Being a Conference Attendee

Last week I had the pleasure to attend FETC in Orlando. I mean, who doesn’t love going to Florida in January right? However, Orlando is not the word in that first sentence that I want to focus on here. The imperative word in that first sentence is attend.  I did not present once at the conference, which I discovered was a big surprise to many of my colleagues when I answered, “Zero.” or, “I’m not.” to their question, “How many times/What are you presenting?”.

It’s not that I didn’t want to present; I love getting to present to teachers and teacher leaders. FETC is an awesome place to present. This happened to be a trip that my district sent me on and I chose to be 100% an attendee. It was fantastic not having to worry about getting slides ready, making last minute tweaks and changes, and just the general stress that comes with presenting at a conference. It was a refreshing change of pace (no pun intended).

The more this came up in conversation as I visited with friends, the more I thought that I really don’t do this enough for myself. Then it made me think that more presenters (especially the well-known ones that present a lot) should make time for themselves to just be an attendee. So many of us speak about being lifelong learners and having a growth mindset, but do we really walk the talk as much as we should?  I know an in-person conference isn’t the only way to learn. We have blogs, books, YouTube, etc. to help us “sharpen the saw” too. For me, though, there’s still high value in an in-person event and just attending. I feel like I will not only be a better tech coach (the sessions were awesome and I learned a lot) but a better presenter because of it. It’s a choice I would encourage presenters to make more often. It’s re-energizing!

Start Somewhere

I am attending FETC in Orlando this week. If you have never been I’d encourage you to give it a go if your school/district can send you. Bring a team if you can. Get your district leadership to attend. There’s lots of great learning and many great people to connect with. However, this post isn’t just about why you should attend a conference.

From now all the way through summer is when the in-person conference opportunities really ramp up. We’re hearing more and more about personalizing learning, creating innovative learning opportunities, devices, coding, 3d printing, makerspaces, and the list can certainly go on and on. Many of you will be at these events. My question is, however, “Are the right people attending?”.

When anyone attends an event like FETC, ISTE, etc., there’s going to be an over-abundance of information coming at you. What’s important to do though, even before sitting through one session, is to identify one particular area that you want to begin with to change teaching and learning in your classroom or school. If you intake all this information (don’t get me wrong these events give you lots of great information) without a plan of what you’re going to do after the event is over, you’re not only doing yourself a disservice, but you’re doing kids a disservice too. Create your plan of where to start before the learning even begins.

bob marley quote image

Yes, You’re a Leader

“I have nothing good to share.”

“No one wants to hear from little ol’ me.”

“I don’t have anything to offer that hasn’t been shared a million times.”

“What I did isn’t a big deal.”

These are just a few of the statements I’ve heard from teachers over the last many years as I’ve worked with them to build their capacity around technology and innovation in teaching and learning. Whether it’s a teacher that has jumped in feet first into project based learning or a teacher that learns new ways for students to publish their work to the world, I hear statements like those above when I encourage them to share what they’ve done.

To those of you in a similar role like mine, one that delivers professional learning and support to educators; encouragement, and cheerleading is an essential component of our profession. There is no victory too small to celebrate. We now have such a variety of ways to share the great things we’re learning and trying with students that we can no longer afford to not do it. While Twitter and blogging is certainly an option, there are also more localized ways to start. It might just be sending an email to your immediate team or department, or to the staff at your school, or in 5 minutes at a faculty meeting. Share in ways that feel comfortable to you, then once your comfort increases take it up a notch from there.

These are big but necessary steps in your growth as a teacher. Here’s an example from a teacher in my district: Mrs. Romero, who jumped back into blogging after some time away from it to reflect on 1st semester of going gradeless and trying more innovative things in her classroom.

You have the ability and the power to be a leader in your school and in your district. Don’t doubt it! Once you make that step I promise it will not only be rewarding for your colleagues, but for you too.