I just recently got back from a conference. I love going to conferences. I mean, I REALLY love going to them. I think most teachers have a strong affinity for learning. After all, we have chosen to stay in school for the rest of our lives! I love learning. I love sitting in classrooms, I love listening to other people who are considered experts in their field, I love hearing new ideas that inspire me and make me want to try new things! If you have not been to an educational conference (or any conference for that matter), I would highly suggest it. That being said, it can be a bit overwhelming. So, here are some friendly tips on properly preparing for attending a conference.
Scope out what workshops you want to attend ahead of time. The earlier the better. Often the amount of workshops and talks being given is inordinate. It can be a bit cumbersome to look through and read about everything being offered the night before. I would suggest at least a few days before (if not weeks) you take your time to peruse the catalogue and pick out the things you are most interested in. You may find that many of the talks you want to attend overlap, in which case you may need to pick and choose (it can be tough to decide sometimes). I like planning ahead because it gives me things to look forward to (like opening presents!). I have attended conferences where I have not planned ahead and have learned the hard way that I end up missing out on things that I was interested in because I didn’t notice it in the catalogue due to my expediency when planning last minute.
Get to the location the night before. When I say night before, I don’t mean your plane is landing at 9:36. I mean, you arrive the evening before, you get your bearings, enjoy a nice dinner and are able to relax and mentally prepare for the academic marathon you are about to embark on. I like to scope things out and at least get an understanding for where I am, where the conference is, and where my workshops, presentations, etc. will be in relation to where I am staying. I have found that this greatly reduces my stress levels.
Get plenty of sleep. You will need it. The stimulation of being in a new environment, meeting new people, and learning new information can be very draining. You might not realize it, but it does take a lot out of you and you need to allow yourself the time to rest properly at the end of each day (and the night before it starts). If you are not properly rested, you may not be able to absorb as much as you could if you had the optimal hours of sleep.
Wear comfortable shoes! You will most likely be doing lots of walking! Many conferences are spread between multiple hotels as well as a convention center with minimal (if any) shuttle services. Unless you choose your workshops/talks based on location, you will most likely be walking from one site to another, coving many miles per day (the conference I just went to, I was averaging 8.5 miles per day walking back and forth throughout the day). We all know that when our feet are tired and achy, our whole body becomes tired and achy… not good. So, wear comfortable shoes. You’ll thank me.
Give yourself enough time to do everything. Too much time is better than not enough. I always find myself wishing I was attending my conferences at least one more day. Some people think two days are enough, but I personally think three is optimal (assuming it’s a 4 day conference). There are so many options from which to choose when attending a conference; if you have more time, you will feel more relaxed and be less likely to run yourself ragged. Plus, it will give you more time to meet more people and make more contacts (always a plus!).
Prepare to do some collaborating when you get back. Whether or not your school district paid for your trip, the powers-that-be will most likely expect you to collaborate with your colleagues to discuss and share what you learned at the conference. So, take notes and pay attention so you are able to participate and add to the discussion. Even if you are not given time to collaborate, you will most likely want to talk with your teacher friends and colleagues on your own time, so be prepared for that (you won’t be able to contain your excitement!).
Be prepare to want to implement everything. Whenever I attend conferences, I feel charged up and refreshed like an educational spring has washed over me. I always feel incredibly inspired and I instantly want to start trying out everything!!!! However, take it easy and don’t over-do it. Make sure you are implementing lessons and ideas that you really feel good about, that blend in well with your curriculum and will excite your students. Don’t try new things out just for the sake of doing something new. Really think it through and allow yourself to chose wisely.
Lastly, be sure to plan lessons for your first couple of days back before you leave. Of course you will want to prep properly for your sub before you go (see my post on prepping for subs here), but you will also want to prep for yourself as well. The conference will leave you both invigorated as well as exhausted. Give yourself a little leeway by prepping your lessons for when you get back. Try to plan lessons that require less active teaching to give yourself a smooth transition back into the classroom.
I hope this post helps you prepare for whatever awesome conference you are going to attend and allows you to fully reap the benefits.
-The Ardent Teacher