3 Things To Remember For Every Conference

My friend Steven Anderson and I break down the simple things any learner can do to make the most of their conference experience.

The end of June means, for many education technology enthusiasts, one thing – the annual ISTE (International Society for Technology In Education) Conference is just around the corner. ISTE is one of our favorite conferences because we get to reconnect, face-to-face with those “edufriends” we haven’t seen in the past year, connect with new friends, we learn with some incredible minds in the field, and we get a sense of what schools and districts are thinking about as they look to the future of learning.

If you are a social media user or a blog reader you may have seen several posts related to getting more out of ISTE. Many veteran attendees have extensive lists of ways to maximize the impact and learning of all who attend. And prior to many conferences, people share advice on how to follow the conference hashtag or whose feed to bookmark to make sure you won’t miss a thing. Still, others connect with educators not able to attend (#NotAtISTE) or explain where you can find resources after the conference. Much of the advice you hear is great and definitely worth considering, so of course, we wanted to add our own into the mix.

When Steven and I attend conferences, either as presenters or as participants, we challenge ourselves and our audiences each day to dig deeper, move beyond the surface-level flash, and get the most out of the conference experience. Many will save all year long to attend or travel a great distance, so how can we make the most of conference experience while still remembering our purpose and the need to share what we learn?

We believe there are 3 Important Points to remember, not only for ISTE but for any conference or learning event you attend.

Be a Boundary Pusher

It is easy to attend conferences like ISTE and only go to the sessions led by a perceived “Edtech Guru” or ones where we already know a lot about a specific topic. While there isn’t anything wrong with that, ask yourself are you doing the most with your conference experience? There are so many hidden gems by presenters who may not have a huge Twitter following or award-winning blog that offer incredible insight and ideas.

Push yourself. You are in charge of YOU.

Steven is still a skeptic of flipped classrooms and AR/VR. So he makes a point to attend at least one session where either of these is discussed to widen his perspective. Try to find sessions that you might just be walking away from thanking yourself for attending. Make a point to attend at least one session where you disagree with or are a skeptical about the topic. Go in with an open mind and make the most of your experience.

Reflect. Learning in the Pause

Sometimes the best learning or most lasting impact happens after the session is done, or in the hallway, a corner tucked away from the group, or through my favorite, Learning in the Pause. The thing that holds true for all of these examples is that they are the ones that you remember and talk about long after the event is over, those moments are ones that cause us to stop and reflect.  Reflection, as we have pointed out previously, is an instrumental part of the learning process. Because you are going to challenge yourself and your thinking, it will be important for you to reflect on your learning. The process of reflection doesn’t have to be formal. It’s an opportunity to think about your learning, your thinking, and where you want to go next with both.

Review your notes at the end of each day and write down your thoughts. We love OneNote for this. I can compile everything in one place (notes, drawings, pictures, and handouts) and have it on all my devices. Many conferences are also creating shared Google Docs so that anyone can add in their thoughts and reflections collectively. Check out the conference hashtags as well to see what presenters and participants have posted. It’s also a good idea at the end of the day, when you are exhausted and walking back to your hotel to just take some time and think:

  • What did you see that challenged you?
  • What do you still have questions about?
  • How can you take what you learned and apply it to your students?

Don’t Be A Hoarder, Share Your Learning

Think about if you shared what you learned with 5 people and those 5 people shared with 5 others and so on. The learning becomes so much more valuable. Find ways to share both at the conference (social media is great for that) and when you get back to your school/district. Did you attend as a member of a team? Have your team take 5 mins and share all the resources with those that couldn’t attend during a staff meeting. Flying solo? Post your notes to Twitter or on your blog. However you decide to share, just be sure to share!

Conferences are a cornucopia of people, ideas, and inspiration at your fingertips. Rarely is one surrounded by tens of thousands of professionals learning and sharing around a common goal other than at a large conference. And what an awesome mission and common goal our profession shares, improving teaching and learning for our students!

Enjoy your learning this summer and if you happen to be at ISTE19 be sure to stop by and say hello!

6 Keys to Planning and Delivering Effective Professional Learning

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This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is If you were calling the shots how would you change ongoing professional development for teachers in your community?”

Five years ago I made the leap from the classroom to a consultant role and went from teaching kids to teaching adults. Currently, I support educators in the areas of literacy, technology, AIW, and project-based learning. Working with adult learners is both challenging and rewarding. At first, I was unsure if I was cut out for this new role but over the years I have come to embrace the challenges and celebrate the victories that transfer into wins for kids!

I will be the first to admit I still have room for growth and improvement as a staff developer, but I quickly learned there are major differences between pedagogy and andragogy (the art and science of adult learning). When working with adults I keep in mind 6 Keys to Effective Professional Learning when planning and delivering professional learning. Some of these ideas were introduced to me by Nancy Lockett, as well as through personal studies on my own.

6 Keys to Planning and Delivering Effective Professional Learning:

1. Respect – Establish and recognize the importance of verbal territory. With adult learners, it is essential to get them talking within the first 5 minutes so all voices are heard. It is also a great time to identify the vast knowledge and experience they bring to the learning by having them create a “Group Resume” with their combined years, areas of expertise, certificates, and passions. This could be done as a table and shared out as a large group. Taking time at the beginning of the day to do these activities sets a tone of I value You and, together, We have vast experience and knowledge.

2. Start with the why- Just as students in the classroom find relevance when they understand the Why, so too do adult learners. Right from the start, professional learning should include the Why with an answer to the question – What problem are we solving? Starting with the What, Why, and How satisfies the adult learners Need to Know. If you are unclear with the learning target and the Why, the educators will be too.

3. Opener vs IceBreaker – Openers, YES, IceBreakers, NO. A common mistake that facilitators of professional learning make is starting off the day with an irrelevant IceBreaker. Instead, try an Opener. An Opener should do three things. First, it needs to breaks preoccupation with all of the things that are weighing them down. Second, an opener should allow for networking. Third, an opener needs to have a training point. While there are many icebreakers out there to use, be sure to make sure you start with an opener instead. Get them talking about what you want them to be thinking about.

4. Inquiry-Based Professional Learning (ADA format) – When planning the bulk of the learning, I like to follow the ADA format, Activity, Discussion, Application. This format recognizes the importance of collegial collaboration and feedback. Through inquiry, adult learners construct their own knowledge; they Learn by Doing. Inquiry-Based Learning using the ADA format allows educators to Do, Talk, and Apply. It is through the conversations with colleagues and the personal reflection and application that the Why of the day is reinforced, as well as the personal application. It makes it relevant to them and their students!  

5. Progression of Learning – Before, during, and at the end of the professional learning it is essential to recognize and identify where individuals are in terms of the progressions of learning:

  • US – Unconsciously Skilled
  • CS – Consciously Skilled
  • CU – Consciously Unskilled
  • UU – Unconsciously Unskilled

This identification is important for both the staff developer and educator. The knowledge not only helps with differentiating the learning, but also provides the adult learner insight into their own beliefs, attitudes, and needs. Consciously Unskilled is the place where you lose most adult-learners when they realize that they have been doing it wrong.  

6. Closers – Finally, it is important to never shorten time at end of the day, always have a proper closing activity. The strategy that I like to use is Connect, Reflect, Direct.  Allow educators time to Connect to what they had learned throughout the day, Reflect on how it is applicable to them, their students, their instruction; and Direct on what their next steps are to achieve the goals they set forth from the reflection(either as a staff or individual).
Planning and delivering professional learning is both challenging and rewarding. It’s a chance to work with staff members on a common focus while differentiating to meet needs of all and personalizing to support individual growth. I am continually learning from others how best to develop my skills and hoped that I offered you things to consider. Please comment below with some of your favorite strategies or frameworks and check out this post Steven Anderson and I wrote about ways Connected Educators can continue to develop professionally. Enjoy the rest of your summer, August is just around the corner.