School dollars are precious and getting administrators to release some of them to support travel to state and national conventions can be difficult. It’s not that administrators don’t want teachers to go forth and learn. It’s that travel is expensive and, let’s face it, sometimes when we return we head right back into the classroom and keep teaching. Sharing what we’ve learned while away gets pushed to the back burner.
So, how do we make the best of our travel to conferences? How do we prove to administrators that those dollars spent on just you will benefit many? Below you’ll find my list of ways to turn any conference that one teacher attends into a positive learning experience for those who didn’t get to travel with you. The best list, though, is the one you’ll make with your colleagues. Talk with each other about how you can best share what you will learn while away.
So whether you’re packing up for the IRA convention in New Orleans that begins in just a few days or simply need to keep this list to pull out the next time you ask your principal for travel funds, I hope it offers you some tips for turning any convention into a collaborative experience.
1) Know thyself. Before you get to the conference, make your own list of questions you hope will be answered. As you choose sessions, keep this list in mind and that will help you choose where to go. Here’s my list that will go with me to IRA.
2) Be open to new ideas. And though you have that pre-made list, be willing to explore new ideas.
3) Carry the questions of your colleagues with you. Before you leave, ask your colleagues who aren’t attending what information they most want you to bring back. When you return, follow-up with “Sam, you really wanted information on helping kids summarize. Here’s a link to a website on summarizing that I think you’ll find helpful.”
4) Keep folks in the loop. Provide daily updates to your school colleagues via your homepage, email, Twitter, or Facebook so you share your learning. Explain what you’ve learned, mention a link you’ve discovered, discuss a title you hope all will read. (Maybe don’t mention the fab meal you and friends had in the Quarters.) Start your own hashtag so teachers in your district can follow you at the conference: #KBeersIRA14 for instance!
5) Remember that a picture is worth a thousand words. Take photos, lots of photos. Take pictures of handouts, of a PowerPoint screen, of you with a presenter, of the cover of a new book you hope all will read. Upload often. Here I’ve grabbed two of my favorite writers–Alfred Tatum and Jackie Woodson–and asked them for photos with me.
6) Do two-minute interviews. Use the video camera on your smart phone and ask your favorite literacy leader to share two minutes of his or her time to answer one specific question. Remember two minutes means that you can’t ask “What do we do with kids who struggle to read” but you can ask “What’s one tip that helps struggling readers tackle hard vocabulary?” I find most folks will happily share two minutes. It’s the 10-minute answer that gets hard when everyone is trying to make it to the next session.
7) Send your principal a daily update. That’s right—daily. That doesn’t mean a summary of sessions you attended. It does mean, “Today I learned three new strategies that we can all use to help students with close reading. Please think of a time I can share this information with the language arts and social studies teachers before school begins next year.” In other words, you’re showing the principal that his investment in your PD is really an investment for many teachers. Along with this is tip #7.5: When you get back, write thank-you letters to your principal, superintendent, and perhaps school board. Thank them for supporting your professional development and share a little of what you’ve learned and a lot of how this will change your teaching and students’ learning. Make sure they know how you will share with others what you have learned.
8) Get to sessions early. Plan your days and know where you’re going. Session fill up early so get to rooms as early as possible. Did I mention that early is important?
9) Go to the general sessions. These sessions are almost always great, so don’t miss them—even if they are first thing in the morning!
10) Be inclusive. Look for the teacher who is sitting alone and sit by that person.
Conferences are in part about meeting new folks. But they can be lonely places if you’ve traveled there on your own. So extend that hand of friendship we hope our students extend to one another. A shared conversation while waiting for a session to begin or asking someone to join you and others for lunch makes the day better for all. This is a photo of teachers taken during the Boothbay Literacy Conference Bob Probst and I run each June. These teachers traveled to this conference each knowing no one. By the end of the week, they were fast friends.