How to Get the Most Out of Professional Conferences

Kathryn Starke
Kathryn Starke
Professional development expert and National Urban Literacy Consultant; M.A. in Literacy and Culture
Video conference call with multiple educators.

Educators are also life-long learners. As the educational industry continues to evolve and change, professional conferences continue to reflect both the advancements and current research in the field. Professional conferences are developed and sponsored by organizations and universities to support the teaching and learning process for teachers and students in schools around the country and around the world.

There are many specialized educational conferences offered both virtually and in-person at a state-wide, regional, and national level. Many organizations host an annual conference that people look forward to attending every year. They are often held in different geographical locations to increase attendance from a variety of cities. Specific conference topics target audiences ranging from librarians to reading specialists. Conference themes including but not limited to a focus on educational technology, math, counseling, Title I, or leadership.

Teachers, administrators, and faculty members can appropriately select a professional conference that closely matches their own daily role and responsibilities in schools and districts. Educators can use annual educational professional conferences as a one-stop-shop to gather knowledge and materials that will further enhance their instructional practices on a daily basis.

Planning Ahead of Time

Once an educator chooses the conference he or she wants to attend, the question of cost, duration, and location are priorities in the planning stage. How many days of the conference will the educator be granted permission to attend take place and how convenient it is to your school? Once these details are ironed out and approved, it is time to more specifically plan what sessions to attend and the topics you want to learn more about at the conference.

Conferences often schedule multiple sessions simultaneously; sometimes you have to pre-register for specific sessions online and other times attendance in each session is first come, first serve at the door based on capacity. Conference participants should use the agenda to determine how many sessions they are able to attend, when they will be able to attend them, and what knowledge they will obtain from the session. When several teachers from the same school are able to attend a conference together, it can be very beneficial for them to split up and attend different sessions so that they are able to bring even more information back to their school. When all of these details are planned ahead of time, educators can focus more on the actual content received during the conference sessions instead of the logistics.

While at the Conference

Some conferences span many sessions across multiple days based on the number of speakers, sessions, participants, and budgets they have to work to organize professional development conferences. During the conference, the best way to get the most out of it is to simply follow your own personalized agenda to ensure that you are attending the sessions that best support your educational position, subject matter, or grade level. While you are in a session at the conference, sit back, take notes, and ask questions. Take time to collaborate with teachers who teach the same grade level or content area. Collaboration among educational colleagues is most beneficial in education because teachers love hearing stories of from other teachers about what has worked and is not working their classrooms. Great teachers share their knowledge and experiences for others to learn from.

Conference participants can not only network with fellow attendees, but they can also network with the presenters or seminar leaders. If a presenter provides school-based professional development that would benefit a school community or district, this is a great opportunity to connect with them and offer an invitation to visit.

Finally, there is often an exhibition hall packed with educational publishers and companies who sell programs and products to support a variety of grade levels and subjects. This is simply another chance for educators to determine what types of educational resources are available on the market and what would provide the biggest impact on their students’ learning process. Conferences can be both an educational and time-saving event for teachers of all grade levels, experience levels, and subject matters. There is always something or someone at a conference that will benefit everyone who attends.

After the Conference

While the educational knowledge is acquired from participating in sessions during the professional conference, the benefits from attending the conference are evident after the actual conference ends and teachers return to their classrooms. Many schools and districts will pay for a teachers’ participation in a conference when the teachers agree to come back and provide some professional development or faculty meeting conversations about what they learned at the conference.

The goal, then, is to have teachers select sessions that match a high priority interest or need in their own school. When teachers can return from the conference with materials, knowledge, and ready-made lessons that can instantly be implemented in classroom instruction, then we know the conference was a success.

Teachers who take copious notes and attend multiple sessions should be able to add something they have learned to enhance their daily lessons. When teachers are able to apply the information gained into their lessons and share the knowledge with their teammates and colleagues, the reach of the conference is vast. In this manner, the teaching and learning process continues after the educational conference. This is the primary reason why successful conferences or seminars are planned annually, and educators look forward to the unique experience to remain a life-long learner.

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