I recently attended and spoke at the inaugural USA Festival of Education at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland. It was a wonderful experience; well organized, incredible speakers (Dr. Daniel Willingham delivered the opening keynote), and a lovely venue. It was, by my estimation, a perfect example of how any and all conferences of education should be run. While I could spend the next few paragraphs telling you how wonderful the sessions I attended were…and they were great…I feel the need to convey a differing message to you. And, to be fair, I am echoing a similar message Zach Groshell tweeted about recently, also.
By and large, how major education conferences in the US are organized and run is not good…not good at all (Just check out the Get Your Teach On website). They are style of substance; more interested in firing you up and getting those happy hormones released than providing high quality sessions that actual development teachers and our profession. It’s sad, really. We’re being hoodwinked. Yes, you may leave feeling hyped up and motivated…but those feelings fade and what you’re left with when you reenter your classroom after the conference is…what? How are you improving instruction based upon the choreographed dances you participated in? Did the popstar who opened the conference provide you with any strategies to better the classroom?
Probably not…and when you think about it, how does it sit with you knowing the hundreds of dollars you’re spending on registration is going to the house band, the confetti cannons, and the pyrotechnics? It is a scam and a slap in the face to the profession. And it feeds the narrative I sometimes see that teachers are not treated as professionals.
We must demand better. We must insist on more quality and substance in our professional development opportunities and conferences. And I can think of at least two ways to let these conferences know we no longer appreciate their deception: 1. Don’t attend. If they see a decline in attendance, they will be forced to change their model or die. 2. Contact them. Let them know through email/blog/social media how we feel. These types of conferences live for positive PR, so when they see a bit of negativity out there, they may be forced to listen.
Now, as the title suggests, the conference I attended this weekend was almost completely unique in the US. Another conference I would like to point out as being absolutely brilliant is researchED. While, like the Festival of Education, it is based in the UK, there are usually a few offerings in the US every year. Both are focused on making the classroom teacher better; improving understanding of learning strategies, becoming more research informed in your instruction, et cetera. 10/10 would recommend.
So, the next time you’re considering attending a conference, at least take a look at the website. Have a look at the session offerings. Do they seem focused on the learning environment and student learning or something superficial? Consider where your money is going (Hint – if they’re offering a conference romper for purchase…that’s not a good sign).
And, for the record, I did leave the Festival of Education a bit energized and fired up about things. But, I also walked in my classroom this morning excited about new strategies to implement and new methods to consider to improve instruction, the learning environment, and student learning.