For most of us, conferences can bring about a familiar pattern. We attend the amazing conference full of great speakers. We are inspired to try new things in our school. We understand the research and the significance of how we can impact our students. It is exciting and we are ready to move forward.
Then we return to school. Issues came up with the substitute, grades are due, there are a few parent emails to respond to—you get the idea. So, we take the handouts and materials from the conferences and put them on the shelf behind the desk. We tell ourselves we can get to it over the weekend and really get some things planned to implement next week, but this probably never happens either.
Time Is Key
It’s a common problem. As teachers, we get fired up and motivated to change and do better for our kids, but we end up losing focus because of a lack of time, energy, resources, or a mixture of all of these things. How can we combat this? How can teachers create a better situation for the implementation phase of this learning?
There isn’t a great answer to this beyond what I hear teachers say every day: ”Just give me time to do it!” Time really is the critical piece, but there are some other ways we can find this time and help to ensure that we keep the fire of new learning burning bright for our kids. Here are a few ideas:
Implement the learning as soon as you get back: Putting it on the shelf is the worst thing you can do for new learning. Think about if we did this with our students. “Here is a new strategy for dividing fractions that I’m going to cover in depth for the next hour. I want you to take notes, then put those notes in your backpack and get them out in two weeks.” It makes no sense, right?
Take a break: The setup of conferences, with a number of breakout sessions, is a bad model for learning. We do it this way because of efficiency and time. We want to feel like we are getting our “money’s worth” from the fee they charge, so there is a lot of cramming information into a short period of time. This may not fly well with all school leaders, so get permission before you do this, but I will often sit out a session if I feel I can benefit from that. The new learning that I just picked up could be applied right away if I make the time, so I take my laptop in a corner and hammer away at putting something in place for it
Set goals as a team: This same strategy is good for conferences if you attend as a team. When I’ve taken a team of teachers to something, I typically try to have a follow-up meeting a few days later (or the day of if we can) to make some decisions about where we go from here. This doesn’t mean we use 100% of what we learn—we can’t do it all at once. We also find that some of what we learned about isn’t something we want to pursue. These are both okay, but without any kind of follow-up, the energy and inspiration that come from conferences can fade very quickly.
Set a reminder: I put things on my Google Calendar as a reminder to think about them, not just to do them. Following a conference, if I want to remember to a specific strategy, I try to turn it into a regular occurrence with a calendar invitation. For example, a speaker may inspire me to send a positive note to my staff more often. There is great research behind this, and I found it is something that I am not doing enough. When I return from the conference, I set a reminder for every Monday morning for the rest of the year to do this.
While not foolproof, these are some strategies for making a bigger impact when coming back from a conference. Keep in mind that these all work with summer conferences, too. It’s easy to slip into the thinking that, “I have all summer to work on this.” Some hyper-focused educators can pull this off, but I never could. For many of us, summer is a time to unplug and refocus—not to continue to work non-stop on getting things ready for August. All of these ideas work in the summer as well, so hopefully with a few easy strategies, the great learning that takes place at conferences can transfer to great teaching for our students.
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