NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) conference is coming up this week in St. Louis. Many teachers across the country will be going to share in the experience, many more will not. Trying to convince schools that this is a smart investment for them is often difficult. Here are some reasons I recently shared with my school board, I’d love to hear others. If you are one of the lucky ones who can attend these conferences, be a voice of advocacy for your colleagues and a testament to the power of professional development.
Don’t forget turn back around
Help the next one in line
Always stay humble and kind
1.Meet experts and “gurus” face to face
The authors and experts we learn from in professional texts are accessible and open to collaborative conversations at these events. There are opportunities for Q&A, meet and greets, book signings, and just running into them in a convention center. Teachers will be empowered to see that these “experts” are teachers themselves, who have taken their passions to the next level.
- Exposure to cutting edge research and state of the art teaching.
Presentations at these conferences are the latest in research, instruction, pedagogy, assessment, and organization. They’ve been vetted by a review panel and needed to pass an array of standards for quality, so we can trust the validity of the information. Education is constantly changing, and our teachers and schools should have opportunities to learn and adapt.
Meeting people from other states, regions, or countries can expand our understanding of education like no other experience. We often realize we are more alike than we are different, and yet we each have unique challenges and gifts that make educating America’s youth more than a “one size fits all” reform initiative. We can make lifelong connections to people who will inspire us, support us, and teach us on a personal level.
- Break out of your comfort zone
Traveling to a new place can be somewhat stressful, but also exhilarating. Understanding what life is like in unfamiliar surroundings can be eye opening. Learning in a new space activates our brains in new ways and offer up opportunities for fresh/flexible thinking. Connecting with people who may teach differently or have varying opinions can challenge our long held beliefs, routines, or values. They can often reinforce them, or cause shifts. Either way, that cognitive dissonance is essential for growth as an educator.
- Enhance professionalism.
We are treated like professionals at these conferences. Everyone views us as a leader in our field, someone willing to devote days of our busy lives to focus on being the best we can be. Presenters, organizers, and vendors show gratitude and respect for the hard work that goes on each day in our classrooms. There is a shared sense of purpose, empathy, and camaraderie with other professionals in the field that enhances our sense of professionalism for a long time to come.
- Intense focus on learning
Much like immersion in a language, teachers are immersed in a focused purpose of improving teaching and learning. We eat, breathe, and live teaching the entire time we are attending a conference. Dinner conversations are often continuations of the day’s learning. We are infused with ideas, energy, passion, and encouragement.
- Empowered by like-minded and passionate professionals
We are surrounded by “nerdy” teachers that feel like our TRIBE. There is strength in numbers and we definitely leave a conference feeling stronger because we know we aren’t alone in our passion. We can appreciate that the dedicated teachers we work with each day are just like teachers all across the country and our shared purpose feels empowering.
- Expand circle of leadership
When teachers go to a conference and come back to share what they’ve learned and experienced, they are seen as leaders who are willing to give back to their schools. They aren’t hoarding their new learning, they are expanding it exponentially. It builds expertise in our schools that broadens our resources for supporting one another.
- Invest in Our Teachers (and Ourselves)
Teaching is an exhausting profession in which we give and give and give each day. If schools don’t invest back into our teachers, we are draining a precious resource. Even if a district is paying expenses for attendees there is an incredible personal investment of time and energy. Teachers often have to rearrange their home lives and responsibilities to make accommodations. There are always unreimbursed expenses incurred that have a financial investment required. Teachers do this anyway, because we see it as an investment in our skills, motivation, and passion. If teachers are willing to make the investment, our schools and communities should, too.
- Invest in Our Students (Our Kids Are Worth It)
Speaking of investment…aren’t our kids worth the best trained, most motivated, incredibly passionate teachers we can give them? Don’t we want them to have teachers who are dedicated enough to devote days of their lives to make their learning better? Don’t they deserve to have the most cutting edge assessment and instruction to facilitate their learning. It doesn’t just happen by luck, we need to cultivate it and make it a priority. Remembering why we are here and doing what we do, it makes sense to make sure our students have the best teachers we can give them.
And then when your teachers ARE presenters it can be even more powerful:
- Build Expertise
If you’ve ever had to share information or expertise with a group of smart individuals, you know you need to bring your A Game-there’s no “phoning it in”. When schools send teachers to present at conferences they are supporting a teacher to hone their skills to the highest degree. Teachers put in countless hours in observing, writing, reflecting, and revising. This level of self-reflection builds increased expertise that no other professional development can.
- Bring Prestige for Our Schools
When presenters share the excellent work that is going on in their schools, they are showcasing the talents and successes that have been hard won. They shine a light on our teachers and students for others to celebrate and learn from. They are passionate ambassadors for their schools-more powerful than a public relations firm! Conference participants often want to connect with the teachers from our district and network to build greater capacity. It draws us into membership of a learning community larger than ourselves.
I’d love to hear even more ideas that support greater teacher participation as well as ways districts help to fund this as well.
What’s On My Book Radar?
POEMS ARE TEACHERS by Amy Ludwig VanDerWater
I have been so excited for this book’s release and when it arrived I devoured it. Amy Ludwig VanDerWater has been my “go-to” poet/teacher for years. Her website The Poem Farm http://www.poemfarm.amylv.com/ has helped me teach and think about poetry in new ways so I knew this book would be amazing–and it didn’t disappoint. Each lesson offers us 3 poems as mentor texts (1 contemporary poet and 2 student poets) for learning about: craft, ideas, point of view, structure, titles and more. You do not have to read it cover to cover, just dive in and enjoy. Your teaching of poetry will be inspired and your appreciation for poetry will be enhanced. It’s amazing.