Professional Learning: 2019 National ALEA Conference

Professional Learning: 2019 National ALEA Conference

The Australian Literacy Educators’ Association (ALEA) is an independent professional association dedicated to literacy and English language learning, from early childhood through all stages of schooling and tertiary education contexts. The annual ALEA National Conference – the association’s largest professional learning event – was held in Melbourne from 9 – 12 July. It is difficult to pick out just a few highlights from the 2019 conference, but I will give it a go!


Partnership with ALEA

The National ALEA Conference is a key event on the ACTF Education calendar. ACTF is a regular exhibitor at the conference, and the education team also presents workshops showcasing our content and teaching resources. As this year’s principal sponsor, ACTF was pleased to work more closely with ALEA, further developing our relationships with ALEA Victoria, ALEA Melbourne Local Council, ALEA Central Victoria Local Council, and ALEA National Council.

In the lead up to this year’s conference, I also had the exciting opportunity to work with the Conference Planning Committee. I learnt so much from working with this team of experienced educators, and it was wonderful to see the national conference from the unique perspective of committee member, delegate, presenter, exhibitor and sponsor.

As part of our involvement, ACTF CEO Jenny Buckland addressed the conference on Thursday 11 July, calling on teachers to champion Australian screen stories. The ACTF also hosted a conference social event, bringing together a diverse group of people who are all passionate about improving literacy outcomes and teacher practice.

We look forward to continuing our relationship with ALEA over the coming year, including working with various ALEA Local Councils to provide professional learning opportunities.


It takes a village

Those of us working in non-teaching education roles – particularly the former teachers! – see classroom teachers as being on the ‘front line’ of literacy education. Hearing passionate, creative and hardworking classroom teachers share their current practice is one of my favourite aspects of the national conference. But this year, I left the conference reflecting on the role that community organisations also play in improving literacy outcomes.        

At the conference opening event, I learnt about the empowering youth programs run by non-profit The Huddle at North Melbourne Football Club. Through their initiatives in education, careers, sport and more, The Huddle is on track to have engaged 100,000 young people across Victoria and Tasmania by the end of the year. I’m not a football fan myself but was so impressed with the socially progressive club’s work that I am considering telling my daughter that she now barracks for North Melbourne!

This year’s conference exhibitors included similarly impressive literacy organisations, such as 100 Story Building. This Melbourne-based centre for young writers clearly knows how to engage children in literacy learning; Program Manager Simon Conlon was based at their stand and immediately drew my five-year old into a ‘choose your own adventure’ story. Before I knew it, she was happily ‘blobbing’ around the venue like the octopus in Simon’s story. 100 Story Building aims to ‘support and extend the resources of teachers, parents and schools’, and I have no doubt that they bring this same enthusiasm to their literacy programs for children, families and schools.

The concurrent sessions I attended also highlighted the work of cultural and arts organisations in improving literacy outcomes and teacher practice. Polyglot Theatre showcased their fantastic 5678 Film Club program – an after-school film club that engages and supports young people transitioning between primary and secondary schooling. And in her session titled ‘Transmedia Narratives in the English Classroom’, Dr. Susan Bye from ACMI Education introduced the audience to the creative art of ‘world-building’ to expand on texts.

All over the country, hundreds (if not thousands?) of organisations like these support classroom teachers in their work. They serve as part of the ‘village’ needed to engage young people in education and to help them succeed.


Stand #16

I won’t deny it: the ACTF Education team loves a chat. Being an exhibitor at the National ALEA Conference gives us a welcome opportunity to combine this disposition with actual work. We enjoyed speaking with many passionate educators throughout this year’s conference, gaining feedback on our programs and resources, and sharing our latest content.

Frequently asked questions at our stand included:

Little Lunch books were the most popular item at Stand #16, with teachers purchasing books for both for their classroom libraries, and their own children. Primary and lower-secondary teachers also enjoyed flicking through the My Place big book, with one lucky teacher from Queensland winning herself a copy in our giveaway.


Conference Closing

Attending interstate conferences can be hectic, and flight schedules mean that ACTF staff are sometimes unable to attend the conference closing. With this year’s conference being held in my hometown of Melbourne, I was thankfully able to attend the inspiring final plenary session by David Hornsby (2019 recipient of the Garth Boomer Citation of Merit Award for Literacy).

David spoke passionately about the nature of English orthography and its implications for teaching phonics and spelling, reminding us that ‘programs don’t teach; teachers teach’. He drew on his deep knowledge of literacy teaching and learning when speaking about topics including standardised testing, the Australian Curriculum, and classroom practices such as using learning intentions. In closing, David urged educators to ‘speak your mind, even if your voice shakes’. This thought-provoking speech was an inspiring way to finish the conference and left me with a long mental list of topics I am eager to research further. 

Conference co-convenors Julie Shepherd and Debra Edwards then officially handed over to the Sydney ALEA team for next year’s conference. With the fantastic theme of ‘Literacies of our Learners: Understanding, responding, connecting’, I am already looking forward to it.  

Well done to the hardworking members of the 2019 ALEA Conference Planning Committee on presenting such a successful and inspiring program of professional learning.