As a teacher, I feel like I technically have a lot of opportunities for professional development, but it is just so hard to make the time to research, plan, attend, and appreciate most of the options out there! When I actually do get all of that together and attend a conference, there are 2 main risks: 1. The conference or presenter may not be all that it was cracked up to be, or sometimes more likely 2. I may not take full advantage of all of the benefits and resources available. After attending a wildly successful conference recently, I wanted to write about my tips for taking full advantage of professional development conferences:
1. Mix and mingle. It is comfortable for all of us to talk with co-workers or to look down at our phones, but if we really want to get the most out of the day, we should meet new people and get new ideas. We can hear all about our co-workers’ ideas any day, let’s use a conference as a push to add to our tool boxes with ideas from other teachers around us. Bonus: even if there are blasé speakers, we can still gain value from our colleagues. Pro tip: Bring simple business cards. You can print a page at home or upload and print at most drug stores (Walgreens.com etc). Having a card makes it so easy to exchange information so you can follow up on that great new handout or procedure they mentioned during the break.
2. Don’t grade. I will confess, this is the hardest advice to me to take. With a million papers to grade at all times, it is so easy to slip a few into the conference bag and start multi-tasking. Here’s the thing: it’s rude to the presenter and to the people sitting around you who want to engage. If the conference is that bad, politely excuse yourself to go grade at the coffee shop across the street. That is just my opinion, do you agree? I saw a lot of red pens openly out at my last PD so maybe I am in the minority here.
3. Take notes in a way that you will actually use later. I’ve written so many notes in notebooks and agendas that I will never look at again. My suggestion would be to have one professional development notebook where you keep only great ideas. If you start taking notes for something that turns out to be a bust, take that paper out so you have one place to look back full of inspiration and void of randomness. One notebook can last a long time if you play this right. I also like to use post-it notes on the actual materials given out so that I don’t have to match up the notes in my notebook to the materials.
4. Make the rounds. At many large conferences, there is an area full of vendor booths; be sure to walk around! In addition to the free teacher swag often available, you can learn valuable insights from the business owners and consultants manning the booths. If you see a Secondary Solutions booth, be sure to stop in for a chat with our very own Kristen Bowers! Her next stop will be the IRA conference in New Orleans in May! Also, click to read Kristen’s tips on what to pack and more!
5. Pick conferences and sessions that support your goals. At the beginning of each school year, set goals for improving in your craft, then select PD that will support those goals. Want to learn more about common core question stems? Writing instruction? Differentiation techniques? Chances are there multiple professional development opportunities to support your unique goals, you just have to look for them. We can see huge progress if we focus our attention on one or two goals instead of trying to get a little of everything.
What are your tips for getting the most from your conference experience? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!