Listen. Attending professional conferences can be a professionally rewarding experience because we get to hear and participate in sessions as well as hallway or lunch table conversations. Listening to presentations informs us of what other educators are doing beyond our own school/district/state walls. In turn, this can inspire our own research, reflection, and refinement. Just as we know “shutting our doors and teaching” leaves us feeling isolated, at conferences we should make it a point to talk and listen with others.
Learn. We learn from talking with others about our work because we can see what confuses people, articulate what’s working or not working in our own practice and acquire new ideas to try in our own schools and districts. When the sessions we attend at professional conferences set clear learning objectives, we can evaluate our own attainment of those learning goals as we participate in the session. Just as we want students to self-assess themselves in our classrooms, so should we assess ourselves when we attend professional conferences.
Network. Seeing people in our field excited about their work is a benefit. By networking and socializing with others, it’s amazing how many opportunities to collaborate with others come our way. In an increasingly globally connected society, we expect our students to learn and collaborate with others within and beyond our school walls. As professionals, so should we collaborate with others at professional conferences before we attend, while we’re there and afterwards as well. Building new and effective relationships with other professionals increases our ability to continue providing learning opportunities for our students.
When we listen, learn, and network, we return home from professional conferences feeling refreshed, invigorated, and ready to move learning forward in our local communities. This is exactly the way I feel right now upon my return from the Kentucky Council of Teachers of English Annual Conference.