Looking @ Professional Conferences & Workshops

Looking @ Professional Conferences & Workshops - Professional development is more than in-house training. To become better educators we need to take advantage of conferences, workshops, and online coursework. #schoollibrary #professionaldevelopment #professionallearning #onlinelearningProfessional development conferences and workshops offer opportunities for educators to get together and grow their craft. During my 9 years as an Alternative HS Science Teacher and 13½ years as an IB Middle School Librarian I attended several professional conferences:

Some of the above I attended just once, but some are so valuable I attend every year. I can honestly say that I have learned abundantly at every single one. Even when attending a session on a topic with which I am very familiar, I always pick up some nugget of value that I can take back and use with my students. And, of course, there is always the Vendor Hall which is lined with curriculum, tech tools, and fun activities and accessories! 6 Essential Tips for Attending a Conference from Cult of PedagogyIn a vendor drawing at one CAST conference I won a combination aquarium that had fish, frogs, and plants. It was fascinating to my students for several years and when I moved to the library I donated it to another science teacher (only because I couldn’t find a convenient place in the library to plug it in!).

BTW, if you’re planning to attend a conference anytime soon, at right is some great advice from Jennifer Gonzalez of Cult of Pedagogy. (click on the image to enlarge it)

Memorable Sessions

I have three “most memorable” sessions from conferences. The first was at NSTA in a room with perhaps 50-60 people. The presenter came to the podium and started with, “Raise your hand if you’ve ever gotten a job because you passed a state test.” Not a single hand was raised, but there was a lot of laughter. That was just the beginning of the standardized testing trend, but the comment has stayed with me, so whether as Science Teacher or School Librarian, I make sure lessons focus on practical application of concepts to our normal everyday life.

The second “memorable session” was at a TLA conference where I attended a presentation by Joyce Valenza and in attendance was Shonda Brisco—my two Librarian gurus were in the same room and afterward I met them both! I was so in awe of these two red-headed library-tech mavens that I could barely find words—which is pretty rare for a blabbermouth like me!

The third was when I presented at a TLA Conference in Dallas back in 2002. The WWW was still young and librarians were anxious to “get online.” I presented “How to Build a Library Web Presence with Netscape” during the Net Fair. It was a very rewarding experience and I was able to help some folks develop their library websites during the hands-on session following my 20-minute presentation.

Professional Learning Workshops

While the excitement and camaraderie of conferences is extraordinary, I feel it is surpassed by the benefits of professional learning workshops. These are single- or multi-day sessions that focus on a particular topic or develop specific skills. More than training sessions, workshops help us develop actual lessons that we can implement when we walk into our classrooms.

I attended a couple science ones and, as a middle school librarian, attended International Baccalaureate® and Texas IB Schools workshops as well as a local workshop sponsored by ALA to help librarians integrate more reading into their schools. Every year I attend a Library Expo, sponsored by our 2 regional Education Service Centers and 3 of our local school districts. This 1-day event has a morning and 2 afternoon workshops, with a Vendor Fair throughout the day.

The sharing that takes place during these workshops is very personal and allows for deeper discussions that aren’t possible during a large conference. I also have more continued interactions with colleagues I meet through workshops than through conferences.

Best Event Ever

Hands down, the best event I’ve ever attended didn’t have much to do with education: a 1-day course by Edward Tufte on “Presenting Data and Information.” Once I heard about and read his Visual Display of Quantitative Information book, I had to get his (at that time) other two, Envisioning Information and Visual Explanations. This man is a master of putting complex statistical information into a graphical display that makes sense for everyone, so when I learned he’d be in Dallas, I couldn’t resist signing up.

Single image of Galileo's recording of sunspots.Tufte collects old books, and during his presentation he showed us a ~400-yr-old reprint of Euclid’s geometry—with little foldables that were still glued to the page (Elmer’s & SuperGlue, take that!)—and Galileo’s History and Demonstration Concerning Sunspots from 1613. One of his graduate students had scanned the sunspot pictures and made them into a video; as he showed it to us I realized I was looking at our sun 400 years ago, just as Galileo had seen it! Yes, best event ever!

[You can see this yourself on Academo.org!]

The Future of Professional Development

Web presence is, I believe, the key to conferences continuing to enhance and improve education. With travel and hotel costs rising and school budgets shrinking, online conferencing is increasing every year. This isn’t just Twitter-ing about what’s going on at a regular conference, but rather holding an entire conference online through virtual connections and chat sessions. Many of these are for local or state educators, which increases their value for standards-based application.

Even more abundant and popular are online workshops and courses. Video presentations and discussion forums (or Facebook groups) with loose or self-paced schedules provide educators a worldwide learning opportunity; digital badges can be earned and displayed as part of our professional portfolio along with the online documents we’ve created from the learning.

This summer I’m taking 4 online courses: one to better integrate technology into my Library Lessons, one to create better videos and presentations, and 2 to enhance my online presence through Pinterest and Twitter. The cost and flexibility of these courses is very appealing, but we have to be sure we are really getting a quality learning experience, so getting recommendations from colleagues is essential. I’ve already learned a lot more than I anticipated, and am excited to see what I can contribute to educators when school begins in the fall!

line of books laying down


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One thought on “Looking @ Professional Conferences & Workshops

  1. I would agree on the professional opportunities online (plus, as an attendee of ALA’s annual conference, the amount of colleagues who would have loved to have gone but have FOMO can benefit from gaining the same knowledge, without the expense of travel).

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