Over the past 30-plus years, I have attended many education conferences for different reasons. Now, as president of Learning Forward, I find I have an entirely new perspective on their potential value to support education professionals. Looking back, I see that my reasons for attending conferences go along with what I have needed from any kind of professional learning period, regardless of the venue.
When I was a teacher starting out, conferences were a great way to get exposed to new ideas, people, names, and products. Everything was new, and the ideas helped me develop a repertoire of strategies and a storehouse of information. At that point, conferences helped me develop a sense of the scope of the new world I had entered as a professional. I always returned home with bags of handouts and notebooks, business cards, and names to investigate further.
As I advanced in my career and became a principal, I still had so much to learn about what I needed to be able to do. I was in a new role with entirely new responsibilities. A different set of questions guided my thinking at this point. I was less attracted to the huge marketplace of ideas and ready to focus on specific subsets of skills I needed to develop in my bag of tricks.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that, as a principal, I had responsibilities to other adults in my learning. As the instructional leader in the school, I knew that not only did my skills need attention, but what could I bring home to share with other educators in my building? What learning would help me improve in knowing how to help them? What learning would they need to help our team be our best for our students?
As an administrator supporting other leaders, my lens in attending conferences is quite different. I am still a continuous learner, so the inspirational thought leaders and intensive learning sessions focused on my areas of need are a high priority. I’m also thinking about what I say to my colleagues who lead schools: If you’re not confident about the professional learning you facilitate so your staff is successful with their students, what do you need to learn so you will be? There isn’t a higher priority for you as a leader. That’s still true for me, so I carry my whole team with me when I attend any learning, thinking about their needs and how to ensure they have access to the best. And how I wish I could speak to myself as a new teacher and help her understand how important those connections to other adult learners are from day one.
Finally, as president of Learning Forward and a member passionate about our cause, I feel the Annual Conference offers a unique opportunity to articulate, recognize, and celebrate what we most believe in: that effective professional learning is the most powerful means we have to ensure the best teaching for every student in every school. The conference is an opportunity to raise our voices for what we believe in, together, as a membership association. We’re surrounded by the practitioners and thought leaders who know best what it takes to make professional learning meaningful, and our message is strongest when we speak it together. I look forward to joining you in December.
This post appears in the August 2015 issue of JSD.
The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.