I just got back from the International Literacy Association annual conference in Boston. (#ILA16) I presented on a panel with colleague Caroline Eldridge and authors Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Jennifer Jacobson, and Cynthia Lord. It was exhilarating. Preparing for our session on Close Writing got me focused and presenting with these talented people was amazing. That was only one part of my conference participation, and it was incredibly powerful. I wish all the teachers I work with could have attended (and I did try hard to get teachers sent).
I think every teacher should attend a national (or international) conference more than once during their career. Sure, there is a wide variety of professional development opportunities for teachers that are effective and wonderful. But ask anyone who has been to a major conference and they will they you they are game-changers because they:
- enhance our knowledge base with experts in the field
- create connections to other educators
- strengthen our teaching tool kits
- expose us to latest resources and books
- raise our level of professionalism
- and help us to feel like a part of a passionate community that is making a difference for students all across the country
I also know they are cost-prohibitive for so many teachers. Many schools think of the expense as a luxury rather than an investment. I know my friend Shawna Coppola has this same concern and has put it out to Twitter for some ideas and comments. It’s a double edged sword: on one side these educators are missing out on their own professional development, and on the other side these conferences are missing out on a diversity of voices. Think how much richer these conversations would be if we had representatives from every type of school, community, and culture.
At ILA there was a huge emphasis on embracing diversity and nurturing the learner. I think this should extend to adult learners as well. We want our students to have the best teachers, but when it comes to investing in those teachers I think we too easily shy away when it becomes challenging. So what can we do to help more teachers participate? I have a few ideas:
- Attendees can go back to their schools and become advocates. Share the ideas, resources, and connections. Promote the personal and professional benefits we receive as participants. People are more likely to support what they know and understand. (And they are less likely to be jealous or indifferent if they know there are possible opportunities for themselves as well.)
- Talk with school board members. Approach them with budget figures that they might be able to work into upcoming budgets. Provide perspective: if they allocated $1000/year out of a $5,000,000 budget that is .0002 of the budget for an investment.
- Inquire about the possibility of teachers setting up payroll deductions (pre-tax??) to support professional development. $20 a week would give us $1040 in a year.
- Look for scholarships that presenting organization may have. ILA has some Awards & Grants. The Whole Language Umbrella has scholarships for their WLU Summer Institute and a year membership in NCTE. The National Education Association has Learning and Leadership Grants that can be applied for.
- Approach PTA organizations about professional development scholarship funds. Teachers could help them raise these funds and they (as well as the students and school community) would benefit from the professional experience of the teachers.
- If there are no PTA-type groups, teachers could try to create their own crowdfunding efforts. Many teachers have become familiar with Donors Choose to provide materials for their classrooms, why not consider investing in the teacher of those classrooms as well? If you aren’t comfortable with online asking, we teachers know an awful lot about bake sales and fundraisers!
- Take advantage of local and regional conferences and workshops that are often at a lower cost (and sometimes free– Thank You EDCamps and nErDcamps!!) Some of these events are drawing lots of national talent and teachers. Actively seek out opportunities via social media!
- Follow conferences on Twitter or Instagram (and yes, even Snapchat now!) Look for the #hashtag for the event and take advantage of all the, notes, powerpoints, images, ideas, and thinking that others are graciously sharing.
I’d welcome any and all suggestions or ideas you may have. Please post a comment if you can think of others. Professional development is something near and dear to my heart. I think every child deserves a teacher who is nurtured and supported and passionate. We can do a lot more to make it easier for teachers to get the highest quality PD.
In the meantime, I’ll share some of my highlights/take aways from #ILA16. I plan to share ideas and information as well as resources with other teachers in my district and coaches in my state.
What’s On My Book Radar?
I have not been this excited to get my hands on a book since FISH IN A TREE. I got an ARC at #ILA16 and devoured it in a day. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Kyle Donohue watches one of the towers come down while sitting in his HS class. Evacuating the city, he discovers a girl in a very precarious situation and brings her home. Who she is and why she was there is a mystery to even the girl. This is truly a story of hope during some of our nation’s most desperate days. I couldn’t put it down. When this comes out this September I hope it finds it way into the hands of readers everywhere. Lyrical, tragic, unforgettably beautiful. YA 6th grade and up (Available in Sept but check out that pre-order price!!!)
(Note: last blog post also featured a Sept. 11th novel on my ‘radar’. I am currently reading a third. Tune in for that review next time.)