELT author. She writes coursebooks and online materials as well as lesson plans and blog posts for the British Council’s Teaching English website and National Geographic Learning’s In focus blog. Katherine is Joint Events Coordinator for IATEFL’s MaWSIG committee and is a co-founder of ELT Footprint.