Administration & Leadership

How to Get Even More Out of Conferences

Maximize conference learning with strategies that help you set goals, organize your time, and remember what you’ve learned after it’s all over.

April 19, 2023
Anchiy / iStock

Now that we can once again gather and learn together, inspiration abounds. There’s nothing like the energy generated when educators connect and collaborate, and from that energy, countless ideas to improve teaching and learning emerge. But how much of that conference inspiration is making it into your classroom? I’ve lost count of the great, even “unforgettable,” ideas that have slipped from my brain and disappeared—as I attended another session, as I traveled home, as life took over.     

Given the time, energy, and resources dedicated to educational conferences, not to mention the stack of needs facing teachers and students, it’s important that we make the most of those learning, connecting, and collaborating experiences. A few simple steps can help you maximize your conference time, increase the implementation of your ideas, and share your learning (so it reaches more students).

Before You Go 

Identify the nature of your mission: How do you want to grow? What do you want to improve? What can you learn to help you be the best version of you each day? Ideally this step occurs before you even select a conference or workshop to attend, allowing your reflection to guide you to the right professional learning experience. 

Reflect on your year. Dedicate 20 minutes to reviewing your year. Look back at your calendar, lessons, and student work. Give yourself time to celebrate the joys you’ve created with students, and make a list of frustrations getting in the way. From this reflection, identify three to five things you’d like to do better, replace, improve, or revamp—skills you’d like to develop or refresh. These “problems” are just waiting to transform into possibilities.  

Reconnect with your why. Why do you do what you do? What do you hope people will gain from their time with you? 

Choose wisely. Take these reflections and search for a conference. With hundreds of educational conferences out there, this can help you home in on what you need most right now. 

Make a plan. Once registered, take time to scan the conference schedule. Identify sessions most likely to provide solutions, answers, resources, or support to help you achieve your goals so that you can teach and lead from your why. 

While You’re There 

Throw those reflections in your notebook, bring a picture of that one student who needs a little extra love and support, and gear up with whatever tech (from paper, sticky notes, and pen to iPad and laptop) you need to capture ideas. Let the joy of learning (and a healthy dose of coffee or diet cola) fuel you through those long days of inspiration. 

Be present. Relish the time to reconnect to your love of learning. Let go of skepticism, and attend each speaker or breakout session with a clear guiding question: How can this information help me help more students?

Connect the dots. As you attend sessions, make connections: from your problem to possible solutions; from your why to ways to embed your why at the heart of your work. Use sticky notes, a laptop/iPad, or a notebook to organize bits of inspiration and start to curate resources. Yes, this is an obvious step. It’s so vital that it bears repeating: Connect those dots.

Divide to conquer. If you’re there with a team, split up and seek out as many ideas as possible. Make a master list of problems you’re embracing as possibilities so you can all be on the lookout for targeted solutions, resources, and inspiration. 

Be lovingly selfish. If a session isn’t what you expected—doesn’t bring you joy—leave. Find another session. 

Reflect and debrief. Plan time at the conference to debrief and capture your ideas in a concrete way, even if you’re debriefing with yourself. Schedule a fun meal or snack session with other attendees, and lay out all your findings. Use the Start, Stop, Continue method to not only reflect on what you’ve learned each day at the conference but also capture other musings and ideas. 

Make a plan. What problem will you tackle? What ideas will you use? How will you implement them? How will you find out if what you’re planning is right for students? What does success look like? Take time now—while it’s all fresh and life isn’t distracting you—to tease out at least the basics of your plan. What resources are required? Who needs to be on board? When will you complete each step? Who can help you accomplish your vision? Set clear deadlines for yourself so that you implement at least one idea.

After You Attend

While conferences can be refreshing bursts of inspiration, they’re also often exhausting. Coming home to reality and all the responsibilities at hand can be hard. That’s why the plan you outlined while at the conference is so vital. Post that plan where you see it every day and get to it.

Implement. Do it. No, it won’t be perfect. You’ll forget a component, something won’t work, there will be a glitch you didn’t anticipate. And it will still be better than what came before, in part because you’ll be excited and everyone will feel that. Just do it.

Reflect and debrief. Share the learning.

If you’re an administrator: Skip the outside experts, and have staff present their conference learning for professional development/in-service days. Ditch the traditional staff meeting (just send an email), and instead, each month have a staff member share a key conference takeaway and what they’ve implemented. As others implement those ideas further, have them share.

If you’re a teacher: Identify at least two people and share your idea(s). Sharing with others reinforces your learning, increases the likelihood of implementation, provides accountability, and plants the seeds of innovation in others. You never know what you’ll grow.

So go to those conferences. Connect with like-minded educators. Bask in the glow of education inspiration. And take a little time to plan, implement, and reflect so that you (and your students) get the most out of the experience.

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