Kickin’ it Old School

This post is being written from the Portland International Airport as I await my flight back to Penticton via Vancouver.  I am returning after spending three days at the Pearson ATI Summer Conference.  Even though the traditional so-called “Conference” seems a bit old school in the twitter/PLN world, I have a confession to make…I still like them.

There is just something about meeting people face-to-face, finding out where they are from, what their story is, and where along their journey (in this case assessment journey) they are.  I had the opportunity to meet people from all over the United States and Canada and doubt that I could have engaged in the depth of conversation I was able to experience in 140 characters.  The interactions during the sessions and the social interaction in-between all created a positive energy that permeated the meeting rooms for three days.  As people left the conference they were excited, motivated, focused, and renewed to go home, create a new or improved assessment plan for their classroom, school, or district.

I loved Edcamp Vancouver back in April and have really come to value all of the #chats on twitter.  I think that kind of professional learning is long overdue and has increased the on-goingness of professional learning once left to the sporadic events.  At their worst, traditional conferences are a complete waste of money, but at their best, they create a synergy unrivaled by any other experience.

My hope is that we don’t swing the pendulum so far in the other direction that conferences disintegrate.  I get that money is tight, that it isn’t always easy to leave out families for a few days, and that professional learning is not limited to 1 or 2 events per year. But, people like to be inspired and see the big picture. After all, we are human and need – not want, need – live contact with other human beings to share our struggles, successes, triumphs, and roadblocks.

Are traditional conferences sometimes too passive for the participants? Yup. Could presenters make them more interactive and fluid? You bet! Do we need to push the limits of on-going professional learning via social media? Absolutely.  But as I sit here waiting for my flight I realize that I had a very positive, productive, and inspiring few days which tells me that traditional conferences, while they might change their style, format, or routine, still have value and should still continue to serve a purpose for professional learning.

11 thoughts on “Kickin’ it Old School

  1. I appreciated your post Tom, thanks. Made me reflect on what truly matters, and that is people and relationships. The best kind are those that take place in person. If I can take one thing from a conference and use it in my professional life I consider it a success. More importantly, are the conversations I have and the new connections/friends I make….all face to face.

  2. Tom,

    I think that a combination of both is important. Yes it is nice that I can dip into PD on Twitter whenever I want, but I would never give up the face-to-face connections for that. That being said, I have found the conferences are much more meaningful to me when I go because I know many of the people already and get to connect with them in a deeper way. It is all about relationships, but social media can enhance those; we do not have to give up one for the other.

    Thanks for the post!

  3. What was nice about this conference was that the presenters were accessible. The size, 450 participants, made it easy to connect and follow up with presenters. Also the thoughtful use of follow up sessions, allowed participants, to go deeper with presenters. As I mentioned, I could of done without the 20 lb binder of presenter presentations, but that can be easily fixed. I highly recommend this conference for anyone interested in using formative assessment to engage students…

  4. I’ve found much the same thing over the past few years and I especially agree with you that the presenters could often do much more to make presentations more interactive. Some of the best experiences I’ve had at conferences happen when I can go as part of a group and take time to discuss how we in our school district might implement some of the ideas we are exposed to in the various sessions we attend.

  5. Agreed! There’s not one way of pd that’s best — there are a myriad of ways that can boost learning, professional growth and most of all service to children. I’m headed to the NBPTS conference in DC later this month and I can’t wait to hear Ravitch and Pink speak. Though I follow them on Twitter, it will be wonderful to hear their stories and points of view in the lecture format. Thanks for getting us all to think.

  6. I totally agree. Every one of my colleagues who came with me said it was the best conference they have been to. And I truly believe its because of the conversations we were able to have with others, from around the world, who are having the same successes and struggles as we are at home. It helps people feel connected. We had a long day of travel on the way home, and while we took breaks and were able to let loose and laugh, we still found our conversations going back to the conference, what we all had learned and how we could apply it to our building plans. This was the case at dinner on our layover, on the second leg of our flight and, even still, on the car ride home from the airport. Every one of us is ready to go and take the next step on our journey for quality instruction and increased student learning. I feel very lucky to have been able to go with 7 other colleagues and have every intention of not taking that opportunity for granted.

  7. I loved the conference! The 5 pound binder (I know because I had to juggle items at the airport and actually weighed it) was indispensible to me. I will dig into my notes and the quotes there often as I blog my responses to the learning and confirming that took place for me.

    In one of your sessions, you talked about the importance of sending the right people so that you can maximize effectiveness with the rest of the staff upon their return. That is so true. Charged and positive participants, who also have the attention of their colleagues will allow this kind of a financial expenditure to prove its usefulness in the essential and transferable learning that takes place during these conferences.

    Thanks for that!

  8. Tom,

    Thanks for the human perspective here – I just returned from the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Future of Learning summer institute. There were about 200 participants from all over the world there for the four days. Interestingly, a few dedicated Twitterers (tweeps?) managed to get most of the audience Tweeting for the final group synthesis session of the institute – it was an amazing moment to see that technology have that power during that institute. We were able to affect change in a matter of days.

    That being said, the moments that I remember best were finding the individuals and taking to face to face. I still find it awkward and fun to walk up to strangers and ask “Are you @somebody,” but have always found the individual contact to be so much more rewarding. You can’t feel someone’s smile in 140 characters, but you totally can appreciate during a shared moment of reflection. That is where the connectivity becomes powerful.

  9. I enjoyed reading your post regarding traditional conferences. I am currently taking EDM310 at the University of South Alabama to fulfill requirements for renewal of my teaching certificate. The class concentrates on the value of technology in the classroom and the programs available to enhance it. While I believe that in this day and age it is important for technology to be present in our schools and in our professional development, I also agree that face to face meetings have a value. I have been to several conferences recently to fulfill the 50 hours of professional development required by the State Department in Alabama, I have enjoyed the positive feelings that the conferences have brought, and the excitement generated by all in attendance.

  10. Hey my name is Sarah and I have been reading about the things that you have been doing sense you were very young. I just want to say that the impact that you are having on our community is so awesome.
    Now about this post, I agree that it is very important for people to meet face to face as much as possible. One thing that makes me nervous about going all digital is that it creates an impersonal world. I have traveled to a few countries myself doing mission work and seeing the peoples needs and fellow-shipping with people fighting for the same cause always uplifts my spirits.

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