If you’ve been reading this blog for a long time, or follow me on social media, you should be aware of my involvement in BELTA. BELTA is the Belgian language teachers association, which I co-founded in 2012 with Mieke Kenis and Guido Europeaantje, and have been president of since its inception.
I won’t tell you the full story of how BELTA started here, you can find out more on our website. Suffice it to say we started it from scratch and in four short years we have hosted 3 annual conferences with plenary speakers including Jeremy Harmer, Luke Meddings, Hugh Dellar and Philip Kerr, had nearly 30 webinars, two online conferences with TESL Toronto, published our journal the BELTA Bulletin, ran a very successful blog, and brought something new to the ELT scene in Belgium and internationally.
So why am I telling you about this now? Well, simply put, I’m no longer BELTA president. I’ve decided to resign as it’s time for a new stage in my professional life. There are things I need to do that I’m hoping will enable me to have more options professionally and it’s impossible for me to concentrate on these and dedicate myself to BELTA as I have in the last few years. It wasn’t an easy decision by any means, but I know it’s the right one.
So I writing this post for two reasons. Firstly, I want to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has been involved in BELTA since we started. To everyone who came to our events, online and off, to every conference and webinar speaker, to every volunteer, to every follower on Twitter and Facebook, every blog reader, and of course, every BELTA member, thank you.
But most of all I want to thank my fellow BELTA board members Mieke, Ellen, John, Vicky, Vedrana, Joris and Jurgen. It’s been an absolute joy and a privilege to work with you and an honour to be your president. I’m still grateful for the day when you decided that I should be president even though you knew I would be leaving the country in a few months. There are countless examples of fine judgement you have shown since we started, and hope that it one of them! BELTA is the thing I am most proud of in my professional life, and that’s all down to you, so I really can’t thank you enough.
When we founded BELTA, we were all complete novices. None of us had any experience in running a teachers’ association and we had limited contacts in Belgium. That didn’t stop us. I had a mantra back then that I used to set the tone for how we conducted ourselves:
We have no money, no members and no experience, but we’re going to act like we have all three.
The idea of this was to establish that our amateurism wasn’t an excuse for poor, substandard work. We commissioned an easy to navigate and attractive looking website as early as we possibly could. We started our webinars very early on and only invited speakers who we knew would be excellent. We have the same high standards for our conference speakers, and blog and journal writers. Our newsletters, posters and social media accounts look good and are maintained regularly. Our sponsors are extremely well looked after and listened to, as our members.
The lesson I have learnt is that you have to demand a lot of yourself when you offer a service. Of course, if you’re a volunteer then you will probably have less time than you would like, but that’s not excuse for something second rate. And whatever service you offer, paid or unpaid, you can’t expect it to be rewarding and fulfilling unless you pour a lot into it. It’s as true of teaching as it is of volunteering.
The effect of this approach is huge. I hope from reading this you can see the effect BELTA has had on me. If you wish to have a experience like this in your life, the only way is to go for it, to go all in, demand a lot from yourself, expect the same from others while respecting their skills, autonomy and commitments, and enjoy the process of collaboration. If you do, what you are able to achieve will surprise you and the rewards are huge.
BELTA will go on, of course, in the more than capable hands of the new president, John Arnold, and I’ll still be involved, whenever they need me, in an scaled back, advisory position. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for them.