in Professional Development, Reflection

Why I Dislike(d) Conferences

I spent much of last weekend at Bavarian International School in Munich, attending the ECIS Tech conference. The theme of the conference was on building engagement. I went to several sessions on making and the maker movement, collaboration, and technology support/coaching. I have a list of ideas to explore further through thinking, conversations, blogging and exploration.

I have to confess that I’m not a big fan of conferences. I’ve been thinking about what the traditional/typical conference offers to reframe my thinking from “don’t like conferences” to “conferences offer …”. The reason that I don’t like conferences is because they are often an inadequate approach to professional development. I did my graduate work on professional development for effective technology integration. Conferences are the tip of the iceberg, but they can provide some unique opportunities.

Conferences are a great opportunity for informal learning. Take the chance to speak to people between and during sessions to expand your knowledge of what’s happening in education beyond your experience.

Conferences, especially large ones, provide exposure to new technology. Before going to a conference, make a list of the tools/resources that you are dissatisfied with or problems that you have not found a solution for. Visit vendors and demos to find out resources that may meet your needs. Also take the opportunity for hands-on experience with tools that you are curious about or have never encountered before to build your knowledgebase.

Attend sessions that are connected to your professional development plan. Look at the agenda to decide what value the conference offers you, and whether to attend. It’s okay to sit out a session; this could be a valuable opportunity to process a previous session and make a plan for integrating your new learning into your context. Spend some time looking at the schedule and select sessions that tie into your goals and plans, and that will help you achieve them. Have a focus.

Meet people from your virtual learning network. I’m a big fan of virtual connections but have to remember the importance of connections in the physical work. It adds a new dimension to the connections that you’ve built online when you can meet people in the physical world.

Present something that you’re excited or passionate about. Sometimes I feel that my role should be obsolete given the ease of finding things online. However, presenting lets you add the social element to learning which provides motivation and engagement. It also lets you cater to different personality types and learning preferences.

Take time to debrief. This is the process that I am embarking on. I plan to share resources to those who may be interested, to write some blog posts to expand and share my thinking, follow up with admin to clarify some goals, and implement some processes related to my own professional growth.

If you have a growth mindset, you can create your own learning experiences in a conference, or reframe the experiences provided to meet your goals and the needs of your role.

What strategies do you apply to grow from participation in conferences? Are you someone who loves conferences? I’d love to know what excites you about them.

  1. I enjoy conferences… I like the social networking that is involved- meeting new people who are passionate about the same things I am such as Kindergarten, Service Learning and collaboration opportunities. However, I prefer the conferences where my team or other colleagues are participating together. This often provides the time and space for us to dialogue and reflect on our learning and begin thinking and planning for future collaboration and projects. I do find it is very difficult to go on PD and then not have the time to share what we learned back at school… I always wonder how that can be built into staff meetings! – Nikki

    • I was envious, at ECIS Tech, of the individuals that were there with teams. During many breaks, including lunch, I felt a bit like an interloper. It was interesting to hear the experiences of people at other schools, learn about their contexts, challenges, and opportunities, but I would have loved to have some members from my school community along to share with.

  2. I am not a great lover of conferences either. There has been some effort to try and make the learning more meaningful by changing the format of the traditional conference recently. I like the cohort movement where groups of people meet several times over a couple of years to really dive deeply into one area. Also, some conferences such as NESA are changing the format by instead of offering lots of different workshops have attendees sign up to spend the majority of the conference in one session (e.g 3 days on Conferring with Writers done by Carl Anderson). It will be interesting to see how conferences continue to evolve to better meet the needs of international teachers.

    I would agree with your points that sometimes some of the best things to come from conferences come from outside of the actual workshops including the time to talk with colleagues from around the world and develop networks of support and learning.

    • One conference that I went to years ago, that I have not been back to, is the learning 2.0 conference. There are several of them and they use a combination of cohort and unconference styles, which I think are promising. I’m a fan of the cohort movement as well, James.

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