Education conferences are great professional development opportunities. Not only will you learn about the latest innovations in your field, but you'll also have the chance to connect with other professionals from outside your school district or even your state. If you've never attended an education conference, you should start thinking about how to check one out in the future.
Deciding Between National and Local Conferences
State and local conferences are less expensive to attend than national conferences, and they can provide you with new ideas, innovative strategies, and lively discussions. One of the best parts of attending a state conference is meeting people from other school districts in your state and comparing notes. Sometimes you'll return to your district with a host of new ideas that others have successfully implemented. Other times, you'll return home more appreciative of the progress your own district has made!
National conferences are a different experience. They tend to attract widely recognized expert speakers, and they offer many more presentations and break-out sessions. You'll meet people from all over the country and from all kinds of school districts. National conferences can give you an understanding of widespread issues and concerns in education and how various states handle them. The depth and breadth of the profession are on display at a national conference.
Both national and state conferences offer great opportunities for learning. But choosing the right conference may depend on the amount of financial support your school or district can provide. Attending a conference, especially a national one, can be expensive in terms of travel, lodging, conference fees, and meals—not to mention paying a substitute teacher if the conference is held during the school year. While some schools routinely include money for teacher conferences in their annual budget, others may only reimburse some (or none) of your expenses. If you're interested in attending a conference, it's best to plan ahead, make a request as soon as you know what conference you wish to attend, and develop a strong, specific rationale as to why your school should consider your request.
Further reading: National Board Certification
Stepping into the Spotlight
If you've developed an innovative practice or strategy that works, you might consider applying to be a presenter at a conference. I've presented at many conferences, and I know for a fact that if you have a successful strategy that improves kids' learning, colleagues from other schools will be interested in it. Conference attendees love hearing about practical strategies or techniques that they can take home and start using immediately. So even if you don't consider yourself an expert, you may still have something valuable to share.
My first presentation was at a state conference on special education. As a regular education teacher, I had worked with a colleague who taught special education to design an effective way to integrate her students into my regular education classes. Our conference session was well attended, and we had data to support our belief that our program worked for students. Even though we were pretty nervous at first, we soon got over it with the attentiveness and encouragement from the audience. After our presentation, we were invited to talk about our ideas at two other conferences in the state.
Further reading: Networking for Teachers
There are some perks to being a presenter. Sometimes (but not always) the conference fee is waived for presenters. Having your name and your school's name appear in the conference program also enhances your school's reputation and may improve your chances of getting financial support. And finally, being a presenter is a big plus on your resume if you ever want to be considered for other jobs.
Lori Beth De Hertogh, an associate professor at James Madison University, says there are four good reasons for attending education conferences: being able to learn more, getting to meet new people, refueling your energy and motivation for teaching, and having a chance to shine (if you're a presenter). So if you're interested in attending a conference in the future, talk to your principal or department head now. You never know what opportunities may arise to help you be a better teacher.