Monday, July 24, 2017

6 Reasons Why You Should Attend a Professional Conference

"Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get."
-- Forrest Gump

Whew!  I just got home yesterday from the 4th annual TeachersPayTeachers Conference.  Lasting for 3 days, it ran from early Monday afternoon through Wednesday night in Anaheim, California.  But since I have family in Los Angeles, I visited my relatives afterwards, which is why I didn’t get home until Sunday.

Seeing some of my relatives for the first time in a couple of years was great but what I want to write about now is, of course, the 2017 TpT Conference.  This was the second one I attended; my first TpT Conference was in 2015 in Las Vegas.  At that time, I offered 5 suggestions for having a positive experience at a conference.

6 reasons why you should go to a professional conference & 15 conferences to attend | The ESL Nexus
Entrance to the TpT Conference; source: The ESL Nexus
Today, I’d like to give you 6 reasons for attending a professional conference.  Every conference is different and what you get out of it may not be what you anticipated or expected.  But serendipity is usually a good thing!

Reason #1: Presenting

I was honored that my proposal to give a presentation about creating materials for ELLs was accepted.  Being a presenter is a great experience because it shows that others recognize you have something to offer people and it validates the work you do.

6 reasons why you should go to a professional conference & 15 conferences to attend | The ESL Nexus
Delicious cookie given to presenters; source: The ESL Nexus
Also, when you’re a presenter, there are usually some perks. Some conferences pay part of the fees associated with attending, like TpT, and others do not, like TESOL International Association, at which I’ve also presented.  Naturally, I was nervous about presenting in front of my peers but I’d prepared and rehearsed and knew my subject matter so I was pretty confident on that account.  What I was more stressed about was whether I’d have any technical difficulties during my presentation and if so, how I’d deal with that.  Fortunately, all went off without a hitch. 

Reason #2: Learning
Every conference has its own particular focus.  Conferences often have themes as a way of connecting all the disparate strands of sessions being presented.  The TpT theme was “Discover New Dimensions.”  So in addition to the sessions about product creation and using social media, there were sessions about teaching trends, reaching all learners, and using technology.

6 reasons why you should go to a professional conference & 15 conferences to attend | The ESL Nexus
Giving my presentation about reaching ELLs; source: The ESL Nexus
Conferences are also an opportunity to learn about the future direction of the sponsoring organization, which is always interesting.  Outside speakers are often invited to give keynote addresses and they are opportunities to hear from experts in the field.

Reason #3: Networking
One of the best benefits of attending a professional conference is the chance to network with your peers.  Participating in a Facebook group is not quite the same thing as meeting face to face!  Although – getting to know people online first can give you a reason for seeking out specific people at a conference if you know they are also attending.

Much networking occurs informally, at mealtimes or in the evenings at pre-organized meetups or social activities.  Back in 2015, I asked some of the people I met to contribute to an ELL e-book I was planning to create; without having first established those personal connections, it might’ve been harder to put the e-book together.  This year, I wanted to reconnect with some people I’d met at the 2015 conference and I’m happy to say I did that.

6 reasons why you should go to a professional conference & 15 conferences to attend | The ESL Nexus
Socializing at The House of Blues on Wednesday evening; source: The ESL Nexus
Networking may also involve job hunting.  Some conferences have a section set aside for job interviews and at others, it's done more informally.  If you go to a conference with the goal of looking for a new job or to make connections that could help you obtain a new job in the future, it's a good idea to be able to discuss your philosophy of teaching.  This resource can help you do just that.

Reason #4: Motivating
Whenever I return from a conference, I am excited to immediately put into practice the things I learned.  There are usually 1-2 things that are my key takeaways that I think I can implement right away.  The energy generated at conferences comes home with me and inspires me to get to work promptly and incorporate what I learned into my instructional materials and practice.

It’s great when conferences are held during the summer because then you have more time to process your learning but when you go to conferences during the school year, then you get to see the results of your work more quickly.  So, really, it doesn’t matter when you go as long as you do go!

6 reasons why you should go to a professional conference & 15 conferences to attend | The ESL Nexus
Looking forward to implementing new ideas; source: The ESL Nexus
Reason #5: Invigorating
Especially if you work in isolation – as I did at my school, where I was the only ESL teacher for 9 years – going to a conference surrounds you with people who are doing the same work as you.  That is vitally important because everyone needs to be able to talk shop with other people who can relate to your successes and challenges, who understand the jargon used in your field of work, and can offer emotional and professional support.

It’s so easy, as a teacher, to become demoralized but going to a conference is rejuvenating.  Being in a positive atmosphere is very encouraging and helps you create a positive environment back in your own classroom, school, office, or wherever you do your work.

6 reasons why you should go to a professional conference & 15 conferences to attend | The ESL Nexus
The TpT Conference definitely reignited my passion for creating resources; source: The ESL Nexus
Reason #6: Sightseeing
Conferences are often held in destination cities.  One year, the TESOL Convention was in Vancouver, Canada.  I’d never been to that part of Canada so after the conference ended, I visited the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, which was wonderful.  This year, the TpT Conference was in Anaheim, California, which is where Disneyland is located.  But since I went to Disneyland as a kid, I didn’t go again.  Even when they are in smaller cities, the conference organizers may arrange excursions to local points of interest.

Education conferences may also arrange visits to local schools.  While not exactly sightseeing, such visits do give conference attendees insights into what education is like elsewhere.

Bonus Reason: Exhausting
Conferences that last longer than 1 day are exhausting!  You’re on the go all the time and it’s hard to eat well.  Meeting new people can be mentally tiring if you’re shy or an introvert.  Trying to remember everyone’s name is taxing if, like me, you’re really bad at that.  You probably won’t get much rest, either.  If you're flying to and from the conference, that can be stressful.  However, when you get home, you are sure to get a good night's sleep!

6 reasons why you should go to a professional conference & 15 conferences to attend | The ESL Nexus
Flying home to Arizona--tired but happy; source: The ESL Nexus
So don’t let these minor inconveniences deter you because the benefits of attending a professional conference are so worth it!

Here are some educational conferences you might be interested in attending:
* TESOL International Convention & English Language Expo (TESOL International Association)
* TESOL Affiliates (A list of TESOL's local affiliate groups around the world)
* IATEFL Conference & Exhibition (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language)
* NABE (National Association for Bilingual Education)
* WIDA Consortium (Formerly known as World-class Instructional Design and Assessment)
* ASCD (Formerly known as Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development)
* SDE Link to webpage for upcoming events (Staff Development for Educators)
* ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education)
* NCSS (National Council for the Social Studies)
* NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English)
* NSTA (National Science Teachers Association)
* NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics)
* ILA (International Literacy Association)
* Also, if you belong to the National Education Association or the American Federation of Teachers, many of not all of the state affiliates have annual conferences

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