Taking an Active Approach to Conference Participation and Professional Development
The issue of professional development (PD) is a “hot-topic” issue in education today. As educators, we can sometimes feel like it is cast upon us and inapplicable to our daily teaching. It’s somewhat ironic that one of our primary goals as teachers is to develop life-long learners, but many of us are frequently passive in our own life-long educational pursuits.
Have you ever gone to a conference and wished you had gotten more out of the experience? Ever wondered how to make the most of your professional development days? In this article I’d like to share some suggestions that you can use to maximize your development opportunities.
We frequently talk about attending conferences, going to workshops, and the amount of continuing education credits available for a given opportunity. However, to get the most out of a conference, educators must make conscious decisions to be active throughout the event. It’s too easy to attend the conference and “go through the motions” while passing on what could be great sessions, networking, and collaboration. The following tips should help you gain the most of your conferences.
Photographer: Paul Bonatti
Surveying the Conference Program
Conferences are about development. Balance the need to stay current in your strong areas with sessions that take you outside of your comfort zone. Also, attempt to balance active, participatory sessions with more passive sessions. With this in mind, consciously mark your conference program ahead of time and stick to the sessions you selected.
Session Action and Interaction
Some presenters are fine with attendees recording the session, though you should ask permission before doing so. Make sure to grab handouts or sign-up for any e-mail lists provided. These resources help you remember the session’s details when your initial memory of the session fades. Lastly, consider talking with the presenter afterwards. The session presenters are there to interact with you; don’t pass up the opportunity to ask them questions.
Technology and the Back-Channel
Consider following the Twitter back-channel for the conference. Frequently, a Twitter hashtag (ex. #MMC12, #GMEA12, etc.) has been established to allow participants to interact online. Presenters sometimes post links to their slides and supplemental materials, too. Lastly, see if you can connect online, following the presenters and continuing the conversation.
Yes, YOU should Network
Networking should extend beyond your current colleagues or peers. If you are an introvert, then challenge yourself to interact with new people. If you are an extrovert, force yourself to listen to others’ viewpoints. Make sure you are dressed professionally, carry business cards, and introduce yourself when appropriate. You never know who may present you with an opportunity down the road. Also, never have lunch or dinner alone as these are perfect opportunities to share ideas and set up future collaborations or to just socialize.
Professional Development (Own Your Education)
Music educators are frequently frustrated with the PD that is offered in their school districts. They tend to feel they have no say in the matter. While, depending on the administrators and school district, this may actually be the case, other administrators may simply lack the musical knowledge required to provide applicable PD for music educators.
Hold Your Own Meetings
Consider monthly, after-school meetings for all music teachers in the district; you can break off (band, orchestra, choir, general music) as needed. During each meeting, leave time for someone to share a new teaching strategy for each sub-group. For example, have a teacher that is a master at getting students involved with movement to music activities present to others. Proactively arranging for music teachers in your district to present ideas and strategies to each other allows the teachers to have continual professional growth opportunities throughout the year.
Create A PD Proposal
Secondly, consider drafting a proposal for PD that is related to the PD the school is offering (ex. school’s PD is about literacy, and the music teachers suggest a separate session on developing note-reading strategies). Be honest about what the music teachers’ strengths and weaknesses and fashion the proposal accordingly. Another possibility involves drafting a strategic professional development plan where music teachers from several districts convene together for PD and bring in an outside presenter on a topic of their choosing. The school district could split the costs and address the needs of their music teachers.
The learning doesn’t stop after graduating with a music education degree and landing a teaching job! Throughout your career, actively make conscious, reasoned choices about your own education by continuing to assess your own strengths and weaknesses. Pursue opportunities at conferences that present new ideas and strategies for your classroom. Challenge yourself to make connections (both in person and digitally) that will allow for on-going conversations about music education.
Professional development should be proactive, strategically planned to address weaknesses and maintain strengths, owned and invested in by the teachers, and show some form of measurable progress.
Instead of dreading your district’s PD days, work with your fellow music teachers to create something that works and benefits everyone. Consider resources that are already within your district as well as opportunities that are present in the surrounding community. Lastly, strive to model life-long learning to your students and hope they follow in your steps.
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