Saturday, March 17, 2018

Why Go? Professional Conferences, from Grump to Glee

What’s the deal with attending professional conferences?

I mean, why?

Lots of reasons.  Lots of whys.

My district puts on a fabulous literacy conference every February.  I’ve attended for 19 straight years.  It’s a Saturday morning thing, kicking off with noteworthy keynote speakers and then, throughout the day, piles of great presentations by all sorts of people from the teaching, leading, reading, and writing world.   It is one those heart-filling, spirit-filling, soul-filling days.  Star-studded, too:  This year, I got to learn from Linda Sue Park, George Couros, and Kate Roberts.  Geek out, man.  Geek. Out.  

But let’s not pretend.  It’s not like I always have a paper-chain countdown, especially not in the hours before the conference.  For one thing, the preceding Friday seems to always be a doozy; problems pop up like Whac-a-Mole.   Students get in all kinds of trouble, parents are grumpy and line up to share their grumps, and teachers’ shoulders seem to all be slumping a bit with the weight of their responsibilities.  My regular Friday tension headache hits new levels on February Fridays.  

So, every year, on the morning of the conference, I wake up feeling like a five-year-old.  I don’t wanna, I think.  I can’t do it.  Maybe this year I just won’t.  I have a long internal whine about wanting to stay home in my jammies and eat Golden Grahams and watch Netflix all day.

But I go.  Every year, I go.  And I find the same scene:  The check-in area is crammed with people chattering like magpies.  Many of the attendees know one another, so, early as it is, everyone is all huggy and happy.  It’s like someone sprinkled the room with energy dust.  This year, almost 800 attendees from nine different states joined in, and as it always does, the day left me excited and invigorated.

Sometimes we have to have faith that the fantastic things don’t always feel fantastic, there at the beginning.  It takes getting up, cleaning up, putting a good attitude, and getting in the moment.  It’s recognizing the apathy that is hiding in your pores, finding it and squishing it down and clomping on it until it’s gone.

In the end of the day, I walked away filled with things to think about.  I was overcome with the wisdom of so many educators and presenters.  As always, I was feeling, somehow, as if I were a more complete teacher, leader, thinker, and principal. 

Here are still things that are on my mind, even five weeks later:

  • ·      Libraries really are miracles.   
  • If all we do is watch video games and watch social media, we will get stupider.  But we can “stop the stupid” with books, smart media, and conversation.  And good teaching.
  • ·      You can’t talk about writing unless you talk a lot about reading.
  • ·      When you feel embattled, stop and consider the importance of what you do when you share books with students. 
  • ·      It’s okay to debate about things.  It’s okay to disagree.  We just need to come back to doing right by kids.
  • ·      We shouldn’t use writing to record thoughts; we should use it to inspire thoughts.
  • ·      Sometimes we want students to be much better writers than they really are.  Slow down, back up, and adjust expectations to fit the student, the situation, the prompt, and the developmental process.
Next week I’ll be in Boston at another professional conference, this time for ASCD at their Empower conference.  Presenting, even.  From where I sit today, this Saturday morning, right this very moment, I’m a little cranky about it.  I’d rather spend the start of spring break in yoga pants, drinking chai on my couch.  But once I get into the conference hall, I know I’ll forget that any other option exists except this one:  Rubbing elbows with people who care as much about teaching, leading, and learning as I do.  

All in.    

*Thank you, thank you, thank you to the committee who put the Dublin Lit Conference together.  Seriously. Tremendous.  

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