Sore, stiff and slow moving is how I woke up on day 3 of the ECIS PE conference. All of those things yet even more keen to go back for more action, connection and greedy learning.
As a practice, I selected my workshops in the morning and stuck to my choices throughout the day. This simplified matters when I got into a good break time conversation and felt tempted to waver. My check marks in the margins provided the necessary commitment reminder.
A well designed conference program offers participants enough choices of sessions but not too many; a thoughtful mix of topics in each time slot and useful descriptions which facilitate and ease the decision-making process. In this case, I felt very well served by my hard copy program which I could pull out and refer to quickly. Each time slot usually had 4-5 sessions on offer and while I didn’t get to all the workshops I might have enjoyed, I finished each day without regrets.
My day 3 choices were decidedly less physically risky (like ice hockey on day 1) or cardiovascularly challenging (Scottish folk dance on day 2). I opted for a session of team volleyball drills, followed by a gentle intro to mindfulness for PE teachers and finished up the day with myofascial release techniques.
Serious conference swag.
On this last day, I clearly felt more grounded and comfortable. I knew a few more names, fell into conversation more naturally and approached a couple of people I hadn’t spoken to yet but was curious to meet. Here’s why I think this matters: belonging doesn’t just happen. It’s a process. During my time at this conference, my sense of belonging – to this particular group of professionals, to this specific field of practice, to my various identity subgroups (gender, nationality, school affiliation, country of residence) – needed time and context to grow. And that happened largely through storytelling: where I’m from, where I work and for how long, which levels I teach, how I came to live in Vienna, which colleagues we know in common, what I learned in the last session and what I hope to gain from the next. These are the stories I told and exchanged with my colleagues over these three days. Bit by bit we arrived at varying degrees of familiarity.
I suppose this is what professional conferences give us: a temporary container and context for our individual and combined stories about ourselves, our interests, and our discipline.
All of the workshops were conducted in English. I left thinking about how many of the presenters instructed, encouraged, corrected and motivated us in a language which is not their mother tongue. Hats off to them for not only providing excellent material but also modeling the bravery and enthusiasm we hope to cultivate in our students and in ourselves.
One idea that came up in more than one keynote was to flourish; thinking about what this may mean for us throughout our lifespan. It’s hard not find the word, the very notion, attractive. Who doesn’t want to flourish? In our field I see multiple opportunities for us to investigate what that may look like for our remarkable students. I also see roadblocks which lead us away from pursuing such a lofty ideal with and alongside our students. I’m grateful for the outside impetus to follow this line of thinking beyond the conference structure.
Trying to capture, safely store and retain so much learning from any conference is a challenging task. Writing this blog post and its two predecessors help me in that process. Through writing I tell a new story. I remind myself that I was a part of the story, that I helped it grow and breathe while it was happening.
When I return to my students and we chat about spring break, I can’t wait to hear which stories they will share about what they tried and learned. When they ask me, I can’t wait to show them how much fun I had learning to be a better physical education storyteller.