In my first few years on Twitter it took me some time to get used to all the group pictures being shared from various education conferences. I didn’t know what the hashtags were or what the most popular abbreviations stood for. The more educators I followed, the clearer things became as I learned my way around the edu conference scene.
I attended a couple of big conferences in the US and actually made some of those connections like the ones I had seen on Twitter. Nice and wonderful and also very expensive. Registration fees for major education conferences like the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) or the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) easily run into the hundreds of dollars, to which one must add travel, food and lodging costs if it’s not right in your back yard. Pernille Ripp, a frequent presenter and speaker at education conferences across the US wrote about conferences costs on her blog. So we need to consider that big conferences are literally not for everyone. We should ask ourselves what the consequences of that are and may be.
But that’s not really what I wanted to write about. Rather, I’m excited about a few things: National subject matter conferences abound and in my network I’m pleased to see more and more friends and colleagues taking on presenter and speaker roles. I am also impressed by and immensely grateful for conference attendees who live-tweet keynotes, panels or workshops. Case in point:
And finally, I am thrilled to see new levels of crossover attendance and speaker profiles.
This happens to be the week of the NCTE annual convention in Houston, TX, with around 7000 attendees. A whole bunch of folks I admire are gathered there and many of them are presenting or speaking on multiple occasions! Whether introducing the work of #DisruptTexts or Non- vs. Anti-racist organizations, exploring Latinx identity with students, supporting students in crisis and engaging on so many other topics, I was starstruck from afar taking in the presence and nonstop activity of my colleagues.
Before I go on, please let me suggest some folks whose tweets you should check out along with the #NCTE18 hashtag:
I should note that I am not an English teacher. My special area is physical education. That said, I will also point out that I teach children from various language backgrounds in English. It is also true that I love books, am an avid reader. I’m a parent raising readers, writers and speakers. What English teachers talk about when they assemble in great numbers speaks to me because we are all tasked with supporting learners and learning. I hope I can be equally attentive when math, science and social studies educators share their collected insights.
It means something to me that a well known math teacher is a featured speaker at this conference of English teachers. I want this kind of crossover to be a bigger part of education’s future. And it doesn’t mean that we need to incur twice the expense to experience such a rich and multi-layered learning future. At least one advantage of networked learning is the possibility to share more widely, more generously, more equitably. That is part of our working present albeit with many miles to go. We do seem headed in the right direction, though.
As #NCTE18 strides towards its closing sessions and calls to action, I hope we can use this example to think about how we as educators, as colleagues benefit from sharing our conference experiences beyond our assumed audiences. How can we expand our communication flexibility to provide for fellow educators who are not on site? And more to the point, how do we build and sustain our curiosity for other people’s conferences? Which is to say sustain curiosity about their struggles and solutions and how they connect with our own. Which is to fundamentally recognize that we are talking about serving the students before us to the best of our ability. Because if we are as vested in professional development as many of us claim we are, how many of our efforts take us outside of our areas of expertise to look for connections, to build new bridges? Show me.
And one more thing, speaking of building bridges. Julia Torres and Lorena German raised money to sponsor the attendance of 24 local educators to attend the conference within 3 days! This is what visionary leadership looks like – it floats an idea and then gets stuff done and makes something better.
There’s a great deal we can learn from a conference experience by following a hashtag and digging deeper into resources and links. As I prepare myself for a large upcoming education conference, I know that I am learning even more by example.