The conference. The most common medium for staff learning and the most difficult to do well. Finding the right balance of fresh ideas, professional networking, inspiring speakers and “learning takeaways” really is difficult. I don’t envy conference organisers. Educators come from all walks of life and contexts and come with different mindsets and so reaching all who attend is an unbelievable challenge. For this post, I am going to organise the kind of conference that I would like to attend. This is a mix of ideas learnt from the best and the worst conferences as well as some ideas of my own thrown into the mix.
For starters, my ideal conference involves students. Students attending sessions, students running sessions and students and teachers collaborating during sessions. The dynamic shifts when students participate. The best session I attended last year at EduTech was led by a student who created an original music score using Garageband whilst presenting to over 500 delegates on the main stage. We attend conferences to hone our craft and for me this has to involve the students in conversation. Another idea I would like to explore is inviting parents to attend the conference. The involvement of parents alongside teachers and students would open the most amazing dialogue. As for teachers, I think teams of teachers attending conferences works much better than single teachers. The make up of the teams is also really important. Whole level teams or teams made up with a rich cross section of the school dynamic (including senior leadership and the business manager) are pivotal for carrying momentum back to school and for successful change management (if required).
Recent conferences that I have attended such as the 2014 DLTV conference have really tried to break the mould of the typical conference format by offering streams, having playgrounds and by inviting conference presenters to collaborate and combine their proposed session ideas. TeachMeets and unconferences have also really tried to break down the divide between educators and the edu-celebrity keynotes that conference organisers need to get bums on seats. TeachMeets empower all educators to stand up and share. The challenge is how to scale that up to a larger conference. I mean, not everyone wants to stand up and share. Some are happy to sit and listen and that is perfectly fine. For me, I think that everyone should be prepared to give something. I wrote a post previously about this exact idea. What if everyone who attended was required to share an idea, present (individually or as a team), collaborate, build something or create a shared resource. As the old saying goes, “it takes a village” and I think that the mentality of giving really helps to establish a great community feel.
Even though most educators are working towards being the “guide at the side”, conference structures and venues promote “sage on the stage” delivery. The venue chosen must suit the style of conference. It must also inspire the desired learning interactions. The Nab Village is one example of a conference venue with a difference. Inspired by activity based workspaces, it has learning spaces that cater for all interactions. Check it out here.
Now the elephant in the room is the role of sponsors at conferences. Personally I instantly turn off when I feel I am being sold something or spruiked. I know that sponsors are needed to make conferences viable but I think that they should be presenting on educational ideas that are enhanced by their products. No sales people please, just educators who are looking to take teaching and learning to the next level.
What would your ideal conference look like? I would love to hear from you.