June 23, 2017

Education Conferences and School Leadership: 4 Ways to Impact Professional Learning

So you’re getting ready for this year’s International Society for Technology in Education conference, along with 18,000 other excited attendees from around the globe. How will you navigate the massive crowd at ISTE, approach the generous slate of professional learning sessions, and leave town with something meaningful? More importantly, if you’re a school or district leader, how will you leverage what you learn to impact the professional learning of all the educators you support — and ultimately the students they teach?

  1. Start Early at the Conference Hashtag

ISTE, being a tech conference, has its own hashtag for tracking the happenings and insights during and after the conference. While many regular conference-goers utilize this resource on site, my advice is to get on the #ISTE2017 Twitter hashtag and start experiencing the chatter now. You’ll get an early look at the topics, sessions, and presenters that are already generating excitement. You’ll also get a chance to follow and connect with other educators from around the globe who share your passion for whatever the conference’s focus might be.

If you don’t have your own school or district hashtag, start one today and share conference-related tweets that you feel are important to your community. Let the folks in your district know that you’ll be sharing, and invite them to follow along. Also consider using Storify to organize your tweets from on site and share deeper insights into topics that matter to your school or district. Show your staff how much they can learn from just following a hashtag. 

  1. Find New Professional Connections

With thousands of educators in one venue, there’s no excuse for returning home without making new connections. Whatever you’re trying to do in your classroom or school, someone at the conference has something to help you. Just attend the sessions and make connections. In addition, try tossing out a question on the conference hashtag to invite input about specific areas where you need help. For me, the best place to make new connections at ISTE is in the Bloggers’ Cafe — whether or not you’re a blogger. Many conferences have an area like this. Swing through to meet educators who like to share their insights and learning. There’s no better place to grow your Personal Learning Network (PLN).

Over the years, the connections that I’ve made at at ISTE have allowed me to support ongoing educational technology integration in my school and district. In some cases, I’ve been able to follow up with experts and connect them virtually with staff. In others, I’ve been fortunate enough to bring talented educators into our district for staff trainings. There’s nothing more powerful than teachers learning from other teachers who currently work with real kids in real classrooms. These people gain instant credibility with their fellow educators. So if you meet someone with something to offer, don’t be shy about finding ways to have them visit your school district.

  1. Make Time for Reflection

Even if you do your pre-conference homework and find the ideal sessions and educators for your areas of interest, you’ll need time on site to synthesize all of the information coming your way. Whether it’s a short break to organize your thoughts or a few minutes after the concurrent sessions end, set this time aside! If you’re an early riser, the morning could work as well (although my preference is using mornings to plan the day ahead). You might consider dashing off a brief blog post with your take-aways and sharing it on the conference hashtag, which allows for many others to learn from sessions and experiences that they probably missed.

As school leaders, we set a great example by sharing our learning publicly. Since we often ask our teachers to reflect about their practice, we should be willing to do it ourselves as well.

  1. Bring Your Learning Home

At the end of any conference you attend, be ready to answer a question for yourself, such as:

  • What can I can take away that might make a difference in my never-ending efforts to improve my school?
  • Are there systemic changes that I can put in place to move my staff forward?

 Speaking specifically about ISTE, to ensure continued educational technology progress for your school or district, in both infrastructure and resources for staff and students, I recommend creating an edtech advisory group of staff, students, and community members to self-assess and set goals. ISTE offers a number of tools to support this work. I’d start by having this group review ISTE’s Essential Conditions. Utilizing a tool like this one will allow you to create concrete plans that will support the continued growth of all learners in your district.

So, as you make your final preparations to head off to a large conference, be sure that you have a plan to make things a bit less overwhelming. Start by finding out what the conference hashtag will be and tracking the conversations surrounding sessions that you want to check out. I also encourage you to see if there’s an online version of the conference schedule or a conference app that provides you with daily updates and up-to-the-minute schedule changes. ISTE, for instance, has a great conference app that easily provides attendees with all of the information they need. With a little bit of planning in advance, you’ll save time and energy at the conference and ensure a much better learning experience.


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