Over the weekend I had the opportunity to attend the CUE 2012 conference. I ran into former coworkers, reconnected with friends from the past, and also cultivated new relationships for the future. It was four days of meaningful teaching and learning. I chose to drive this year since the price for a plane ticket to Palm Springs seemed quite ridiculous and that afforded me about 7 hours of quiet reflection time driving through California’s San Joaquin Valley. As I passed through the miles and miles…and miles of farmland a few thoughts began to emerge about why events like CUE matter:
Take Control of Your Professional Learning
Let’s face it. We live in austere times. Districts are laying off teachers, eliminating key services, and looking for any cuts which could assist in making budget projections for next school year. Often, as part of this process district-provided professional development opportunities can quickly evaporate. However, I still want to grow as a professional. I want to improve my practice and test out innovations…and based on the conversations I had this weekend I know I am not alone. First, however, I think each of us has to find that community where we can grow. I am fortunate to have stumbled into two communities – CUE and NWP that both continue to push my thinking and help me refine my practice. Once we have found those communities we have to look for opportunities to actively participate. CUE provides two annual conferences, as well as many other professional learning opportunities both through the regional affiliates and partnership organizations. Most NWP sites provide local teacher-lead workshops through Super Saturdays or Summer Institutes. Additionally, both of these communities also have an online presence through websites, social networks, and Twitter groups. Spend some time identifying what is close to you and within your budget or interests.
Conferences = Conversations
I used to think I attended conferences to attend sessions, but a few years ago I realized I really attend conferences to engage in conversations with colleagues from across the country. Yes, we communicate through Twitter, Facebook, blog posts, and email, but there is still something said for sitting down together, face-to-face, and sharing ideas while also sharing the same space. Similarly, the most meaningful sessions I attend are the ones where I can engage in conversation. Like our students, I want to do the work as a learner. On Friday I co-faciliated a three-hour workshop on iBooks Author and at the end the room erupted into spontaneous applause. At first I couldn’t figure out why, but a few hours later one of the participants saw me in the hotel lobby and expressed his gratitude for being able to “take the time to publish a book with a knowledgeable coach and talk to my colleagues about how I would use this in my classroom.”
Present, Present, Present
Long ago, I adopted a personal rule. Anyone can attend a conference once, but to attend a second time you really should submit at least one conference session. Each of us tends to think that we don’t have anything to offer. “Oh, I’m not smart enough to present. Who would listen to me?” Unfortunately, in both of my professional learning communities I have observed some conference behavior by a small minority that might perpetrate that belief, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Unlike many other professional groups, all of us are teachers. We have the ability to teach. Find something your passionate about and develop a session where you can share that passion. After attending a fair-share of workshops I do have four guiding principles to suggest:
- Focus on Instruction – We don’t care about the 50 shiny things and will likely get lost at about the fifth one. What did you do and how can I do it too?
- Make Us do the Work – Five minutes after sitting down in conference chair our rears start going numb, so get us cognitively and even physically engaged in doing the work through conversation and meaningful activities.
- Bring in Students – One of the best parts of the CUE Conference each year is the Student Technology Showcase, where kids from all over California share what they have created or learned using technology. If you can bring your students to your workshop, every single one of us will be hooked and never want to leave. If you can’t physically bring your students, perhaps they can join us via Skype, FaceTime, or pre-recorded video?
- Post Everything Online and Tweet Out the Link – Often there are three great sessions all at the same time. If can’t attend your workshop I will review the resources and Twitter is often the tool many use to catch those resources if you use the conference hashtag like #cue12.