The P.A.R.K. Conference is approaching its 28th event in November. How do you think it has developed since the first one back in April 2004 up until now?
OK, well, I would say that it's developed immensely in a way, but in another, it's remained the same. What is the same is that it is a conference organised by teachers for teachers. It's been like that since the very first event that was actually in 2003 when we organised, together with Oxford University Press, our first event for teachers with Clive Oxenden, the co-author of the famous English File. He gave a brilliant speech and workshop, and this was one of the first moments when we actually tested the ground, and saw this could work.
Anyway, the development at the very beginning was kind of a one man show put together with an assistant and a colleague. Now it's being organised by a team and, obviously, there are procedures and we organise everything according to a well developed plan. And then there are far more partners - initially we had a couple of partners and at the moment we've got about twenty, and we actually have people on a waiting list. So, it’s popular now, not only with the teachers, but also with the partners and with stakeholders in our area. I would say these would be the main two things. It remains the same. It’s still a teachers’ conference. It's got the same atmosphere. It's got the same ethos. But it's grown bigger in all respects.
Perhaps you could tell us what your inspiration was for the very first P.A.R.K. Conference?
I remember that actually very clearly. When I graduated in 1991, I’d already been teaching for some time and, when I was looking around thinking about where I could actually work, I realised I couldn’t find an institution that would suit me, and there were a few people around me with exactly the same problem. We wanted to establish a professional school, not just an agency. So this is how P.A.R.K. started.
And then, about twenty years ago, we got to the same situation because we realised that we would like to share our experience and have professionals from the TEFL world come to us and exchange ideas and we realised there was no such event. We went to a few events, and we were really disappointed because most of them were commercial (basically just selling a product) and this is something we didn't like. In our school, we had something called CPD [continual professional development] seminars every week, and this was very popular and we realised this could work on a much bigger scale, so basically this is how the inspiration came - we wanted to do it and to do it in a much better and different way to the other entities on the market.
Do you have a particular highlight or memory to share with us from over the years?
Well, we're talking about a big number of events. One thing that I will tell you is how rewarding it is when people are leaving the conference on Saturday afternoon and you can tell that they're happy. But more importantly, most of them are actually telling us it's been fantastic and rewarding. And that is brilliant.
The other thing is that we have had so many big names and big stars at the conference that I sometimes look at our list of plenary speakers, and I actually can't believe it. You know, when we started teaching in the early nineties, we used the only English textbook in the country, Cambridge English Core, by Michael Swan. And then a few years later, he was a plenary speaker at our conference, and that was amazing.
In 2012, if I remember correctly, Raymond Murphy was a plenary speaker. Now everybody knows Murphy's grammar - it's a bible for teachers. So, that conference was the first and the quickest to be sold out and I still remember the auditorium being totally packed when he came on stage. Cambridge had said, however, that he wasn't really a great speaker - he had written the most popular series of grammar books in the world but when it came to an audience, it was more difficult. He came on stage and said just a few sentences. But the Czech audience was so thrilled at seeing Mr Murphy that they were clapping after every sentence! And he was probably a bit surprised by that and obviously got carried away and continued with what was supposed to be a five minute intro to the audience becoming twenty minutes. And the next speaker, obviously, started to be a little bit nervous and so we literally had to take Mr Murphy off the stage! So I have to say this is probably my strongest memory.
And how do you see the future of P.A.R.K. Conferences developing?
Well, I have to say, after more than 30 years in the business, what makes me really happy is to see the team we've got at P.A.R.K., to see my colleagues, to see new people coming to P.A.R.K. and basically joining this team and developing the English teaching environment. So teacher education and teacher development courses have become more and more important, and I actually think that P.A.R.K. Conference now is one of the events in the portfolio. We've got a very popular summer school. We've got other events, so I think all the teacher development events will grow and develop.
I think we always have things to offer. We always have things that we want to try because we want to try maybe a two day conference. We want to combine online with face to face. There are several things that we would like to do. Strictly content wise, I think it's a little bit more difficult to answer - what I'm saying is that, honestly, it's a bit difficult to predict these days where teaching will go. All I can say is I think we've always been on top of things. We will adjust. We always follow the trends. We always try to be the leaders, and we will see what the future brings.
Finally, there have been many great contributors, educators, partners and attendees over the years - with plenty more to come in the future - is there anything you'd like to say to them?
Well, the one thing I will say is something that we always say at each conference - to say thank you, because we are really grateful to all the teachers that travel to Brno twice a year very early in the morning to be there for our conference and their professional development. So, for me, and for the whole team, it's a big thank you.
And the other thank you goes to all the partners, being the publishers, and other stakeholders in our field. There's one specific thing I have to mention here. In 2003 when we started, we actually organised an event that was different. The publishers contributed, they helped immensely, but the event was very specifically a teachers' event with practical ideas.
Clive Oxenden was a perfect example of this. He did a 90 minutes seminar on English File and did not mention the name of the book once. He did fantastic exercises and a very practical seminar, and then people were able to see the book at the end. You can basically show teachers how fantastic a product is through working with it. And I really believe that this is one of the key factors of the success: when the teachers come to our conference, they know it's going to be different.
I would say that a big thank you therefore goes to all the conference partners for sharing the same approach and philosophy with us that makes the conference really very successful.