This article originally appeared in PBS Teachers Lounge
Teachers rarely get out of their classrooms, and although we like hanging out with kids, it’s important to collaborate--and, yes, have fun--with grownups. Some of my most inspirational professional growth has happened at conferences, and I’ve met some of my best friends by attending these events. After years of attending conventions as both a presenter and attendee, I thought I’d share a few tips about how to make the most of your conference experience.
1. Have realistic expectations.
Conferences are the education equivalent of going to a big art museum. Expect to be inspired and sometimes overwhelmed with the amount of great ideas you encounter. Like museums, conferences have their own personalities and strengths, so attend those that compliment your style and goals. Also remember that, just like art, not every session will be your cup of tea.
2. Have a plan.
Read the conference program and use the mobile app in advance to get a mental map of the sessions, speakers and workshops. Determine your top “must see” sessions each day, and fill in with backups that would be nice to see if you have the time, or if one of your favorites is full.
3. How to choose sessions.
Titles may be deceptive. Look for presenters who have a track record or interesting background. Find sessions that help you address your weaknesses or goals, not what affirm what you already know. Find inspirational, challenging sessions that may be outside your wheelhouse to give you perspective. I’m not an administrator, but I have attended sessions on leadership and team building because I can use those skills with my students during collaborative projects.
4. Divide and conquer.
If you go with a group of colleagues, consider splitting up to see more sessions and share your notes with each other later. You can cover more ground and bring back more ideas that way.
5. Be an active participant.
Share great ideas and give shout outs to speakers and colleagues by posting on social media. Photos and quotes from speakers are great ways to do so. Use the convention hashtags and consider the great ideas you can share with colleagues around the world that couldn’t attend the conference.
6. Daily reflections
The day can be long and full of information. Spend a few minutes processing what you learned while the information is still fresh. Jot down notes and meet with colleagues for a debrief.
7. Conferences happen in the hallways.
Leverage the format of conferences: face to face interaction. Take time to meet colleagues you follow online, attend hosted meetups to connect with new people and expand your personal learning network, have conversations with speakers and meet with vendors. It’s also the ideal time for you and colleagues to brainstorm and plan together without the burden of school routines--nothing is more conducive to innovation like a change of scenery.
8. The exhibit hall: skip the swag.
A quick sweep to pick up free swag is great, but your time is best spent if you can learn something new. I only go to the exhibition hall for value added training sessions offered by the exhibitors. Learn new techniques, see the latest updates, and hear from educators who are using these tools in their learning space.
9. After the conference.
Debrief with your colleagues (or yourself if attending alone) on the last day or in the airport going home. Rank the top concepts from the event and identify 2-3 actionable ideas that you can implement right away. Follow up with speakers and colleagues you met at the conference to stay connected and maintain your PLN.
Following these tips can help you have a better conference experience. For more great insights into attending events, check out the free Little Black Guide To Conferences, from Joy Of Professional Learning.
Michael is an award-winning media arts teacher, speaker and consultant in Los Angeles.