Before the Conference
Try Some Uncharted Waters
Steer yourself toward at least one session about a topic that might be unfamiliar yet intriguing. Such sessions can lead you in a direction you didn’t even know you were interested in heading. They can also be great opportunities to foster new connections and gain ideas from experts who have navigated those waters before you.
Set a Goal for Yourself
Try not to go into the conference looking to change the way you’ve been doing everything. That mentality leads to frustration and a feeling of being overwhelmed. Instead, focus on one key area you’d like to improve, such as vocabulary instruction or integrating technology into lessons. Use that focus to set one or two goals for yourself. A goal can be as simple as “I’m going to come back with one new app or program that my students can use to practice solving word problems.” To accomplish your goal, peruse the conference booklet. Try to find a session (or maybe even two) that, for example, address the use of technology in math instruction. Look also at the list of vendors and star those who you think would have the resources you’re seeking.
Map Out a Secondary Plan
If you find yourself in a session that isn’t what you expected or doesn’t seem to apply to you, have a back-up plan. Choose a second (or even third) choice for each session time. Yes, it is okay to walk out of a session. Presenters understand that you need to get the most out of your conference experience.
During the Conference
Divide and Conquer
Sure, conferences provide a place outside of school to socialize with colleagues. There is plenty of time for that while meandering through the exhibit hall. Ask your coworkers which sessions they plan to attend. Choose sessions where your school or district isn’t already represented. With this approach, you’ll be able to discuss each others’ experiences and gain additional resources. If a colleague plans to attend a session you have great interest in as well, ask for copies of handouts.
Step Out of Your Boat
Each day, students are asked to take risks in their learning. Now it’s your turn. When a presenter asks for a volunteer, proudly raise your hand. Those volunteers are usually handsomely rewarded with a freebie or two. Who doesn’t appreciate a free gift? Network with fellow attendees. Perhaps in talking with another professional you will discover that she has an innovative way of integrating flexible seating in the classroom. Initiate a conversation, exchange emails, and jot a note to remind yourself of your newfound connection.
After the Conference
Take Time to Reflect
As soon as each session concludes, take a moment to gather your thoughts and jot down key takeaways from the presentation. Keep those important thoughts separate from your quickly scribbled presentation notes. When you get back to your office or classroom, you’ll more easily be able to start tackling those goals you set for yourself before the conference.
A little extra planning and a willingness to take some risks are all it takes to navigate your way through and, more importantly, make the most of any professional development conference experience.