I read a very perceptive and wonderfully insightful blog post about conferences. Although the post is written from the perspective of a professional writer, and, speaks specifically about conferences for creatives, the post resonated deeply with me, nevertheless.
At the moment, I am experiencing a sort of ambivalence with education conferences. And to which any teacher can attest, there is a plethora of education conferences to choose from, and the number seems to grow each year. Some of these conferences are truly excellent, but most are mediocre. As I read the blog post, I reflected on the many conferences I have attended over the course of my 22-year career. To be honest, only a handful of them, “changed, challenged or charged me”.
To make matters worse, it seemed that the administrators who signed the purchase orders for me to attend the conferences weren’t even interested enough in meeting with me to discuss what I had learned, never mind to put that learning into active practice on a school-wide level in order to improve teaching and learning. In fact, I often had to initiate follow-up meetings with *them*, and not the other way around. I even used to write detailed summaries as documentation, and the only response I often received was, ” I am glad you had a nice time, and learned a lot.”
A “nice time”? I don’t need to attend a professional conference to have a “nice time.” A vacation in the Caribbean is a nice time. Moreover, I can learn what I need to learn via other means without taking time away from my professional and personal lives to attend a conference.
I, like the writer of the blog post, am shy and introverted. Therefore, I am often overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people at education conferences, as well as the professional networking dimension. I eventually do find my way. Still, what I have found is that the same groups of people typically attend the same conferences every year, and so conference cliques develop. Which makes getting to know people even more difficult. Unless you’re part of “the group”, you’re usually not invited in.
The writer of the blog post offers an effective litmus test to assess the merits of a conference under the sub-category, “What happens at a good conference.” These are guidelines I will be sure to apply before I attend my next conference. Additionally, he presents goals for how to proceed during and after a conference.
It is true that change happens one classroom at a time. Change, however, cannot be limited to the classroom alone. In order to promote and instill lasting and enduring change, it is important and necessary that school administrators vet conference attendance choices of teachers more critically. This has happened to me on several occasions at my current school. Although I was sometimes disappointed when I was not able to attend a particular conference, I appreciate the fact that my current administrator has the larger view in mind. Otherwise, a conference merely becomes, “a nice time”, which should be only a part of the experience.