It's become REAL - the results of the REAL2 Project
Background and rationale
The REAL network is the result of a shared dream – a dream that language teacher associations (and their individual teacher members) across Europe could come together to:
- share expertise and experience
- shape policy and contribute to policy reform
- take forward new ideas and new initiatives to improve languages education
- encourage teachers to join their professional bodies
- empower teachers of languages by putting their professional futures into their own hands
- create the cooperative and in our case multilingual Europe.
This was an dream shared first by the UK Association for Language Learning and the CIEP here in Sevres, not itself a teacher association but an organisation dedicated to languages and language learning with a keen interest in supporting teachers of all languages. We shared our dream with other language teacher associations and out of this the REAL project and team of partners was born.
The team was lucky enough in late 2008 to be awarded co-funding for this project from the European Commission’s Lifelong Learning Programme. It was then in January 2009 that the project began.
When embarking on this project, it was vital for the consortium of partners to reflect the diversity of associations present in Europe if we were to be able to reach out to our various target groups. The consortium is made up of eight associations spread across the continent (UK, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Romania and Poland). The group contains associations of all shapes and sizes. Some represent a single language, whilst others several languages – or even all languages. Some are made up entirely of volunteers whilst others have paid staff. Some are small local-based associations, whilst others are active nationally. The breadth of experience within the consortium has been a real strength of the project.
As already mentioned, the Centre international d’études pédagogiques has been in charge of the overall management of the project. Each association was responsible for a distinct area of the project called a work package. These included dissemination, teacher seminars, association seminars, languages and quality assurance. ALL, as “co-pilot” has been particularly responsible for input to the project from the perspective of an association.
The key aim of the project over the last three years has been to set up a sustainable network. In order to achieve this, it was necessary from the very outset to begin providing relevant activities to show the potential of the Network and to rally others to our cause.
In line with REAL’s objectives, two types of seminar have been run: seminars aimed at association leaders and seminars aimed at teachers.
Our association leader seminar was held in the city of Iasi in Romania with the title “REALise your potential” in June 2010. We put on a range of practical workshops to encourage networking and exchange of practice. These were over several days and focused on common topics relevant to the running of an association, such as training, quality assurance, social networking, communication and more.
The teacher seminars had a different focus. The idea was not only to bring on board existing members of associations, but also to raise awareness of associations’ work to teachers who were not currently member of one. Four seminars were held spread across Europe in Germany, Poland in 2010 and in Spain and France in 2011. Each seminar dealt with a distinct topic which was defined following a survey to which over 600 people replied. These topics included Europe, motivation, ICT and the Common European Framework (of Reference for Languages).
REAL has been a complex project with a number of distinct target groups – for example associations, individual teachers, policy and decision makers or providers of services to the languages community. How could we try to reach all these different groups across so many countries? Partners worked together to identify the main target groups in their regions and we slowly built lists of contacts. Our data is extensive but still far from complete. We hope that this process will continue and that our data will grow even more as new members join us in future in the independent REAL network. We developed dissemination materials specifically targeted at distinct groups and identified a number of key messages for those groups. We were always aware of the need to be as multilingual in our strategies as time and money would allow and developed materials (leaflets, posters, conference packs) in three languages – French, English German and Spanish.
One key result of the data we gathered is the Directory of Associations which appears on the REAL website. We believe that a resource of this kind has never been compiled previously and that it will prove useful to many in the field of language education. There are currently 244 associations listed in the directory in 39 countries.
Since the early days of the project we have used Newsletters as one of our main dissemination tools. We send a quarterly newsletter in two languages (plus items in other languages where appropriate) to our mailing list. We now have a list of contacts stretching from Ireland to Armenia, with just under 6,000 subscribers on our list. Like all electronic communications we believe that the Newsletter reaches many more. So already REAL’s potential to communicate with teachers and decision makers across the European Union (and the wider Europe) is huge.
Website and social media
With a potential membership of tens of thousands of teachers, a strong presence on the Internet would be crucial to get the Network known. From early 2009, a simple promotional website was set up, which was replaced in September 2010 by the much more substantial portal, via which most of you signed up for this seminar.
The website gets on average 4200 hits each month and includes four main sections:
- Activities: this section includes information about our seminars and key documents relating to REAL’s work
- A news section offers over 900 news items about European reports, studies, projects, initiatives on languages. This includes a specific section on news from associations and from the Network itself
- A resources section housing resources for teachers as well as for associations specifically.
- A fully searchable directory listing all known language teacher associations in Europe. Your association should be in there – if not, let us know! And, please get in touch to add further details.
Certain elements of the website are open only to REAL members. This is the case for the discussion section which will shortly be opened.
As a complement to the website, REAL has been active on social networking sites to further increase our impact. We are proud to have 1,297 fans on Facebook and over 90 followers on Twitter – testament to the interest REAL attracts.
In order to fulfil the terms of our contract with the EU and to ensure that we were ready to launch REAL as an independent charitable organisation when our funds came to an end, it was necessary to draw up the statutes of the REAL federation. REAL is registered in Belgium as a not-for-profit federation. It is subject to Belgian law. Devising the statutes of an international association proved to be a cultural challenge requiring great stamina!
In the end, we came up with a constitution for REAL which satisfied all those concerned and has enabled us to progress to where we are now in terms of launching the real REAL network. Silvia Minardi, our current President and Julian Serrano, our Vice President, will talk to you later this morning about the network, how we see the potential for the future – and how you can join us to make the voice of language teachers heard in Europe.