Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I Vote that Teachers Go Away.... attend professional conferences, that is...

Dollars for professional development, like for all other things in our schools, are evaporating.  Getting support, permission and hopefully  funding to attend a conference is becoming more challenging, especially if the conference is farther afield.  There is a movement to rely on in-house expertise to lead professional development and a move away from bringing experts to schools or allowing teachers to travel to see presentations.  I get it - we need to rethink the old ways of doing business.  I am a huge supporter of developing teachers as leaders in all areas of school management.  But where do teacher leaders get their training and ideas from?  What are the advantages to sending not just individuals,  but teams of teachers, to a professional conference?

Professional conferences do have an important place in building capacity, for teacher leaders and also in building relationships between members of teams. If we hope to encourage teachers to be more reflective, scholarly and research oriented concerning their own practice, then we need to provide opportunities to allow teachers to learn from other practitioners and scholars. Conferences can provide time and space to think about learning and to plan ways to incorporate that learning into action in the classroom.  Conferences can give a great injection of new ideas and strategies. If we truly want to take advantage of conference learning, however, we need to be sending groups of teachers as teams.  Allowing teams of teachers to travel together to attend conferences can create an environment of sharing and collaboration around all the great ideas learned.  As we articulate our learning to others, we clarify our own ideas and become more likely to put what we have learned into practice. At the same time, we might convince our colleagues that these are good ideas for them to also incorporate into their own classrooms.  Do teams who travel together, stay together?  It is true that colleagues to spend time together outside of work are more likely to work longer and harder to collaborate inside of work.  I propose that this could be an additional benefit to allowing teachers to attend conferences in teams.  By sending a team rather than an individual, more sessions can be seen, and more information can be shared with the staff or other teachers.  A group may als be more likely to discuss different ways of disseminating their learning to others and may be able to reach more staff members back at their site than an individual teacher.

Conferences are expensive and it makes sense for teachers and schools to be choosy about the types of professional conferences they attend based on goals and needs of the school, district, department and/or grade level.  The payoff can be beyond just new learning for individual practitioners. If we treat conferences as a PLC learning opportunity, then we can increase teacher learning, improve bonds between PLC members, improve the chances of information being shared in a meaningful way with the rest of the school/district,  and increase the likelihood that the new learning translates into classroom practice.

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