The best job in all of JALT

Margaret Orleans, Seinan Jo Gakuin University, Kitakyushu


Being coordinator of the Best of JALT award program must be the best job in all of JALT.  Upwards of thirty times a year, I get to tell people that some arm of JALT realizes what a terrific job they are doing.  It’s very satisfying to be the bearer of so much good news.

The Best of JALT, as I hope everyone in the organization knows by now, is an annual award that each chapter and SIG can bestow on the best presentation at the local or regional level sponsored by them in the previous calendar year.  Thus, the awards to be given out at next month’s JALT 2012 in Hamamatsu, will be for presentations made in 2011.  The program has been around for nearly two decades, having been established under Joyce Cunningham’s tenure as director of programs. 

As someone located in southwestern Japan, where national conferences only occasionally venture, I thought of JALT as the community that gathered for our monthly chapter meetings. I was therefore delighted to be able to recognize outstanding local contributions nationally.  Taking over the collection of nominations, notification of winners, and printing of certificates when the previous coordinator retired was my own way of repaying what JALT had given me, without needing to stray far from my home computer.

But, for many years, the Best of JALT languished as a small program, often confused with the Chapter-Sponsored Speaker vetting system for the national conference, and relegated to a few minutes before or after the Ordinary General Meeting at that conference.  Chapter and SIG officers weren’t sure if seasoned presenters were eligible for the award and recipients often weren’t sure when or where to collect it. 

Then, two years ago, Michele Steele, assisted by Shirley Ando, raised the profile of the Best of JALT.  She found a sponsor for the program in English Central (an e-learning website) and raised additional money from chapter contributions to first, host a small reception and now a major party at the conference, during which the awards are presented.  She collects photos of all the recipients and puts together a display at the conference.  Interest in this highly visible program has accordingly grown.  Last year there were thirty-three nominees.  So far, this year, there are forty.  If everyone knows the Best of JALT, it’s because of Michele and Shirley.

How does one define best?  We leave that to the discretion of each chapter or SIG.  How does one go about nominating the best presentation?  Again, we trust the nominating bodies with that decision.  We’ve even expanded the parameters of the award to include publications, in order to open it up to more SIGs, though no one has yet availed themselves of that possibility.  Once a winner has been decided, I’m notified, and the pleasure for me begins.

Traditionally, the award itself has been a nice certificate—first in black and white, now in color—signed by the president and director of programs.  Last year, the board of directors added a drawing for one-year TESOL memberships, which has also raised the cachet of winning. But, it’s the good news element that remains the strongest component of the award, I believe.  Witnessing what a shot in the arm the nomination gave to his chapter’s first-ever winner made a believer out of one officer who had long resisted singling out one individual for an accolade when the year’s calendar was filled with excellent programs.

The good news doesn’t end there. Like many other chapters, Kitakyushu uses the list of winners when looking for outstanding speakers to schedule for the coming year. We have also been inspired by the awards to explore innovative formats that other chapters and SIGs are using.  For example, Kitakyushu followed Kobe’s lead in holding a PechaKucha Night and Sendai’s in inviting local teachers to interview their most successful students at a chapter meeting.  We have yet to imitate Shinshu’s Annual Charity Walk, but we did donate the proceeds from last year’s FAB1 to a Tohoku charity.

The Best of JALT, then, is a program that brings joy to its recipients, recognizes their contribution to our organization at the local and regional level, and spreads the best ideas in JALT to other local entities.  I won’t even mention the magical properties of the award, though one Tohoku recipient did confide to me that his Best of JALT certificate was the only thing that remained on his office walls after last year’s 3/11 disaster.

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