The ISTEK conference, Istanbul

If you follow ELT people on twitter, or if you visit other ELT-oriented blogs, you will probably know by now that something called the ISTEK conference took place in Istanbul last weekend.

A lot of good people have tweeted and blogged about the magical experience of attending this first-time conference, either in real life or online, and I’m not going to compete with them. I thought I’d add a bit of context, speaking as an outsider who has now done about 15 ELT conferences in Turkey.

With organiser Burcu Akyol at one of the plenary talks. She was determined that everything should go well. And it did.

ISTEK is the name of a large language school operation in Istanbul which has eight branches and nearly 200 teachers of English, about a third of whom are native speakers. The conference actually took place on the premises of Yeditepe University, which is part of the same organisation. 

There seem to be a lot of similar large English teaching businesses in Turkey and they all occupy well-appointed premises. They are often, it seems, part of larger organisations which have fingers in many pies (is that the right way of saying it? I often wonder if the idioms I grew up with are still, or indeed ever were, in common use) 

Anyway, ISTEK is this kind of organisation. It’s  part of a conglomerate that include, for example, a dental training hospital.

Tweeting? Moi? Gavin Dudeney between Sean Banville and Lindsay Clandfield.

There are lots and lots of  ELT conferences in Turkey. Many of the main private school/university organisations have  a one-day Saturday conference at some point in the spring. I had already been to two others in the last month – the Çevre event in Istanbul four weeks ago, and the ITK event in Izmir two weeks ago.

Burcu flipping the Pecha Kucha event. Sean Banville and Helen Strong on her left.

The ISTEK organisers took a big gamble organising a two-day conference in a place where teachers seem to prefer just to attend Saturday events. It seems to have paid off, with 1,000 people signing up to attend. A lot of participants came from other countries, and many of them were sponsored by ELT publishers. Macmillan for example, sponsored more than 100 participants.

Other people came because they had read the build-up to the conference on twitter, and decided to see for themselves. They didn’t just come from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East were also well represented.

Luke Prodromou sits with his back to the audience during a reflective moment during his plenary

The other interesting factor in all of this is that Turkey doesn’t have TESOL or IATEFL conferences. Moves are afoot to try to start a local IATEFL faction, so we will have to see how this affects the other privately-organised events. 

Simay Yildiz and Vanessa Hatoum – two of the enthusiastic and resourceful organising team – Vanessa also co-introduced all the plenary speakers in authentic Oscar style 🙂

Vanessa with John Barth, her co-host.

Sean Banville and Jeremy Harmer both attended ISTEK and have written perceptive blog-posts about it. I also recommend Mark Andrews’ blog. He watched a lot of the event, which was streamed live and direct to his computer in Budapest. As you will read in his blog, he shared his experiences of the event with other tweeters in many different countries. You can read it here –

Late addition – great ISTEK blog from Olaf Elch in Germany –

I’ll leave the last word to Olaf:

The plenary speakers were all well-known international practitioners and I also knew quite a lot of the people offering workshops through Twitter so I was confident that the the standard would be high. I was wrong.

The standard was not high, it was stratospheric. At the opening, we were asked to think during the weekend about the one thing we would take away from the event, but as time went on, it became increasingly clear that one thing would not be enough….

The astoundingly talented dance troupe who ended the conference with such a flourish.

7 thoughts on “The ISTEK conference, Istanbul

  1. Hi Ken!
    First of all, great pictures and thank you – we got a little glimpse of what the atmosphere was like there – even though we really felt it through our computers!
    I didn’t expect that, to tell you the truth, for the reason that it is always (or so I thought) different and better to be there, but what was created on Sunday especially was something unparalleled…thanks to technology (that enabled us at home to watch) and especially Twitter, we connected with those people who were not there and also with those who were there! And thanks to everyone who either spoke at the conference, or tweeted, or e-mailed!
    I would really like to thank every educator I know from Twitter and admire for different reasons from the bottom of my heart – every day, I learn something new from them and my excitement about teaching just seems to grow and grow! I am very happy to “have met” (even though we have never met in person) you all!
    Thank you for everything, Ken!
    My warmest regards,

  2. Since the event was streamed from the main lecture hall (so we we were very sad not to see people like you :-), anyone who was having difficulty with working out what time it was in Istanbul and who found themselves in front of the computer screen BEFORE Luke’s final lecture had the pleasure of the FULL dance of the Anatolian Dance theatre (what was their name in fact) in jeans and teeshirts. It totally blew me away… I mean, a whirling dervish in jeans … and input of the traditional dances from the various regions in everyday clothes. It was out of this world … so when they put on their stage dress for the grand finale, it was (dare I say it) a bit of a let-down !!
    But to answer your question, why was it so exceptional – for everyone, excepting frequent travellers like yourself, the answer is easy … It was in Istanbul … who needs more to make something magical 🙂

    1. How totally wonderful! I must admit I walked into the hall when the dancers were just sitting around in their T-shirts and jeans, and thought they didn’t look a very prepossessing lot – but how transformed they were by their costumes later. But now that I’ve read your note, I wish I had stayed to see them rehearse.

  3. Thank you for including some history of ISTEK and information about Turkey for those who could not attend and may have seen the hashtag but did not know where it took place. I had many people ask me about ISTEK. I also love the Flickr stream and was happy that went up fast. I just wish I could have seen your presentation. Your workshops are always fun and teach me a lot!

  4. It was a great conference indeed, Ken and a pleasure to meet you there.

    A colleague in Turkey, Sibel Taskin, created two great Glog summaries of the event, which you can find here: & I tweeted these links earlier this week, but am adding them here in your blog so that they are not lost from posterity! Not only do they look great, they are a really effective way of using Glogster (

    See you at the IATEFL conference in Harrogate shortly!

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