This year has been a whirlwind of conferences for me. Normally, in a year I got to CLTA (California Language Teachers Association) and BOOST (Best Out Of School Time) and that’s it. Apparently this year I was on a secret mission to earn the most conferences attended badge. There was CETPA (technology), ACTFL (language), CLTA (language), Educating for Careers (CTE – because I’m an unofficial official member of our Career Pathways Academy), CUE (technology), BOOST (after school), and ISTE (technology). Not to mention three EdTech Team summits, two one-day after school symposiums, and one World Language Jamboree.
Suffice to say, I have a lot of bags to carry my groceries in.
1. Ask to go and be creative about it.
Conferences are expensive and you’re probably not rich, so ask your school. If you don’t ask, you’re 100% not going. And when you do ask, be creative about it. I know what you’re thinking….there’s no money for (insert your subject matter here.) That may be a true statement, but that doesn’t mean there’s not money. You have to find the person with the purse strings and convince them that they should spend their money on you and that this expenditure will have an impact on student achievement. “I want to go” is not going to convince anyone. Be creative and strategic.
- Are you a Title I school? Then you probably have Title I students in your classes. Try that angle.
- If you’re in California A-G completion is a HUGE deal right now. Do you know what’s required for A-G completion? Two years of a foreign language. Learning strategies to keep students engaged so that they complete their second year of language with a C or better is a definite win for your school.
- One word: STEM: Everything is about the STEM/STEAM right now. Can you do STEM in language class? 100% One year in French II, we did a unit on driving distractions that included experiments, and measuring and a lab manual. It was STEM before STEM was a thing. Come up with a creative plan to incorporate STEM into your curriculum.
- A second word: CTE: If it’s not about STEM right now it’s about CTE (Career Technical Education or sometimes called College Career Readiness.) How can this conference help support your school’s CTE plan? Find your CTE person and have a conversation. Maybe you can incorporate some CTE into your classes.
2. Pick a theme (then abandon it.)
If it’s a big conference, pick a theme or two of what you want to learn about and focus on those sessions. First, you’ll narrow down the field of all of the sessions and second you’ll get to see how different people approach that same topic. Alternately, choose a session on the fly. Abandon your conference program and walk into a room at random and see what’s going on. It might be the best session you attend.
3. Don’t be afraid to leave.
It’s ok to walk out of a session if it’s not meeting your needs. For this reason I always try to get a seat in the back and on the end. I have been in some absolutely terrible presentations and sometimes I’ve stayed because I can work on something else and sometimes I’ve gotten up and left. And as long as your district doesn’t require to have signatures for each session you attend it’s also ok to skip a session. Often I’ll be in a session that is so inspiring I just want to get to work on whatever ideas it sparked.
4. Enjoy the exhibit hall.
Amongst the bags, free chocolate and gimmicks, there are usually some great treasures to be found in the exhibit hall. Keep an open mind about everything. I was just looking for some after lunch chocolates this year at CUE, when Noam from Actively Learn coerced me further and further into the booth and by the time I left I was so excited by what I had learned I made everyone who was with me go check it out.
5. Submit a proposal.
Conferences work because people submit proposals. You might think you don’t have anything that anyone wants to hear about, but I bet you’re wrong. Submit a proposal for a session for the conference you want to go to. A bonus is that when you ask your school to go you can say that you are presenting there. This is good for you and this is good for your schools?
What are your favorite conferences?